Should I Take It Personal?
On one particular Monday morning, several years ago now, I hadn’t been in my study at the church more than a few minutes, when the phone call came. Monday morning phone calls, and unscheduled visits, can be the worst. They can be scary. It’s usually not a compliment and almost certainly not a testimony of how God moved yesterday. It’s almost always a complaint. And this was no exception. I answered the phone and politely joined the prelude banter until they got to the main point, “Pastor, can I come see you this afternoon, I want to talk about the message yesterday, it just didn’t do anything for me?” Have you had a call like that? How’d you feel? What did you start thinking about? Worrying about? Did you come to a conclusion long before the visit even happened? I did all that and more. I felt threatened, confused, worried, angry, and for some reason, scared. The one thing I didn’t think was, “maybe it’s all about him and not me or my preaching. Maybe it’s about where he is in his spiritual life.” Nope, I didn’t have that thought until long after the visit. Rather, I indulged the worry and fear and worked up a spirit of defensiveness. I learned later that this man had entered a phase of feeling spiritually ‘stuck,’ I missed the opportunity to help him.
I’ve learned that this isn’t an unusual tendency for preachers. There is no more vulnerable time or place in the life of a preacher than that moment when they stand to preach. It’s a vulnerable time because preaching tends to be at the very heart of how we see ourselves and a key part of our identity. And, it’s likely that we take complaints about our preaching far more personally than complaints about any other aspect of ministry. I know that’s the case for me. Complain about my administrative abilities…and I’ll likely agree with you. But complain about my preaching…that’ll hurt.
So how should we preachers deal with complaints about our preaching? Here’s three things I’ve started doing that have helped me:
Discern. Step one, through prayer and conversation with the person bringing the complaint, discern if the complaint is legitimate. It might not be, and if not, then you can focus on the real issue below the surface. If it is legitimate, then you can focus on correcting the issue, clarifying the misunderstanding, or whatever is necessary.
Act. Step two, act on what you learn. You may now be in a position to help that individual through a significant life moment that your preaching simply brought to the surface. Or, you may now be aware of an opportunity to improve your preaching abilities. Preaching is a calling from God, but there are few people who are just naturally gifted at it. Most of us have to work at it. All of us could benefit from intentionally working at improving our preaching skills. There are a ton of resources for this! Avail yourself of them. I have, and it’s made a real difference.
Remember. Step three, remember your identity is in Christ and not in your preaching. Your identity is never in your tasks; it’s in your Savior. The One who redeemed you. The One who called you to this preaching task to begin with! Remember where your identity flows from when the complaints start to flow toward you. You are first and foremost a child of God and not just a preacher!
What should I add to that list? How do you deal with complaints that seem so personal? How do you deal with it? And if you need someone to talk to about it, just let me know….
Grace and Peace, Rich