6 Ways to Stay Sane During Renewal

Written by Bill Whitt
November 8, 2022

One of the hardest parts for a renewal pastor is dealing with the constant criticism that inevitably comes your way. Church Renewal.

A recent survey by the Barna Group found that 29% of pastors had given “real, serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year.” I’ve found this percentage to be pretty accurate when I talk to my pastor friends. They say the past few years have amounted to a perfect storm of stressors.

Even apart from the pandemic and the highly divisive political environment that followed, simply doing the day-to-day work of a renewal pastor can easily push you past your human limits. One of the hardest parts for many people is dealing with the constant criticism that inevitably comes your way.

Today, I want to share a simple phrase that has helped me keep my sanity as I lead change in church:

When tempted to personalize, look at the situation with personal eyes.

It’s natural to personalize negative feedback. Renewal requires change, and anytime you make a change, you will receive negative feedback. I don’t know about you, but when I receive criticism, I’m often tempted to take it personally.

  • In the moment, I might feel as if I’m being attacked. I might feel my competency is being questioned. It might even feel like my character is under fire. When I receive feedback, I have to step back and think about how I’m experiencing it. Before I respond in any way, I have to ask the question: Am I taking this personally?

Treat the feedback as a data point. An alternative to taking feedback personally is to study it and approach it with curiosity. The feedback I receive from my congregation can actually provide me with interesting and important data about the church’s health.

  • Maybe the critic is indicating that change is happening too fast. Maybe the person has a different perspective on where the Spirit is leading. It is important for me to take note of these concerns.  If I get defensive, I lose the opportunity to receive valuable data.

Most often, criticism is not about you. Even if the criticism is unfair, poorly stated, and not grounded in reality, it still can provide me with interesting data—data about the spiritual state of the congregant. If someone has a chronically short fuse, it tells me something about them. If they take offense easily, that’s important data as well. It should make me curious about their family life, their spiritual habits, and their important relationships.

  • At the end of the day, the critic is a person—a person with thoughts, feelings, fears, anxieties, and spiritual needs. When I look at the situation with “personal eyes,” I begin to see all of this, and it creates an attitude of love and compassion in me. However, if I take criticism personally, it short circuits my ability to love and minister to the person.

Be the pastor (period). When I wonder about how I should respond to critics, my North Star is remembering my role in the church. Simply put, I am their pastor. I represent God to them, whether I realize it in the moment or not.

  • Instead of thinking about how to defend myself and my honor, the question becomes: How do I effectively minister to this person in light of their situation? Most often, critics aren’t looking for an argument. They’re looking for acceptance. They want to be loved. They want to be told they are valuable to God and to me. As their pastor, I should care about this need most.

There are no bad people in the room. At the end of the day, almost 100% of the people who give me negative feedback want the same end result that I do—the flourishing of the church we love so much. Some people have different ideas about what flourishing is. Some people have different ideas about how to get there. Some people don’t state their ideas with grace. But our goals are often more aligned than we initially see. When I sit around the table with our elders and deacons, I constantly remind myself that each and every one of them wants what is best for the church.

  • Our culture is teaching us to vilify anyone who differs with us in any way. Everything in the world today is pushing us toward polarization. In the church family, we have the privilege to show a different way… a better way. We can show that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. What a great testimony to the God we serve!

A mentor is a must. If you know me, you know that none of this comes naturally to me. How do I stay grounded? I have a mentor I meet with every three weeks who serves as a sounding board to help me see situations clearly and objectively. In fact, most of the concepts in this article came from him!

  • More than almost anything else, this mentoring relationship has helped me lead well. Our denomination asks that all new pastors have mentors, but I would say the need is far more broad than that. Every single pastor needs a mentor. Every single human being needs a mentor. Organizational renewal starts with personal renewal, so find a mentor today. And if you have valuable experience to share, be a mentor to someone else too!

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