Slow Burn


How to keep from being singed when your critics
ignite a blaze.

“Maybe I’m not called to children’s ministry after all.”

Children's Ministry Magazine
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“I’ve failed.”

“I’ve tried my best, but this isn’t for me.”

“Where did I go wrong?”

You may not have actually uttered these words, but they might
sound familiar. Perhaps a parent pointed out something he feels you
did drastically wrong. Or a team member shared with the leadership
team her concerns about the direction your program’s headed.

Criticism brings an entire range of feelings that can slowly burn
out your energy level and passion-and eventually your ministry.
When you step back and reflect on the feelings that led to the
previous statements, you find yourself asking, What happened?
When I started in this role, I had energy even the youth pastor
couldn’t surpass. Where did it go?

Thoughts about hanging it up typically aren’t sudden realizations
about your success in ministry. Though usually ignited by one event
or one critical comment, these thoughts are the result of a slow
burning process over months or years. And that slow burn is often
fueled by criticism from the most well-meaning individuals in your
church. And the actual delivery of the criticism is usually more
difficult to handle than the issue itself. You need practical ways
to handle the different-and inevitable-negative criticism from
staff members, leaders, parents, and even children in your
ministry. Knowing how to handle the five different kinds of burning
agents can stop and maybe even reverse burnout in ministry.


Too much change too fast resulted in fireworks for Larry
Shallenberger, a children’s pastor in Erie, Pennsylvania. During
his first year on the job, he changed the children’s curriculum,
without training his leaders on the educational philosophy behind
the change. As a result, one woman criticized the ministry to other
leaders. Shallenberger admits he probably deserved the criticism
because of his rookie mistake.

“However,” says Shallenberger, “her criticism was particularly
harmful because it was never directed to me.”

Fireworks are the most common criticism because they’re easiest
for critics to perpetrate-behind your back, garnering support
against you. Fireworks can be most dangerous because they often
lead to an explosion. Fireworks get your attention, but they get
everyone else’s attention, too. Critics who choose this method of
delivery tend to put on a show, though maybe not intentionally. As
a result, many hear criticism about you that should’ve been
directed to you. And when fireworks ignite, they can burn down the
energy of an entire ministry or church.

Extinguishing Fireworks

Next time there’s a fireworks display of criticism in your
ministry, try these methods to stop the show.

• Get direct. Step up and take control. When you
learn who’s behind the fireworks, have an immediate conversation.
Sincerely try to understand the concerns. Shallenberger says his
situation taught him to “find the persistently vocal critic and sit
down and have a pointed conversation about the issues.”

• Learn. “There’s almost always something to
learn from a critic,” says Shallenberger. “The worst-case scenario
is that you’ve got an opportunity to practice graciousness.”

Use this opportunity to learn something about your ministry, your
leadership, even your grace. You may even learn that direct
communication in your ministry needs work. Encourage people to
bring issues directly to you rather than sharing them.

• Keep communication private. Though tempting,
the worst way to handle fireworks is to set off your own competing
show. When you’re dealing with a vocal critic, no one else needs to
know. Deal directly with the critic; don’t discuss your thoughts
about the situation with others.

Low Heat

Any good casserole that’s left in the oven too long-even when the
heat is low-will turn into dry rubber. Likewise, not all criticism
comes in the form of loud explosions that burn you on impact.
Subtle criticism can slowly burn out any leader over time.

Your senior pastor doesn’t give positive feedback on your big Fall
Festival. A teacher complains her kids aren’t learning anything
with the new curriculum you chose. This criticism is subtle and
hard to pin down. Low heat is the most difficult criticism to
handle because you may not realize until too late that you’re
completely burned out.

Slow Burn
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Children's Ministry Magazine

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