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Identifying And Growing Through Ministry Criticism + Cynicism

Bryant Westbrook
December 7th, 2020

Receiving criticism can make us feel like we’re bad youth workers sometimes and even though it makes us feel that way, it’s necessary for growth. I think a truth to get out first is this: 

Getting criticized doesn’t make you a bad youth worker, it makes you better.

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. (Proverbs 19:20)

Below are two types of criticism that I feel we as youth workers get the most of. I’ve found a lot of times the way we receive criticism determines its impact and meaning.

So how are we supposed to respond to criticism? What do we do about it? What if we don’t agree with it?

Example #1 – Good example of criticism

I have a leader right now that’s over me and he does a good job in my opinion, here’s why: He criticizes me out of love. He genuinely wants me to get better and it’s evident to me. An example is when we both went over a message I recently preached and the conversation was super open and honest.

He kindly pointed out ways that I killed it and also ways that I could’ve done better. For example, he said, “You repeated the main points a lot and it was distracting. But I can tell your passion for the message was there.” 

The difference is, I know he cares and his criticism was super helpful. He pointed out what needed work while also shedding light on what was done right.

Example #2 – Bad example of criticism

I once had someone in my circle who gave me bad criticism, Here’s an example:

Our ministry team decided to have an outreach event for students and after the event was over, we met as a team to debrief. We were honest in recognizing things that went well and things that could’ve been better.

The bad criticism happened when I was brought to the side and told, “the reason it didn’t go well is because you are a terrible leader and your messages stunk. You have no passion and your games at the event were terrible. No one likes you.”

Yes… I actually had someone tell me that. It’s not fun to hear those words although sometimes it’s necessary for tough words to be said, it should be done out of love.

What to do when you receive criticism:

1. Be able to discern truth and value, even if it’s bad criticism. 

The one truth I can take from the example of bad criticism above is the games could’ve been better. They were right about that and I knew it. The next time an event came around we changed the games up making it better. I was able to take the truth from what was meant to be hurtful. Being able to do this makes a huge difference when you get some bad criticism.

2.Ask the right questions

For your sake, gain clarity from the person giving you the criticism. Don’t be afraid to ask them tough questions about what’s being said to you. As much information as you can get from them the better, especially if they care about you. 

Asking questions will only help you grow into a better leader. Also, you may think they are being mean to you but if you ask a clarifying question they might reply with something like “I didn’t mean to come off as mean to you, here’s what I’m trying to say.” Always ask the question, get clear answers for your benefit.

3.Be mindful of who you give a listening ear to

Don’t keep going to people for criticism that you know don’t care about you or give you bad criticism time after time. It’s just not healthy. And don’t go to people for criticism who don’t have skin in the game either. No football coach ever looks up in the stands and says “what do I do now folks?”

Find a mentor who cares about you enough to give you genuine honest criticism. Even if it isn’t your direct supervisor or pastor, find an outside mentor who may be a pastor also and ask them for help in this area.

4. Don’t take it personal

I want you to know that you are a good leader and a loved child of God! Bad criticism does not mean you are worthless. There’s so much potential in you! You are creative, innovative, and gifted to do ministry. God loves you, He cares about you and the work you’re doing. Keep going, fight the good fight, and run the race.

Bryant Westbrook

Bryant Westbrook is the youth director at First United Methodist Church is Valley Center, KS. Bryant has served as a missionary in Alaska, program staff for YouthWorks, treatment counselor for teens and has a passion for student leadership. Bryant's contact is bryant@fumcvc.com and he blogs at bryantwestbrook.wordpress.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.

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