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Criticism: who do you listen to?

Posted Feb 04 2010 9:30pm


If you have been in ministry longer than about two minutes you have probably encountered criticism. I've heard it said that if you are going into pastoral ministry you had better develop the hide of a rhinoceros!  There's some truth to that. 

CriticsI have learned a whole lot about criticism over the years becausewell. . .I've been criticized a lot. I used to think, "what's wrong with me?" Now I realize that any leader who is truly doing something is going to be criticized.  Edmund Burke once said"To avoid criticismsay nothingbe nothingdo nothing."  Movers and shakers are criticized. I have always been the type of person who has a million things spinning at once - projects galore and running at about 110 miles an hour to get it all done with excellence. My husband often says that critics have to talk about me because they can't keep up with meso they are left to do nothing but stand back and take shots at me while I whiz by! As someone who has been through quite a bit of thisI'd like to share with you some things to consider when you are criticized.

Firstconsider the source.  How many times have you heard that?  It's so important to consider the source but relatively few of us do. I have had nine people come up and tell me I look greatbut if just one person walks up and says"that dress makes your hips look a little wider," I don't ever want to wear that dress again. All it takes is one person to say somethingand generally it doesn't matter who that person is for it to make us feel inadequate in some way. But I'm here to tell you todayif you are going to be emotionally healthy as a person and especially as a leaderyou MUST consider the source. Nowin considering the sourcelet's lay a foundation.

All of us need people in our lives that we are in close relationship with -- those who we are accountable to.  Those individuals must be selected carefullyfor who you surround yourself with makes a huge difference in who and what you become. I believe it's healthy to have a minimum of three people that you look to in a mentor type relationshipthree other people at a lateral leveland then three that you are mentoring.  In receiving a piece of criticism it definitely carries weight if it comes through the "top six" in my life.  That includes my three mentorsand my three closest colleagues. I have willingly opened myself up to these individuals and I welcome them to share things with me that will help to refine me. When they have ANYTHING to sayI am wide open to hear it.  

Then there are those outside of the scope of these relationships and this is where it gets trickier. 

Firstlet's deal with anonymous critics.  An anonymous critic should never receive one moment of your time or attention. They are a coward who wants to speak their mind but not be accountable themselves. They hide behind a cloak of anonymity while throwing verbal rocks at you from their safe spot. When I get such a letter in the mailI tear it up and throw it away and don't give it more thought. Along with most other pastors I knowI have received these anonymous letters through U.S. Mailour fax machine at the churcheven email accounts that these people create simply to send then delete. Isn't it sad that some people live in such fear and low confidence that they can't stand by their words?  It is sadbut it's also not my problem or yours. As soon as you receive these messagesdelete them from your computeryour mail pile on your deskand most of all delete them from your mind.

Thumbs down Secondlet's deal with critics on the fringe. Some people want to attend a church or a ministry and spectate but not be part of the solution. I also don't listen to these folks. They haven't made an investment worthy of having an audience.  Here is an example. If someone who does nothing but warm a chair on Sunday mornings comes up to me and shares a bunch of negative opinion about something in the churchI don't give it any weight.  

Thirdlet's talk about those who might not be in the "top six" (those you are mentored byor close friends/colleagues) but serve in other important places in your life. For exampleif one of the members of our leadership team (staffboard membersministry leaders) comes and shares a concernit immediately holds weight. These folks have invested bloodsweat and tears into this ministry and worked alongside of Larry and I. While I may not necessarily agree with their criticism or change what I am doing as a result,  what they say is given much consideration and I not only weigh their words carefully but prayerfully!  OftenI do end up changing something as a result of what these folks say once I have thought it out and gone to the Lord about it.  The key is often the spirit behind their question.  As men and women of God we can discern right away if someone is mentioning something for the betterment of us as peopleand the overall good of the church or if they just have their own critical agenda.  

Two things matter ultimately when it comes to who you listen to:

1)  Authority - we must give consideration to criticism by those in authority over us. For me this would include my boss at my secular job. Kathryn is the least critical person that I knowhowever there are times she needs to give me a course correction. When she does soI'm all ears. The reason is firstshe is an authority over me. But secondshe has made a significant investment into my lifewhich brings me to the second thing that matters...

2)  Investment - we must give consideration to criticism by those who have positively invested and continue to invest in our lives. Where there is no investment in my lifeI have to wonder about the motive of the one sharing the criticism. Is it to make me a better person? Is the critic sharing with my best interest in mind?  Orare they just an unhappytoxic, critical person who wants to spew their latest venom on me? There is a big difference.   

Finallythe most important thing is to filter every single criticism you receive through the Word of God. Everything must be "Word filtered".  What would Jesus say? Or better yetwhat DID Jesus say? There are times people share things with me that I will tell you right nowJesus would nevernevernever say to a person. In those casesthrow it out. If it doesn't pass the Word testyou don't need to consider it.  Whatever you dodon't let it take root in  your heart if it is not Word filtered.  It will just fester there and cause you harm.

When we are criticized in some waywe often feel pressure to explain or defend ourselves on an issue.  I have learned this is not necessary. The truth isyour critics will never believe youand your real friends don't need an explanation!  Simply stand still and see the salvation of your God.  Remember that above all else you don't answer to the criticsespecially the anonymous or those on the fringe of the answer to Him.  Galatians 1:10 says it best:  "Am I now trying to win the approval of menor of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men I would not be a servant of Christ." (NIV) 


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