A Few Words on Criticism

In this electronic age of instant messaging, and immediate reacting, it seems every blogger and his budgie (including me!) think they have the right to sling digital mud at anyone who’s not in their network, totally overlooking the fact that, as Christians, we’re all part of the same network, and we’re told to believe the best and love on each other like we love ourselves. I’m not talking about debating doctrine or wrestling with theology (things we should encourage and engage with), but about spiteful slander, where the thing gets personal. In some cases over the last few weeks and months I’ve seen some posts and tweets that were just downright nasty. In other cases, it seems people are simply surprised that someone looks like an eye or an earlobe and another like a big toe or a bicep, when that’s actually the whole point.

Anyway, before I run away on a rant, I thought that rather than addressing a particular person’s prideful posts, taunting tweets or sermon slams, I’d dedicate a few lines to the topic of criticism itself…

In my years attending church, I’ve been in settings where you can’t say a word because the pastor always knows best and it’s dishonourable to discuss or doubt, and I’ve been in others where the whole code and culture is critique-based and riddled with cynicism. At New Generation, we’re doing what we can (and I’m sure we’re failing too at times) to help build  where honour is a valued virtue and respect for leaders and elders is expected, but we’re also trying to instil in our organisation practices promoting accountability and transparency, and always make sure we lead with an open door, so that questions can be asked and discussions had.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair few jabs in my years leading, both in church and at New Generation, and to be honest, a lot of the comments made have probably been more than justified. I can be a jerk at times, and nobody likes working for a jerk. But, there’s also been plenty of times when it’s just been some obnoxious 18-year old who’s just left home and never had another job who thinks we’re doing it all wrong. Usually they’ve “had a revelation from the Lord” whilst reading the latest book and want to “lovingly” point us in the right direction and get the organisation back on track. This is one of the perks attached to working with college graduates with no real work/life-experience.

Anyway, here are a few things I’ve read and heard others say about handling criticism that I think are helpful:

  1. Make your critics your coaches: this means valuing criticism (whether it was meant well or not) and learning from criticism (whether it is accurate and true or not).
  2. Respond to the content, not the tone: this means you unwrap the points raised and suggestions made, keeping the contents and throwing away the wrapping, which is often bad attitudes etc.
  3. Don’t be paranoid: even if it feels like it’s you against the world, it’s not. Don’t take everything so personally!
  4. Give it time: don’t respond immediately, whether it be to an email, phone call or straight up confrontation…where possible, give it a few days and it’ll be easier to distinguish between the wrapping and the contents, and to decide whether the contents are worth keeping or not. (I’m definitely still trying to master this one!)
  5. It’s part of the package: if you’ve been commended and praised for doing something well, you will also be criticised and slandered. You can’t have the one without the other, so get used to it and don’t be surprised by it. Neither the praise or the criticism should be the basis for your identity, but who you are in Christ. (Easier said than done, right?!)
  6. Remember God: it’s easy to slip into evaluating everything from a human perspective and forget that God is in the mix and that He understands. Not only that, but He’s been there Himself.

What do you do with criticism? Ignore, hit back or handle? How?

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