The old saying is true, “holidays can bring out the best and the worst in people.” Even in the church there are people who are negative and critical of you. They say words that can hurt, especially when it is something you have worked hard on. What can you do when you have a Mr. or Mrs. Grinch in the church?
1. ASK THE HARD QUESTION
The hardest thing to do when hearing criticism is to actively listen. Listening to what the person is saying and what the meaning is. Active listening seeks clarity of the issue and possible solutions. After getting clarity, take an appropriate amount of time to reflect on your actions. Ask the hard question: “Is there any truth to their criticism?” Not all criticism is bad; it is just sad in bad ways. It is our nature to want to dismiss it or rationalize it. Don’t. Many times, comments will expose a weakness or behavior that we are unaware of how it is affecting others. Before you dismiss it, listen to it. There might be an insight you are missing. Not all comments have the same weight so it is important to consider the source.
2. CONSIDER THE SOURCE
John Maxwell taught me, “hurting people, hurt people.” When we run into a Mr. or Mrs. Grinch who says hurtful things, it is often because they are hurting, and it really has nothing to do with the issue at hand. The challenge is not to become defensive or argumentative to prove you’re right, but to respond with empathy. Try to get in the person’s shoes to get what is behind the comment. Ask what is going on in their life? What stress, anxiety, brokenness, etc., are they dealing with? Don’t assume they have it in for you. Sometimes these comments are bids for your attention and help. Seek to connect on the issue beyond the issue. Again, I said connect to the issue and not try to fix the issue or them. Sometimes hurting people just need to know you care and you are there for them. Fight for the relationship first before your point.
No that is not a typo but a little saying I remind myself of when dealing with a Grinch. It stands for Extra Grace Required. In these situations, we need to apply extra grace to the situation especially when every part of us wants to stand up and shout, “You are wrong” and “Get in line with everyone else.” Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 4:8 “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
When I restarted Hope Lutheran Church, I had a Mrs. Grinch, so I thought. We had some tension filled discussions. I didn’t practice what I am sharing. In reflection, I made too many changes as the new pastor and was very opinionated. Some might even say stubborn on things that were not very important. My actions caused tension and anxiety in Mrs. Grinch. Little did I know there was already tension from a former pastor’s wife who was very legalistic about altar guild. I didn’t see her issue behind the issue or my own issues. The bottom line is I made these worse. I am so thankful she put on love and covered my sins. Eleven years later she is one of my closest members and greatest advocates. She has stood by me through the highs and lows. I will always be in debt to her because she gave me grace, listened enough to get beyond the issues, and sought the relationship first before being right.
Expect a Mr. and Mrs. Grinch will be in your congregation. Look in the mirror and make sure it is not you. Either way, apply the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who came not to condemn but to save us with grace upon grace all the way to the cross.
by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District