Shortly after becoming a pastor’s wife, I found myself in a church meeting where my husband was the object of criticism. He sat there quietly, offering absolutely no defense. “Why doesn’t he say something?” I wondered desperately.
After a few more arrows aimed in his direction, I said to myself, “Well, if he isn’t going to defend himself, I guess that is what a good Christian wife is for.”
I rose to my feet, made an impassioned, one-minute speech, burst into tears, and rushed from the auditorium! Since that traumatic event, I have done a little better at handling criticism. (That wouldn’t be hard, I can hear you say.)
It’s difficult when people criticize you, but it’s worse when they get after your husband. Sometimes church members don’t want to confront the pastor, bur feel whey can pass on their complaints via the pastor’s wife because she isn’t so intimidating.
Criticism takes many forms. “He’s too deep,” says one. “He’s too shallow,” says the next. “He’s too dull. My kids are bored,” confides another. Do they expect you to say, “Oh, I agree, Mrs. Smith. He bores me to pieces, too?”
Sometimes when I’m listening to someone criticizing my husband, I think to myself, “Has this person forgotten I’m married to the man? How would she feel if I drew her aside by the coat racks to tell her I felt her husband really should smarten up his appearance?”
How do we handle such encounters? Perhaps we leap to our beloved’s defense or cut the person off in mid-complaint. I usually feel quite sick or produce a migraine headache within half an hour of such an episode. After 30 years I still wrestle with the unfairness of it all.
“They don’t know how hard he worked on that sermon,” I say to the Lord. Or, “How unfair of her to compare him to Jimmy Swaggart! We don’t compare her husband to Ivan Boesky.”
Now, of course, if we find some truth in the criticism (and there is often some truth), we need to be mature enough to own that part of it and be teachable, pliable, and changeable.
Here are some of the ways I have learned to cope with criticism.
- Hold your breath and count to 20 before saying anything al all.
- Try to listen long enough to let complainers know they are being heard, and you have understood the problem.
- As you listen, ask yourself why this person is so upset. Are they under pressure themselves, from other quarters, and did my husband happen along at the wrong moment? Often this is the case.
- Let the first thing you say be a quiet and gentle word. “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1, NKJV). “Thank you for being so concerned” is one possibility.
- Try to be objective and impartial. Pretend your husband belongs to someone else-almost impossible, but try anyway.
- Don’t start to reply with a defensive statement. Find a place to agree without being disloyal. For example, you could say, “I understand your children being bored in church, Mrs. Smith. Most children are at that age.”
- Quietly refute any criticism that is unfair or untrue with such statements as, “I’m not sure you’ve been given the whole story,” or “If you knew all the circumstances, I think you’d judge the matter differently.”
- If you feel the criticism is justified, talk to your husband about it. If not, don’t mention it. He has enough on his plate without piling it up with sour grapes.
- Try to send complainers on their way with no new criticism of the pastor’s wife.
Paul experienced a lot of criticism in his life and ministry. He was able to day, “It is a very small think that I am judged of you” (1 Corinthians 4:3 NKJV). I’d like to be able to say that, too, when either of us is criticized. It will only be a small thing to me if I believe as Paul did, that Jesus is the judge and not this particular church member. Knowing the motives of our hearts, God will evaluate all of our ministry as well as our actions and reactions according to His live, knowledge, and understanding.
All of us benefit by committing it to Him and leaving it in His hands.
In His Love,