Fact is, criticism is pretty easy to give. Its also a fact that criticism isn’t easy to take.

Being a pastor and…well…a person who makes too many mistakes and misjudgments, I have received my fair share of criticism. Often times it has been legitimate. Other times it seemed like a gross misunderstanding. Still other times, I wonder where the accusation is coming from and I just don’t get it.

No matter what the situation, I think that the way that criticism comes to us plays a very big role in how we respond to it. When someone puts the boxing gloves on and comes out fighting, the first reaction is defensiveness. Put up the shields. And lose all objectivity. From that point, I am pretty sure a resolution is hard to come by.

Even when criticism comes to us in as loving a manner as possible, It’s still hard to take! The inherent pride that is inside of all of us hates being wrong, hates being the one who “screwed up,” etc. This is human nature.

I think this is an important thing to keep in mind when we are approaching someone in order to “call them on something” or critique something they have done or thought, we first need to put down the swords and boxing glove and come to them in love (sounds biblical doesn’t it ? ). Most of us know this and fewer of us live it well.

I think we must realize though that no matter what, and no matter how “sensitive” we are, we have to to be ready and expect people to be defensive and we need to give them time to work that out. Remember, receiving criticism isn’t easy.

Now, I know that I have given my fair share of criticism. I have often given it in a loving manner. Likely more often I have given it in a manner where I came out swinging (actually, in my case, I just hate confrontation and don’t do it at all…not an good answer either!)

In all of this, I think there is a place for critiquing others. We all do it. We need to do it. Jesus did it better than any of us. We just better do it with graciousness, kindness, gentleness and respect. For some reason, I think that sarcasm isn’t the most loving, gracious, respectful and kind way to give out criticism….

When receiving criticism, I have found a few things that have helped me be a little less defensive (remember I said a little, its still my first reaction!).

– People are usually very well intentioned…usually – fact of the matter is, most people coming to you with concerns mean well and have your best interest in mind. They really do want what is best for you. Really. I think sometimes this is hard to believe, but I really think it is true. Realizing this often helps in responding more open and Christ-like.

– No matter how outrageous sounding the charge there is usually something important to learn – I have had some pretty harsh claims laid against me in my life. They seemed crazy at the time I heard them and well, they kind of were. But, the more I thought about it, there were some things that I could take from their point that helped me grow.

– If you put yourself in their shoes, the critique can actually begin to make sense – I think misunderstanding is the biggest flaw in most relationships that go bad. One person sees one thing. The other person hears another. From each person’s perspective, they both make complete sense. Put yourself in their shoes, you might see things a little differently and be able to resolve the misunderstanding, or at least see their story.

– Work as hard as you can to take a posture of humility – you can’t always be right. Admit that even when it hurts.

– Graciously know what you believe – Often criticism is aimed at things you hold dear and live by and for. If this is the case, know why you believe it and be sure of them and be ready to graciously explain the “why” of these issues. Don’t just write people off because they are attacking something you hold dear. They probably still have some good things to say that you can learn from.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately because it is something I am trying to work through. I am trying to be able to listen with a discerning ear to people. I am trying to see “the other side of the story” on issues of contention. While often, people will stay on different sides of issues, I think there is a lot to be learned from disagreements by both parties. And, I am trying to give the criticism with much more grace so that it will be more easy to hear. At the same time, I am trying to learn to take criticism graciously even when it comes with a sharp edge….

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
Colossians 3:14-16