HOW IMPORTANT IS CRITICISM?

I’m fairly confident you’re like me in that you would much rather be affirmed than criticized. Am I right? And yet the truth is both affirmation and criticism are important. All of us are criticized and all of us criticize. How we receive it and how we give are important.

I recently wrote a book using letters I received during my 44 years of pastoral ministry and included a chapter of “Troublesome Letters.” Those letters, some signed and many unsigned, were all critical. In the book I include my responses to the signed ones and my comments on the unsigned ones. (The title is A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters and is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.)

Appropriately receiving criticism was something I had to learn to do. One suggestion I often heard that never made sense to me was that I shouldn’t take it personally. How else could I take it? What did help me was pushing the pause button to consider the source. I came to appreciate the truth that who it was doing the criticizing was as important as the criticism itself. I gradually put less stock in chronic complainers who seemed unhappy about everything. But I would carefully consider observations from those who were committed to the church and genuinely interested in making things better.

The bottom line in receiving criticism is to assess its validity. Does the person offering the criticism have a valid point? It requires humility to accept it, but the uncomfortable truth is they may be right. I am not ready to call critics a gift as some do, but I do recognize their value.

In giving criticism I think it is helpful to keep in mind our thoughts and feeling when we are criticized. Jesus’ challenge in Luke 6:31 applies when we criticize just as it does when we affirm, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (NLT). How we criticize (tone), why we criticize (purpose), and when we criticize (timing) are all important.

The most helpful verse in the Bible on this matter is Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (NIV). It speaks to both receiving as well as giving criticism. When we criticize or are criticized it is a wounding. But when done by a friend it can be trusted. The implication is that the pain is for a person’s own good. Our enemy won’t criticize us for our own good, but may butter us up with the hope of getting something.

I sent my last post to a friend who knows a lot about writing and asked him for feedback. And to his credit he made some observations that stung. This is what I wrote back: “I need this constructive criticism to write better. I will be asking for more in the future. Thanks for a good example for my next blog post: How Important is Criticism?”

Feel free to share this with others and I welcome your comments.

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