How to Invite Criticism from Your Congregation

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Dan Doriani gets practical on the why and how of soliciting constructive criticism from your church.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

New pastors should absolutely invite constructive criticism, and you would want to invite it from couple sources.
First of all you want to invite it from peers because it’s easiest to receive criticism from somebody that’s more or less your age and stage in life. So let’s say you’re 30, you need to accept criticism from the leader the minister who might be 50 or 60 or maybe some elders, but it’s just easiest to hear it from friends. And so a friend can say, “Hey, you know you made that point much more complicated than it needed to be” or “I hate to tell you but you didn’t come prepared adequately for that meeting; it was clear that you were a little bit disorganized.” Just invite your true friends to do that. You know they love you so receive it from them.
Getting criticism from people who are older than you is tricky because sometimes they just volunteer it whether you like it or not. Then what you have to do is discern, are these people for me and even if I wouldn’t have invited them maybe they’re actually criticizing me because they love me and they care about me. That can be a source of unexpected solicited criticism.
Annual reviews are tricky business. I do believe in them, and I believe that they need to be affirming and positive. They should say: here’s what you’re doing that’s good and here’s an area where you could grow or improve. Listen to that. A lot of leaders are reluctant to do annual reviews, and so you can go two, three, four, five years without knowing what’s wrong. So I would urge a young pastor to plead for review, which would include elders if he’s the solo pastor of maybe a smaller church, which is where young pastors tend to start if they’re solo pastors. Or you could call on elders who are over your realm of ministry if it’s a larger church. If possible ask the lead pastor for criticism as well.
So I am a fan of that, and I’m also a fan of doing your homework first. So here’s a little test I would give to pastors; if you had two hours granted to you, suddenly two hours opened up in your schedule and you’re given three choices which one would you choose. And choice number one is go work on a talk, go home and talk or sketch out a series of talks. Number two is work on planning whatever it is I’m planning, you know, who are my volunteers going to be, how am I going to motivate them, what’s the next meeting going to go like? And number three is to go visit a friend who is in need or go visit somebody in the hospital.
If you do that self-diagnosis, people are usually answer quickly, “Oh, I know which one I would do.” So then that is the area that you will tend toward. Which means that you will also know what you tend to avoid. Let’s say you’re going to work on a talk, that might mean you will avoid hospital visits or visits to needy people. In which case, you’ve just diagnosed yourself that you’re liable to neglect one of these, liable to focus on one and maybe one will be somewhere in the middle. So as you have that in mind, you can use your propensity of one or the other (which is a prophet, priest, or King sort of trio) as you invite criticism from others. How am I doing at what I like the most? Am I covering the aspect of ministry that candidly is the least attractive to me?