Responding to criticism

We have all been stung by criticism. It hits us blindside, a wallop seemingly out of nowhere. Perhaps we assumed that all was well, that our hard efforts were appreciated, and then it came: someone suspects our motives, someone takes work that was profoundly meaningful to us and tore it to shreds.

We stumble outside, sit on the steps and try to take it all in. Were they right? Did we truly, deeply wrong others?

At some level we know we are not perfect, so there is the distinct possibility that some of this is true. There is usually a grain of truth to the criticism, and it is worthwhile, following the initial hurt, to contemplate where we might have gone wrong.

But not all criticism is fair, or offered from the perspective of someone who cares either about us, or the truth. Often critics care little for accuracy, the facts, or the survival of their target. It makes me think of Jesus’ commentary on the fickle nature of people: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn” (Matthew 11:17).

There was, it seemed, nothing one could do to make them happy. No action, no words would meet their approval. He faced the classic double bind, he was condemned if he did, and condemned if he did not.

So how can you tell if a criticism was genuine or not?

  • Ask yourself if he or she came directly to you, as opposed to spreading it to others, or the elders, or social media first.
  • Ask if he has also borne your burdens as Paul suggested he must (Galatians 6:2).
  • Ask yourself if, even if exaggerated, there might be a grain of truth in his critique from which you can learn.
  • Note whether he offered, along with the criticism, a solution.
  • Note whether he offered to play a part in helping to make things better.

It is possible that he is wrong. He might not know you, or he might simply be a negative person whom you will never please. In that case kindly but firmly let him know that his words were not helpful.

Really! Eventually someone should stand up to a bully. Don’t lower yourself to his level, of course, don’t respond with a tit for tat insult, but simply say: “I’m afraid you don’t have all the facts,” or even better, “Why don’t you volunteer to make that situation better?”

Above all, don’t allow criticism to stop you from serving the Lord. “Let us not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). No one wins when the victim of criticism gives up.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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