If you’re a youth worker you can’t escape it, you will be criticized. Criticism is aimed at leaders because everyone is imperfect and hurting and hurting people end up hurting others. When I first started leading a ministry, I found it very difficult not to take criticism of my ministry personally. The criticism may not always be true, but it always stings.

While critique does hurt, it can help to know that the people who dish it out are usually hurting themselves. When a leader can better understand what motivates a critic, it can actually trigger compassion, which can help turn pain into a positive. In our experience, here are some of the reasons why critics do what they do:

Critics usually aren’t serving.

It’s so much easier to sound off at others than it is to serve others. Armchair quarterbacks have all the answers but lack the drive to get out of the chair and engage in the real game. It’s sad, but some people will serve nowhere or invest in no one and their lack of ministry involvement gives them extra time and ignorance to critique.

\How To Have Compassion: These types of critics are missing out on God’s best for their lives. Since they aren’t engaged or serving, they lack the feeling of significance–it’s within this spiritual vacuum where this criticism is fueled.

Critics are unaware of their intent: “I’m just trying to help.”

Not every critique is an attack. Some people speak up, and their words sting when inflicting pain wasn’t their motive. They genuinely want to help and honestly believe their comments are assisting the movement or ministry. These critics typically have an investment in your ministry (like a parent or volunteer) and sincerely want to see the ministry flourish.

How To Have Compassion: It’s been my experience that it’s easier to feel compassion for these types of critics. They mean well, but they usually have poor tone and/or timing and an unguided sense of their importance.

Critics have been gathering ammunition for a while.

Some critics have been wounded and, in their wounding, have nursed grudges and gathered ammunition (some for many years). These types of critics tend to have several different targets, and you just happened to be in sight when they released the ammo… lucky you! These types are the poster children for the old slogan: “Hurt people hurt people.”

How To Have Compassion: These critics have a long history of negative baggage. As a leader, it is so difficult to have the patience to wade through all their “stuff.” While it’s a reality, it’s unfair that you have to bear the brunt of their longstanding pain. On the bright side, the force of their criticism doesn’t belong to you; it has been transferred courtesy of their sinful resentment. Bottom line: it’s not about you. It’s all about them.

Critics are struggling with guilt, shame and sin.

Let’s be honest, there are many folks within our churches that are losing the struggle against their sin nature. When they lash out at others, it enables them to ignore their own problems (at least for a short time).

How To Have Compassion: Everyone struggles with sin and when you realize that sin is the real and hidden issue behind their attacks it can ‘be easier to be a leader/minister who can reflect the grace God has shown you (keyword: “easier”…not “easy”).



Johnny serves as the Student Pastor at First Colleyville Church in Colleyville, Texas. He’s been pastoring students for just over 14 years and is a graduate of the Youth Cartel and finishing his certification as a Youth Ministry Coach. He and his wife Alisha have two daughters named Ellie and Emory. When not doing student ministry, Johnny can be found building cabinets, fishing or taking his daughters on adventures.