Have you ever been unfairly criticized?
Once, because one of our mission teams went on a one-month media fast, the rumor circulated among some parents that AIM is a cult. Anybody who knows us understands that AIM is all about empowering young people to discover their calling. Our objective at AIM is to thrust over-protected young people out into the world to formulate their own world view and collide with their destiny. It’s actually the opposite of what cults do as they seek conformity and control.
Thinking about the criticism, I wanted to blog about it. But a staff member had a more prudent perspective, “It’s not worth your time,” he said. He was right; it’s a lesson I’ve been learning for a while now. In life if you’re going to ever do anything significant, then you’re going to have critics. The right thing to do is to honor them.
When I was a younger man, after a really difficult and mistake-filled mission project that I led, one of the participants came to my office and gave me an ear-full of criticism. She had about three pages of things we’d done wrong and was intent on reading them to me. I found her approach patronizing and cut her off. In retrospect, I see that I should have listened. Was my ego such a fragile thing that I couldn’t take what she was dishing out? Was my time so precious that I had to interrupt?
There is a difference between a critic and an enemy. While an enemy may be out to destroy you, a critic often just wants to see things improved. It’s not personal for the critic. He actually may have pure motives, and he’s taking a risk that you’ll reject him or respond defensively when he shares his insight with you.
Feedback from those who are invested is always good. Your self-worth mustn’t be linked to another person’s opinion. The point is that God uses criticism to help us grow. An honest opinion is a gift.
Thin-skinned people make poor leaders because people feel like they have to walk on egg shells around them and can’t tell them the truth. I’ve seen many thin-skinned people hit the “Peter Principle” – they never go to the next level. They stop growing and people just never give them the information they need.
The only proper way for a leader to deal with someone who may have a critical perspective is to defuse their criticism by giving them the opportunity to voice it. Clint Bokelman is excellent at this – he actually loves to talk to youth leaders who have a criticism. He’s made many friends where there was the potential for a youth leader to go off and bad mouth us.
The only appropriate response to feedback is to say, “Thank you for your assessment.” And then pray about it. If the criticism is unwarranted, God will show you.
Many of you are leaders who have been beaten up along life’s path. My experience is, that’s what happens to leaders; they come under attack. If you aspire to change the status quo, you’re going to have a target painted on your back; it’s the price of leadership. If you grow in your influence as a leader, the target just gets bigger.
My prayer is that over time, you will become more confident in how God made you and allow criticism that is unjustified to roll off your back. Welcome your critics; always smile and thank them for being willing to take a risk to help you grow.
Blog readers: I think we can help each other with this issue by talking about it more and learning from one another. What’s been your experience?
Really excellent and well thought advice, Seth. Im glad you waited for this insight before you responded to the precipitating critism. Thanks.
This is great. It’s one of the many things the Lord has taught me through leading and squad leading with the world race. thanks Seth.
Great blog and great advice. As I consider this, I think it’s about having a teachable, discerning spirit. I’ve been a mixed bag of both giving and receiving criticism appropriately. For me, it’s been relatively easy to do with people I work with, harder to do with individuals in my personal life. Some of my best friends in ministry settings started out as the heaviest critics of my role and how I carried it out (fundraising has an endless supply of critics 🙂 … being able to hear them out, explain why we do what we do, correct what I could and “stick with the work” (see below) has given me great success, even as the trends shift and change … but it has been harder on a personal basis. I have found the criticism of close personal friends and family – often delivered terribly – to still be worthwhile. But we are so often blinded by our own ego and brokenness or by the way in which the words are delivered. A teachable, discerning spirit … along with a steady commitment to keep growing and moving toward the future God has set out for me is what I hope I am learning each day to embrace.
Here is a great quote a friend sent me that has been so helpful:
Stick with your work. Do not flinch because the lion roars, do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs, do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits. Do your work!! Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let critics malign, let enemies accuse, let the devil do his worst, but see to it that nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you.
He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed. He has never bidden you to defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood about yourself which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle, or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation.
If you do these things you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord. Keep at your work. Let your aim be as steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives, you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.”
This is always a pertinent topic and in need of good practical instruction, which you just gave! God loves “corrections-are-the-way-to-life” so much that when it was dished out to me in the wrong way, wrong spirit, and I initially received it in the wrong spirit, God still did His purifying work in me. It brought life (when I finally yielded and learned to hear God in it.)
At the time I was working for a mission agency, it seemed everyone was whispering and humiliating me. The decisions seemed harsher than warranted. But when one sister simply said, “God is doing a work here,” (meaning in me), I was lifted up and able to grab hold of something hopeful. My head was lifted up. A Dutch brother commented on Americans making such a big deal about corrections. I saw our cultural pride.
I’ve learned from both positive and negative examples how to and how NOT to bring correction. My guiding principle in giving and receiving correction or discipline is in Hebrews 12:5,6. Don’t take it too lightly and don’t take it too hard. The love of God for us is in it! See that God is inviting us to share His holiness through it. It’s about looking ahead. Being like Jesus. Keeping the big picture.
