Dealing with Critics

One of the things I’ve learned over the last two years is how to deal with criticism and critics in a healthy manner.

Three or more years back, when anyone would criticize me or the ministry I oversaw, I would scoff at them, usually blow off their assessment as incorrect, and secretly believe they were just angry, bitter human beings who had nothing better to do.

But now I realize how self-righteous I was being.

It’s incredibly self-righteous to dismiss anyone who doesn’t subscribe to your teaching, beliefs, leadership styles, or approach to ministry. Just because they refuse to sit at the throne of my highness doesn’t mean they deserve our dismissal as being less-than.

Instead, leaders at EBC have taught me a healthier, more humble approach to dealing with critics.
1. Listen
Remove the emotion and simply listen. I have a few rules. If I receive an email of criticism, I first write back my sincere apologies for whatever feelings of anger or sadness they may have. By apologizing (and doing it sincerely), it almost always defuses the emotion. Then, I ask to meet them in person to discuss further. If they don’t want to and don’t respond, I write back an affirmation of what I heard and some ways I’m going to change as a result. The point is: It’s easy to dismiss critics. It’s much harder to really listen.

2. Really Listen
Someone told me there is generally a kernel or nugget of truth in every criticism. Even if I am receiving criticism from someone who is emotional or a bit crazed, I can always find a nugget of truth. Step 2 after listening is to REALLY listen. What did this person see? What did I do wrong?

3. Thank Them
After listening and really listening, I attempt to thank them for caring enough to point something out. It’s genuine, too. I sincerely appreciate those who take the time to present criticism. It means they care. So I thank them.

4. Try to Change
So after listening and thanking, I try to change. Honestly. If I believe there was some truth to what they are saying, I need to have the capacity and confidence in myself to change because of them.

Now, we can’t shift and shape to every critic. There are times when most (and sometimes all) of the criticism is wrong. We can’t change at every criticism. In those moments where the criticism is unwarranted or it’s a criticism that I am just not going to change because of, I need to be able to explain this to the critic with a sound defense and apologize.

For instance, someone was mad we opened a worship service with a song by a secular artist. The song did not contain any kind of inappropriate or suggestive lyrics, and in fact was not even a song by someone with a sketchy reputation. Either way, the critic was upset we had done so. Unfortunately, in this case, we believe in opening worship sets to make students feel immediately comfortable, and this sometimes includes playing a song a non-Christian student might know. In that case, we did not change because it was something we valued.

In the end, when faced with criticism, don’t retreat to the throne of self-righteousness. Instead, listen, really listen and find the kernel of truth, thank them, and try to change.