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Handling Criticism
by Tom Goodman
January 25, 2008

I ran across an article by Joel Beeke who offered these wise words of counsel on how to handle criticism.  He wrote to those in full-time ministry positions, but his words apply to anyone in leadership:

  1. Consider it inevitable.  In a recent study, 81 percent of American clergymen said they have experienced hostile criticism.  My first reaction to that study is that other 19 percent were lying!  Expect criticism; don't be devastated by it.
  2. Consider the motive.  Beeke says we need to ask ourselves, "Have I heard and understood the criticism rightly and accurately?  Have I heard the real problem or just a symptom of something deeper?"  Understanding the person's motive will help you respond and cope better with the criticism.
  3. Consider the source.  You've probably heard the phrase, "Those who row the boat don't have time to rock it."  The opposite is also true:  Too often those who are rocking the boat aren't the ones doing the rowing.  Beeke bluntly suggests, "Criticisms from such persons seldom merit change or any other investment of energy on your part."  However, when people with insight and maturity offer constructive criticism, it's worth your while to assess their complaints.
  4. Consider the context.  Beeke writes, "The physical setting, timing, and situation out of which criticism comes may help us determine whether the criticism is helpful.  As a general rule, don't respond to criticism for at least twenty-four hours to allow yourself time for prayer, sifting through your feelings, getting past some of the hurt, and consulting others whose wisdom you respect."
  5. Consider yourself.  "The Holy Spirit uses our critics to keep us from justifying, protecting, and exalting ourselves," Beeke observes.  "Although critics often exaggerate their case and are seldom entirely right, they are often partially right."
  6. Consider the content.  The wise man said, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Prov. 27:6).  We can learn valuable truths about ourselves from the honesty of our friends who are courageous enough to point out our weaknesses, our areas of neglect, our insensitivity, and so on.
  7. Consider Scripture.  It's remarkable how often God has used certain Scriptures to comfort me in times of unjust criticism -- and also to convict me that someone's criticism was merited!
  8. Consider Christ.  The Big Fisherman wrote, "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.'  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."  In reflecting on that truth, Beeke wrote, "If Christ, who was perfect and altogether innocent, was spat upon, mocked, rejected, and crucified, what can we imperfect pastors expect?  If one of Jesus' handpicked apostles betrayed him for a paltry sum, and another swore that he did not know Him out of fear for a servant maid, why should we expect to carry on our ministries without ever being betrayed or deserted?"
  9. Consider biblical saints.  Reflect on how men like Peter and Paul handled rejection and continued to serve faithfully.
  10. Consider love.  Seek to understand your critics.  Thank them for coming directly to you with their criticism.  Be willing to forgive any injustice done to you.  Pray for, and even with, your critics.  Try to understand the circumstances that make some people so sour to you.  Beeke wrote, "You will discover that when you lovingly serve your critic rather than resentfully retaliate against him, your own wounds will heal more rapidly.  If your critic rebuffs your attempt to serve him, reach out to serve others -- comfort the needy, lift up the fallen, support the weak.  That will be excellent therapy for you."
  11. Consider the long haul.  We look upon Abraham Lincoln as a great American hero today, but he was widely and roundly reviled in his day.  Thousands opposed his views on war and slavery as well as his attempts to keep the nation united.  When a friend asked him how he handled all the complaints, Lincoln responded, "You know that during the time of the full moon, dogs bark and bark at the moon as long as it is clearly visible in the sky."

    Puzzled by Lincoln's response, the friend asked, "What are you driving at?  What's the rest of the story?"  Lincoln answered, "There is nothing more to tell.  The moon keeps right on shining."

    Another president, Theodore Roosevelt, said, "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again."
  12. Consider eternity.  Isn't it good to know that, as believers, we'll spend eternity with a Lord who loves us even though he knows everything about us!  And there three great truths will become clear.  First, we will understand how our divine Potter used all the criticism we received to mold and shape us.  Second, we will see fully that all the criticisms we were called to bear on earth were but a light affliction compared to the weight of glory that awaited us.  (2 Corinthians 4:17)  Third, in heaven we will be "more than repaid" for every hardship and annoyance we endured on earth for the sake of our best and perfect Friend, Jesus Christ.

These 12 considerations can help any leader deal with the inevitable criticisms you have to deal with.


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