Growing leaders who desire to finish strong in the work of the Lord must develop a filter through which they receive criticism.
To disregard all criticism is prideful and insolates you from help you need. But to try to act on all criticism reveals another type of pride—the fear of man, not to mention that it will drive you crazy.
So, how should you deal with criticism? When I receive criticism, there are three thoughts I try to bear in mind.
- I remember that without God’s grace, I am nothing. This helps keep me from feeling defensive against criticism that could help me grow.
- I remember that people do indeed sometimes have misperceptions. Some of the people who have written the most about our ministry have never taken the time to come see us firsthand or to ask clarifying questions. Often their perceptions have simply been false.
- I am always glad to talk if someone directly approaches me about his concerns. Over the years, these kinds of personal conversations have been mutually beneficial and have sometimes forged great relationships.
Recently my friend, Dr. R. B. Ouellette, put much of this in perspective in writing the guest post below. He notes five types of critics as well as how to deal with each.
Dr. Ouellette has pastored the same church (First Baptist Church of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Michigan) for forty years. Needless to say, he’s dealt with a few critics over the years. I found the thoughts below very helpful and trust that you will as well.
Anyone who does anything will be criticized. B. R. Lakin used to say, “The way to avoid criticism is to have nothing, be nothing, and do nothing.” Dr. Hutson said that when he was speaking to Dr. Lakin about the criticism his church was receiving, Lakin said, “Well, as long as they’re kicking you in the rear, you know you’re still out in front.”
The book of Proverbs gives us two apparently contradictory verses:
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.—Proverbs 26:4
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.—Proverbs 26:5
It seems clear that the Bible is telling us that there are some times we should answer fools and some times we should not.
Similarly, different kinds of critics require different kinds of responses. Not all critics have the same agenda or deserve the same kind of response. Over the years, I’ve noticed five types of critics, and I’ve tried to respond to them in individual ways.
These could also be called cranky critics. This is the person who is born in the accusative mode. They are always unhappy with everything. These people exist in every part of the world and in every ministry.
How do you deal with a complaining critic?
- Listen to them. Listen attentively and without immediate response.
- Repeat what they say. This insures that they know you understand them.
- Agree with all you can. Just these first three steps will often deflate this type of a critical spirit. My dad was once waiting for my mother while she shopped. He had parked near the door so she could easily get into the car when she finished. An older man came up and berated him for having parked in a fire lane. My dad looked at the man, smiled, and said, “Well thank you for telling me that. I’ll be glad to move.” The man looked at him, dumbfounded, and said nothing. Kindly agreeing can fulfill Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath….”
- Promise to consider their complaint. I find it wise not to immediately tell these kinds of critics what I plan to do.
- Ask God if there is any wisdom to what they had to say. This is important. It is easy for us to dismiss the continual critic as not having any validity to their complaint when, in fact, there may, on occasion, be some legitimacy to what they say.
- Do what you believe God would have you to do about the situation. Follow through on what God shows you.
These are the people with whom you have little or no relationship and yet they presume to tell you how to do your business.
For instance, many churches have a display board in the back of the auditorium or the foyer where they post their attendance and offerings. We do not. The only public display we have of a numerical nature is the number of people who went soulwinning the previous week, the number of contacts they made, and the number of people they saw trust Christ as Saviour. We’ve done this because we want the focus to be on souls rather than on our church attendance or our offerings.
A lady from another church attended one of our services and later called to ask me why we had such a board up. I explained that we were interested in souls and wanted to keep the attention on reaching people for Christ. She responded that she thought the board was offensive and that it constituted bragging.
Incidentally, this lady was from a church that does not emphasize soulwinning and that was not seeing many people saved. I’m not sure why she felt she had to speak to me about this, but over the years I’ve had many people with very limited relationships to our church feel the need point out what they perceive to be faults. I have been given unsolicited advice concerning the volume of my preaching, the size of my suits, and the selection of my sermons.
What do you do with casual critics?
- Listen to them. Be polite, even though they may not deserve your attention.
- Thank them for their interest. I often receive critical letters from people who really have nothing to do with me or our church. I usually respond by saying something like this: “Thank you for caring enough about me and our ministry to take the time to write. I promise I will consider the things you said. God bless you, Sincerely . . .” This keeps them from saying that I “would not even answer their letter,” and gives them no reason to continue the discussion. Most of the defenses we make against casual critics merely provide them with ammunition to extend the argument.
- Evaluate what they have said. Even a casual critic may have a good point.
- Decide whether or not to act. Our motivation must always be to do right, not to appease or to anger our critics.
Over the years, I have come in contact with some people who are certifiable lunatics. One lady called our office frequently and told us that her dogs were giving her information. She would, if we allowed her to, spend an hour or so talking to the secretaries about all of her concerns.
- Avoid them. I gave the secretaries permission to ignore the calls that came from that phone number.
- Kindly end the conversation as soon as possible. Of course, we should never lie to end a conversation. But it is perfectly legitimate to say, “Oh, you know what? There is something I need to take care of. I’m going to have to go. Have a good day. God bless you.” And then hang up the phone. (It is helpful to keep talking until the time that you hang up the phone. Otherwise, the crazy critics will interrupt and attempt to continue the conversation.)
This post will be continued in part two with the final two types of critics—career critics and constructive critics.