Criticism is almost inevitable if you’re doing God’s work in a rotten world. No matter how hard you work to serve God and others well, somebody’s going to complain. I know, because I’ve been the recipient of that criticism. My general approach to criticism, though, is to first give the complainer the benefit of the doubt—and then deal with the critique. Here’s why I start with the benefit of the doubt:
- I assume that my critic loves me. I might be wrong in my assumption, but I know I serve others best when I believe they really do love me—even when they find reasons to criticize me. If I believe they love me, I hear their complaints differently.
- My critic might have other things going on in his life. Numerous things could be affecting him in ways that he’s hypersensitive to things that bug him, and thus he complains like he seldom does. Maybe he’s having physical issues. Perhaps his marriage is at stake. He might have lost his job. The pressure of life becomes evident in the way he responds with his criticisms.
- My critic may be dealing with personal sin issues. We have a tendency to hide our sin, yet the weight of that hidden sin rests heavily on our shoulders. Our soul hurts internally while we try to cover things up externally. Under that pressure, we sometimes lash out at others.
- My critic may never have been taught how to confront well. Many churches don’t disciple believers well, and even those who do tend not to deal with “confronting well.” When we don’t know how to confront, we often complicate the issues by our wrong approach more than by the content of our concern.
- It’s possible that my critic’s concern has some level of truth in it. Seldom have I had a critic raise an issue that was completely, blatantly off base. Sometimes my critics have elevated issues unnecessarily, but I’ve still learned something about myself via their criticisms. If I refuse to hear them, though, I miss that opportunity to grow.
- Giving the benefit of the doubt first earns me permission to respond as needed to the criticism. I am not arguing here that we only need to bear the criticisms, accept responsibility, and cower in shame. There are times when our critics are wrong, and it’s right to help them see reality. It’s easier to do that, though, when we’ve first been willing to hear our critics fairly.
What are your thoughts? What are your practices when confronted?
Thank you to our guest author, Chuck Lawless. Chuck Lawless is Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice-President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions. In addition, he is Team Leader for Theological Education Strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Check out Chuck's blog here.