How to Live With Criticism

None of us like to be criticized and yet criticism seems at epidemic level in the Church. Those that enter into spiritual leadership positions have a dream that we are entering into an encouraging, uplifting environment where blessings are abundant and conflict is at a minimum. But what we often find is we’ve landed in a war zone where factions are vying for power and if we’re not careful we’re going to either get our head blown off or worse wake up with a dagger in our backs.

But I digress - let me get back to criticism because even in the best of churches we will face criticism and it is how we deal with it that will often determine if we can move forward in our ministries. Here are some basics that we must get straight before we can discuss how to deal with criticism. This is because if we fail to understand ministry realistically we will be ill-equipped to deal with what we experience.

Criticism is inevitable. 

This is because everyone has their own agenda (or if we want to spiritualize it “vision”) and when you do something that is not in alignment with this you will be criticized. Nowhere is this more evident in than in Jesus’ ministry. He upset the status quo and was persecuted for it. The Apostle Paul also had his fair share of criticism and because of those critics we can thank for the writing of Corinthians and Galatians. The sooner we accept this as a fact the healthier will be or response to criticism.

Criticism is most damaging when we are needing the approval of others.

Don’t get me wrong, nobody likes criticism but many of us who enter into the area of spiritual leadership are especially sensitive to it. In this case we need to seriously ask the question if we are in some way addicted to the approval of others. Too many spiritual leaders derive their identities from the approval of others so that when that approval is not forthcoming it leaves them anxious and empty.

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ
— Galatians 1:10 NIV

There are some people who should not like you if you are indeed standing for righteousness.

Or as another put it.

A man’s greatness can be measured by his enemies.
— Don Piatt

Criticism is redemptive. 

Even the worse critics can actually benefit us even if that benefit is we develop the godly qualities of perseverance and long suffering. Why it is that character is most developed in the crucible of trials? Don’t really know except that as one person told me a long time ago “James, God is much more interested in your character than he is in your circumstances”. I really didn’t want to hear that then but over the years it has proven true over and over again. So let the critics drive you to your knees so that you deepen your dependence upon God and learn to stand firm in his grace. It is also true that in almost every criticism there is an element of truth. Don’t make the mistake of missing the truth because of the way it is presented or because it is accompanied by so many lies and distortions. Learn from your “enemies” and you will have greater appreciation for the counsel of your friends.

Let criticism transform into holy union with Christ.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
— Colossians 1:24 NIV

If we think that those afflictions are merely physical think again. In his list of afflictions in 2 Corinthians 11 he states his “concern for all the churches” as the coup de grâce of his trials. And isn’t that the case? It’s not the long hours, the lack of money or other hardships that usually get us dreaming about another career - It is the people. Let that become unit us with the suffering of our savior and draw us into deeper intimacy with his heart. For the real pain of the cross was not the nails in his feet and hands. It was not the lashings or the crown of thorns. The real pain was caring our sins. We as servants of our Savior also carry the sins of our people when we are unjustly criticized and maligned. Should we ask for better treatment than our Lord?