Decades ago, I had a prof that said to me when he prayed at someone’s ordination, he asked God to give them the hand of a father, the heart of a mother and the hide of a rhinoceros! I never forgot that.
Great blog and as someone over the years in ministry as well I have had my confrontations with Critics and with the enemy as well, as I believe most in life have, but a very wise pastor shared with me once in discerning over which was which was that a critic will build you and the ministry up in their concerns, discernment,advice, etc. where the enemy will tear you down and criticize for the sole purpose of elevating their own self up. Just a simplied thought to share. blessings to all today!
Great blog. An example of criticism that comes to mind was in 2009. Instead of sharing the specifics I will share what I learned:
– Keep my eyes on Jesus & know & live out who I am in Christ
– Many issues arise merely from miscommunication
– Show grace to others (“if His grace is an ocean we’re all sinking” -Dave Crowder Band)
– It’s imporant to know what God has called me to do and stick to it despite hardship
– Honor God by submitting to authority
– Pray & follow the Holy Spirit’s lead (do not react impulsively when angry or hurt by someone’s comments)
– Pray for my leaders
Great reminder and timely to start the New Year!
I really appreciate this blog. One question. Do you (other readers) have any tips for offering feedback/criticism? I am finding it both a necessary and difficult part of leading or being a mentor. The intent is love and growth. The reality is that it is not always received in that way.
Just curious. : )
yeah! this it total affirmation for decisions i and my coleader made in india. thanks for this!
and, thanks to all the others who made some great points in comments — they also all rung true with my experience as a team leader in India.
your last paragraph hits the nail on the head!
“You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives, you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends (and family I might add), and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.”
I have all of these done to me but it ha been SO worth it!!!!
That’s good advice, Seth. Thank you. The distinction you made about “cult” conformity being opposite from authentic destiny-empowering ministry is an important one, especially in these days of wild wild west spiritual diversity.
And this advice of yours is wisdom: “The only appropriate response to feedback is to say, ‘Thank you for your assessment.’ And then pray about it. If the criticism is unwarranted, God will show you.”
That’s operating in faith.
I’m rereading this blog for the 5th time today!! It’s hard to express in words how much I needed to hear these counsels.
If you’d like to give a critique using this blog, please include your email address so we know you’re a real person. Otherwise we’ll delete.
I just had a light bulb moment. “and thank them for being willing to take a risk…” I never thought of it that way and I wish I would have heard this before I left. I didn’t think about the fact that the other person is taking a risk by confronting me. It makes me feel a lot more open to feedback when I think about it that way.
Glad it helped you, Angela!
I’m planning on going on the world race and just wanted to say i love how you handled the criticism. My dad has always said what people think of me is none of my business. Im pretty sensitive so sometimes making it none of my business is the hardest thing to do, but thats the price of leadership as well as being a true follower of Christ. Especially in the church, its sad but it seems most of the time their often the most critical and judgemental. It makes sense though look at Jesus it was the people that were supposed to recognize who he was that criticized him the most. If your getting alot of criticism and judgment on how your doing things chances are your doing exactly what your supposed to. Especially on your part preaching the Gospel and living how Jesus said we are to live before he ascended. Were imperfect and we will be until were united with him, but if our hearts are right and pure before him we will fulfill what we were destined to be and at the end of the race he will say, well done thy good and faithful servant. Thats should be our greatest desire, is to know him so intimately that our love through him can be spread to others and through that relationship we do what we were born to do:)
thanks God bless
Thanks, Brandy. We perform for an audience of one.
Remember the Titans!
I know this is old news, but I was in the group that was subjected to the media fast. From within, the biggest problem was that it was forced upon us with no choice, it was during December, and it was only enforced because a smaller % of people on the trip were spending too much time connected to home that they were neglecting their duties/ job at hand. My biggest issue with TWR and AIM overall is that questions regarding doctrine, practices, and overall “command structure” were mostly stifled and led to a “dismantling” of previous beliefs only to leave me trying to put the pieces back together after returning home. In other words, many people involved didn’t practice what they preached, and I now have a sour taste for the organization. Sorry, but true.
Dear Anon – I apologize for how this impacted you. The truth is, certain members of our leadership were too “top-down” in the way they made decisions. Since this happened, we’ve changed those leaders and the way decisions are made. I think you’d find that the changes have been positive.
Although we make mistakes, I’m committed to a redemptive process. I ask that our staff respond to errors with gratitude and no defensiveness. When people have shared their critiques with us, I am interested in hearing them out and learning from them. It’s the only way to improve.
Although it is old news, I appreciate that you care enough to try and give some context here. Let me invite you to communicate with me directly about your experience – if there are things we can do to continue to improve, I’d like to do that.
Comments are closed.
Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.
I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.