There is always someone who thinks they can do it better.  Sometimes your critics are really trying to help you and other times they are trying to hurt you.  Some critics want to see you improve, and others just want you to give up and move on.  This is what makes it so hard when we are dealing with those who criticize a sermon, leadership decision, illustration, or something else.  It is almost impossible to determine whether or not the critic is attempting to be helpful, or just hurtful.  With over fifteen years of ministry under my belt I can honestly say that I have dealt with my share of critics.  So here are some helpful hints that might help you discern between those that honestly want to help, and those that are set on your destruction.

  1. Consider the past – Is this a person that is always criticizing you, or someone who in the past has been helpful and encouraging. If it’s the later you probably are facing a critic that is trying to be helpful.  However if grumpy George critics your sermon every week and tells you how well he could have preached the same message, or how when he was a supervisor at work his decision-making was so much better for this reason or that, then you likely have a hurtful critic on your hands.
  2. Consider frequency – Helpful critics generally speak up every now and then.  Hurtful critics are always sending you emails, knocking on your door, or calling your cell phone.
  3. Consider the criticism –  Does is seem like another petty complaint or is their some validity to their issue? To many leaders after facing years or decades of criticism automatically assume that every critic is a hurtful, mean-spirited, ill-informed individual.  This is not always the case, some criticism is actually intended to help others.
  4. Consider the authority –  Does this person have the experience and authority to criticize you in this area of life?  If so they are likely a helpful critic, if not they may be a hurtful one.  For example, years ago there was a retired pastor in our congregation.  He had ministered for over 45 years in a variety of churches.  As a minister in my early 20’s there was plenty of stuff to criticize and this man would frequently offer suggestions concerning administration issues, or sermon delivery, or call me out when I got something wrong.  For a short time I thought he was a hurtful critic, but after prayerfully considering his authority on the subjects I discovered that he was only trying to help me.  Before he passed away this man had several years to be one of my most helpful critics.  Because I listened to him I was able to learn, and advance as a young minister much faster than others.
  5. Consider the tone –  This can be a tough one because most of your critics will try to sound like the are only trying to be helpful.  Generally critics don’t yell, scream, cuss, or jump up and down when they are talking to you.  But over time with practice it is possible to discern the tone of a critic and use that to determine if they are trying to be helpful or hurtful.

So what should we do when we are faced with a critic?  First determine if they are a helpful critic or hurtful critic with the things I outlined above.  The things below should be done with all critics even if they are trying to be hurtful.

  1. Listen –  you should always listen to the criticism that is being aimed at you.  Even if it’s painful and hurtful you should listen.  Ignoring your critics does not make the criticism go away, instead of bending your ear about the issue generally they will just start talking to other people about it. If you give your critics sometime and if you really listen to them 99% of the time they are satisfied and feel like they can put the issue behind and move on.  If you ignore them the issue just gets bigger and bigger.
  2. Learn – You can learn from both helpful and hurtful critics.  You might only learn how to deal with a negative person, or how to forgive someone who is hurtful toward you.  But guess what you learned something and that is a great thing.  Never walk away from criticism without learning something.
  3. Love –  Learn to love your critics.  This is an easy thing to do with your helpful critics but it takes more effort with the hurtful ones. My most hurtful critics over the years have generally done one of two things after I have loved them for a period of time.  First they leave, because they realize that no matter what they say or do they won’t get negative attention from me and that I will love them no matter what.  Or they become good friends and are transformed from hurtful to helpful critics.
  4. Respond –  All critics deserve a thoughtful, prayerful response.  If you just ignore the criticism you only fan the flame.  In your response let the critic know how their criticism made you feel.  Did you find it helpful or hurtful?  Was it encouraging or discouraging? Many times once the hurtful critic understands that their criticism has wounded you they will ask for forgiveness.  Generally speaking they are much more careful with their words during the next round of criticism. If the critic helped you, they will feel the freedom to send your more constructive criticism in the future.  My old pastor friend I mentioned previously in this post would talk or write me at least weekly because he knew I found his words, and criticism helpful. He had the freedom to be my critic and I let him know that.

Criticism is apart of leading and a part of life. You can ignore it, pretend you are perfect and just truck through life.  Or you can deal with it, learn from it, and hopefully be better off because of it. I have chosen to do that latter.