Handling Criticism: Part One

In part one of this two-part series, Marvin Copaus introduces common conflicts choir directors and worship leaders face and how to deal with them. 

It’s a typical Sunday morning at your church, and you are ready to lead God’s people in worship. You managed to get the family to Sunday School on time, and everyone actually remembered to wear socks and shoes. You had a short meeting with the pastor and tech team to talk through the flow of the service, rehearsed with your instrumentalists, and even had time to warm up the choir for a few minutes. After praying with them, everyone heads to the sanctuary a few minutes early. You decide to stop by the water fountain in the hall to get one more sip of water before the service.

Then it happens. One of your more vocal church members decides to “take a moment of your time to share something.” Unfortunately, that involves several minutes of this person complaining about everything they think is wrong with the music ministry, and by extension, the church. A few minutes in, you hear the pre-service music starting. You hurriedly try to excuse yourself and rush through the side door of the sanctuary.

More than ever before, people in today’s society see it as their right to criticize anything they don’t like. Unfortunately, that can carry over into church life, and church members decide that they should speak their opinions, no matter the effect it has on those being criticized. While it can be tempting to consider anyone who criticizes you as bitter, selfish, having a lack of vision, or just plain ungodly, it’s important that we handle this criticism correctly. Listed below are the different ways that people may criticize and how to handle them in a Christ-like way.

Struggling with change

Most people do not like being nudged out of their comfort zones. This is especially true when it comes to music in church. If you change the way things are done, some people will just not like it. Some of these folks feel that the church is the only place that still respects their musical church heritage. Any hint that someone is ignoring or replacing that heritage may cause defensiveness and criticism.

I’ve found that many people are just uncomfortable with things they don’t know. Several years ago, my family and I attended a large church in our area on the Saturday night before Easter (I had responsibilities at my own church the next morning). Over the course of 45 minutes, there was one song I knew, and I’ve been a Christian since the age of eight! Was the music good? Yes. However, I struggled to fully engage since I was learning every song on the fly. Be aware of that factor as you introduce new music. Find ways to incorporate some music that are familiar.

Even in the middle of change, respect those who have come before. Make sure you work on getting buy-in from those who have been at your church for many years. Celebrate what God has done in the past in your church. And then be willing to step forward in a new direction as God leads. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Personal preference

Those who criticize from this point of view tend to start the conversation with phrases such as, “I like,” “I don’t like,” “Our church doesn’t like” and so on. It can be difficult to persuade them that there are others who like something different or that what you’re doing is reaching a certain group of people differently than “what they like.”

What these folks usually mean is that they are used to doing things a certain way and that you have somehow violated the, “We’ve never done it that way before” rule. These conversations can be pretty frustrating, because these folks don’t always buy into the vision of where God is leading the church.

With these folks, you may choose to defend the ongoing vision of the church, explaining again where God is leading. You may think the best thing you can do with these folks is to thank them for sharing and move on, knowing that there is little buy-in from them.

On the other hand, you may choose to dig for more information. Ask open-ended questions: “Can you point to something specific that seems to bother you?” “What has happened in the past to cause you to be concerned?” “Is there a Scriptural reason we shouldn’t proceed?” Sometimes, you’ll find that these folks don’t really know why they are criticizing, but just want someone to listen to their concerns. They may end up being strong supporters after all.

We hope you enjoyed part one of this blog series! Stay tuned for part two where we dive even deeper into this topic.


About the Author: Marvin Copaus is Sales Manager at Brentwood Benson. He has been with the company almost 20 years and in music ministry 40 years. Marvin and his wife Rita live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with their two sons, along with several dogs and cats. Marvin currently serves churches in Middle Tennessee by doing international interim music ministry.

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