Cutting Words: How Do I Handle Criticism?

Dear Roger,

A friend of mine criticized me for some life decisions I’ve made. I believe it is none of his business. However, he is a really good friend, so I am not sure what to do with his words of rebuke. Should I blow him off and not worry about it? Should I feel guilty? Should I defend myself? How should I respond?

Sincerely, H T.

Dear H T,

When I left Texas for Arizona to pastor Casas Church my mentor warned me that there will be three pastors in the church. The one who is the pastor (me); the one who wants to be pastor and the one who thinks he is the pastor.

 

Once upon a time I was leading a church elder meeting when the man who wanted to be pastor got up and walked around the table until he stood directly behind me. I could swear that I felt his breath on my neck as he began a soliloquy on why I was leading the church down a path of destruction. He proceeded to enumerate all the decisions that I had made over the years that he thought were wrong or destructive.

No one was surprised at his accusations. He’d made very clear over the previous months to any who would listen that I was not fit to be pastor. The implication was clear: He wanted me gone and consciously or unconsciously he wanted to be the pastor.

My cheeks reddened. I dared not look up. How do I handle this? Fortunately, I knew the applicable Bible verse:

 

“A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverb 19:11).

 

So, I sat quietly and “took it”. I sat with my head down repeating this verse about receiving glory for overlooking his tirade. I was not certain just what the “glory” was but I was glad it was available. This was not the time or place to settle out his issues. I moved on to the next item on the agenda.

 

That was the last time he ever attended an elder meeting. That night he waited outside for me. As he told me all the ways that I was destroying the church he was punching my chest with his index finger. I decided that his political maneuverings would soon fail so I let him poke as he spoke. He was gone within the month.

Early in our marriage I knew that Julie kept a journal but I never dared to look inside. Her journal was her private domain. One morning I saw it laying open on the bed. “Just a quick look can’t hurt,” I said to myself. So I peeked. Her journal was opened to her prayer list for the day and there was I at the top of the list. She was praying for me to handle criticism well.

She had listed seven criteria. I have used them often. Over the years I have codified the list and added tips from several sources. I hope you find these Proverbial tips to be helpful as you navigate the waves of criticism.

 

Most of the criticism that comes our way falls far short of the attack I suffered at the hands of the man who would be pastor. Let’s focus on the more “low level” criticisms that we most often face.

 

Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or even at times a stranger. No one enjoys it; but Proverbs teaches that good criticism is good for us. Proverb 12:1 declares: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”

Offering and receiving criticism is an art. The tips listed below all come from the Book of Proverbs.

 

?Have The Right Attitude.

No one is perfect, so welcome rebuke, even if it stings (Proverb 25:12).

Let your wisdom show. Respond with humility, gratitude and apologies, if warranted (Proverb 12:1).

 

?Have The Right Response.

Stop and look at the person. Criticism is serious business (Proverb 10:17).

Listen to what they have to say. Don’t answer too quickly (Proverb 18:13).

Resist the temptation to defend. Don’t accuse or use labels (Proverb 23:9).

Don’t act like a fool by changing the subject or joking (Proverb 10:8).

Continue restating in your own words what you think the critic said until you both agree to what the critic actually said and means to ensure that you both are talking about the same thing (Proverb 16:21).

 

?Evaluate Carefully.

If the criticism is true, make appropriate changes. If not, ignore it (Proverbs 13:18).

People have different priorities and expectations; so evaluate criticism in light of your purposes and calling in life (Proverb 1:1-6).

Consider The Source. Some People Can’t Be Satisfied; Some Criticisms Aren’t Worth Engaging; Some People Aren’t Worth Listening To.

 

?You Don’t Have To Suffer Abusive Criticism.

 

I was greeting departing parishioners in the church foyer when the leader of a group who said they had figured out the time and the hour of His return, told me it was God’s will for me to announce the warning so others may be ready. I refused. He came after me. It was only when my five-year-old daughter burst out in tears that I put her in my arms and walked away. He continued to shout.

I don’t stand there any more and think that I have a divine responsibility to stand there and endure that sort of verbal attack. I tell the abuser, “When you can talk to me like a normal adult instead of like a three-year-old let me know. Then we can finish this conversation. Let me know when you are ready. Until the, I am leaving. And I do.

By the way, this procedure works well on phone calls, too.

?Sometimes We Need To Do The Criticizing.

Words are powerful things. Be careful what you say and how you say it.

Share the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Timing is sometimes more important than truth.

You may not know as much about what is going on as you think you do.

 

“Great is the man who can accept criticism. Greater yet is he who welcomes it. But greatest of all is he who knows how to administer it in a spirit of love and sensitivity without causing pain or chagrin.” (Rabbi Norman Lamm)

Hope this helps.

Love, Roger

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