Making Friends of your Enemies: how to handle criticism in worship ministry


My greatest mentor used to jokingly tell me, “Church would be incredible if it weren’t for all the people.” As problems arise, we have to figure out how to live in the fruit of the Spirit, lead with love & keep our sanity. Nothing has challenged my ability to achieve those things more than the wars we have fought for preference in worship through music.

Maybe you’re dealing with an older person who wants their stylistic needs met & you know the vision of where you’re going will not allow for that to happen… what do you do?

1.) Remember What’s Real
When people act in a way that could be characterized as negative 100% of the time it comes from one of two places (or both): fear and/or hurt. It’s Emotion 101. When one of your congregation dumps on you about their desires for stylistic changes, remember THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU OR YOUR MINISTRY. With this in mind, you can relax, and when you’re relaxed, you can be compassionate & loving & pastor these people instead of speaking from fear and/or hurt yourself.

2) Validate Their Feelings
Once you remember that they spoke led by fear and/or hurt, then you can “validate their feelings”.
What does this mean?” You might ask. “They’re wrong, so I can’t make them feel like they’re right, can I?
When someone is hurt or scared, then interacting with that feeling is important — it allows the person to understand they are being seen and heard.

I might lead with something like, “I see that this is bothering you. It must be hard to feel that way about your church.” Usually, you’ll find yourself face to face with someone who is beginning to relax. They probably haven’t even considered the other side of the story, & if they have, they likely have not given it the same respect you just gave them. When you lead with love, people tend to respond with openness.

3) Cast Vision, Pt. 1 – Why Things Change
Cast vision. Go to the heart of the matter… to the emotions involved.
If I’m talking about contemporary worship, I might talk about the young couple coming to church for the first time, getting their kids checked into class, & showing up in the middle of the third song. You want that couple to feel at home.

We don’t do contemporary music to be cool – we’re not cool. Our music isn’t cool. We don’t do contemporary music to compete with entertainment… we will lose every time. We do it because we want not to seem foreign when people walk through the doors of our church. People have likely never once heard organ music outside of a church. They probably have never heard piano played in hymn-style outside of the church. So when a nonbeliever walks in, they are finding a whole world that they know nothing of. Even the words of the contemporary songs are foreign to them. The olive branch, so to speak, is that we offer them something familiar in a world that is drastically out of touch with their everyday lives (and should be, btw).

4) Cast Vision, Pt 2 – the Importance of Multi-Generational Worship
Now tell these people how important they are. Ask if you can give a different perspective of their place in all of this. Likely at this point, they’ll – at the very least – be interested in your point of view. Wax eloquent on why multi-generational worship is so important.

Here’s why I think it’s important: 1) the older generations have a history of faith that the younger generations simply don’t (and can not) have. They have a wisdom and years of relationship with Jesus (hopefully) that the younger generations do not have. The older generation – when given the opportunity & offering it humbly – can offer amazing insight to younger generations & offer insight into helping churches not make the same mistakes generationally. But 2) if they will accept it, the older generation can receive life & vitality from the younger generations.

5) The Ask
This is important. You can’t just cast vision, ever. You have to tell them how they fit into the vision & that happens with an ask. Ask them if they would consider making it less “us vs. them” & invite them to help you reach the younger generations. Ask them to partner with you. It is – of course – important for them to understand the train is moving in one direction… but it’s more important that they understand your desire to partner with them. Invite them to come lead alongside you.

My guess is that for these people, the hurt is tied to feeling left behind. In most churches, the older generations are ghettoed off into their own groups & managed into no longer having a voice. So they raise their voice to be heard. The fear comes from feeling irrelevant. Make them relevant while never swaying from the vision God has given you & your church’s leadership.

There’s SO much more to dig into here, but these are the basics. What would you add? Comment below.


Chris Sligh is an worship leader, songwriter, producer, recording artist, & American Idol finalist based out of Madison, TN. His latest CD, Mighty Roar/Healing Flood, is available most anywhere Christian music is sold.