It’s been eleven months since we launched weekly worship services, and One Church has grown from three people to 200. Overall, the process has been one blessing after another with changed lives, growth, and exciting local and global missions. God has been more than faithful to us.
It’s also true that one of my biggest emotional adjustments since planting One Church has been adjusting to the level of criticism.
I’m sharing this post for two kinds of people:
- Leaders who are considering starting something
- Church planters and other leaders who are discouraged
Whenever you hear stories of growth, and everything looks rosy, you should know that those stories usually do not include the continual, daily struggles that occur simultaneously with the growth. Some planters were associate pastors previously, and the associate pastor is the most popular person in the world. Once, you’re in the lead role, look out!
People who know me, know that I’m pretty much a mild mannered Clark Kent kind of guy. I’m a huge nerd. I downplay my family’s financial needs and give myself pay cuts to save money in the church budget. My family has sold items that were dear to us in order to pay our bills. I’m usually too nice, and here is the reality:
- In the past year, I have been called more names than in junior high and high school combined.
- I have been accused of heresy several times.
- 25 people left the church after one sermon they didn’t like.
- One month after launching, one guy told me I’m leading people to hell.
- A Young Earth Creationist ended his final email to me like this, “I have issued the warning I was instructed to give you. Now I shake the dust from my garments.”
That was before Thanksgiving.
Now, in the past three months, criticism has become a weekly reality for me. Every single week now there are one or more people who express to me that they are not happy about something in the church, usually something to do with me. It may be criticism of a sermon. It may be that they don’t like something about the music. They not-so-secretly want to control the church. There may have been a miscommunication, and apologizing is not enough. Regardless, the criticism is now a constant.
Of course, constructive criticism helps me and One Church. One Church is better because of people who genuinely care about the church and about me, and they contribute in many positive ways. It is easy to tell the difference between people who love you and people who don’t.
Honestly, however, at least half of the criticism you receive will not be constructive. It comes from people who are acting out of their own issues and spewing on you. They want power they have not earned. They want the church you planted to look like the church they just left.
The Key to Handling Criticism
In my experience, the key to handling criticism is a prayer I heard from Craig Groeschel:
“God, give me a softer heart and thicker skin.”
In other words, “God, help me to love people even when they criticize me, and help me to know who I am in You, so that the criticism does not discourage me.”
Nope, that’s not easy. It is, however, necessary to succeed in church planting.