This is part 2 of a guest post by Dr. R.B. Ouellette. In part one he described complaining critics, casual critics, and crazy critics and listed helpful responses for each. In this post, we pick up with the final two types of critics:
Ralph Nader exemplifies this type of critic. Nader wrote a book critical of the Corvair titled Unsafe at Any Speed. While I have never owned a Corvair, I have ridden in them on several occasions with no negative effect.
Nader went on to make a career out of criticizing. He criticized business, politics, and products that businesses produced. But so far as I know, Ralph Nader never produced anything himself. He never contributed to the economy in any substantial form. Nader never brought a new product on the market that made the lives of American citizens better or easier. He spent his life attacking those who were doing something rather than accomplishing something himself.
Long before I went into the ministry, I became aware of career critics. Their sermons were more concerned with pointing out the faults of others than they were with helping people know how to live for God. Any publications they had were filled with the errors and flaws of other of God’s servants and contained little to encourage people in actually winning and discipling souls. Some of these career critics spend time investigating websites, examining bookstores, and combing sermons in order to “find fault.”
How do you respond to career critics?
- Consider the substance. Truth is truth. The most mean-spirited, negative, critical person may speak some truth to which we need to pay attention. The substance of the critic may be valid though we may not be drawn to their spirit.
- Consider the source. I give little weight to those whose life seems to center on finding fault with others. I recall talking with a well-known Christian leader who told me that he had had a conversation with a man who spends a great deal of time finding faults with others and sharing them with his constituents. He told me that he said to this man, “There is a lot of chatter out there about _____.” The critic responded, “I know. I caused that!” A man who takes pride in sowing discord and division is not one to whom I wish to pay a great deal of attention.
- Continue serving. Do not let their criticism discourage you.As a young pastor, I invited Dr. Elmer Towns to come and conduct a Sunday School clinic at our church. At the time I extended the invitation, he was working with Dr. Curtis Hutson in Atlanta, Georgia. Between the time he agreed to come and the time of the clinic, he left Dr. Hutson and began to work with Dr. Jerry Falwell. This would have been in the early 80s. Dr. Falwell had begun a leftward drift, but it was not nearly so pronounced as it later became.I was shocked to read a paper in which a series of brief “exposés” included me and our church. “Did you know that First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, R. B. Ouellette pastor, had a Sunday School clinic hosted by Dr. Elmer Towns?!” I was amazed to see my name and our church in print. I wondered why the brother had not taken the time to call me. He was an older man; I was a younger man. If he were concerned about my direction, should he not have been willing to speak to me personally? This man is a good man, and he and I have since become friendly. He has often attended services at our church, and I appreciate his continued faithfulness to the Lord Jesus for many years.
I suspect that for some young men, a similar occurrence has been the beginning of their departure from truth. Do not let the career critic get you off track.
- Do not contribute to the situation. The Miranda warning says, “Anything you say can and will be used against you . . .” Any answer we give to career critics merely provides fodder for their next column. Proverbs 26:20 warns, “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.”
These are those who, with a right spirit and a right motive, come to us with their concerns. They deserve our most careful attention.
- Be grateful. The Bible says the wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).
- Listen thoughtfully. This individual is usually walking in the Spirit and tends to come reluctantly, not wanting to discourage you.
- Pray carefully. Be sure your response is Spirit-led, whatever the criticism is.
- Act wisely. I once received a letter from a preacher younger than me in which he said, “Brother Ouellette, we’re both too old to change.” I replied that I hoped I never got too old to change, as long as change was mandated by Scripture. And I’ve endeavored to maintain a responsive spirit to needed changes.
One instance in which I received constructive criticism was after I preached a message which I’ve frequently preached over the years entitled “Crumby Christians.” In that message, I would tell a joke that I heard from a well-known evangelist. I had preached the sermon dozens of times before an elderly song leader in a California church spoke to me at the conclusion of the service.“Dr. Ouellette,” he said, kindly, “Would do me a favor?”
“Why, of course, “I said. “How can I help you?”
“I wonder,” he said, “If you would consider not telling that story.” He went on to explain that he thought it could be misconstrued and might put inappropriate thoughts in the mind of a young person. Now, please understand that if I had thought the joke was inappropriate, I would not have told it! But this was a good man, a faithful man, and a kind man. I said, to him, “My brother, I certainly will.”
I have preached that sermon often since that occasion. I have never again told that joke. I did not have the same attitude about the joke as my brother did, or I never would have told it. But I thought when such a good, sincere, genuine man came to me with such a good spirit, I should appropriately respond.
To either disregard or heed all critics could destroy you or your ministry. When people criticize, we need godly discernment to perceive the source and the validity of what has been shared with us. May God grant us the wisdom and humility to practice godly discernment.