How to Handle Criticism
7 Biblical and Practical Steps

by Fred Smith, Sr.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13; Hebrews 12:14-15

Criticism is part of leadership; here are ways to handle it:

1. Anticipate specific criticism. Every capable leader knows the "thought leaders" in a group and often talks to them ahead of time, enlisting their support or listening to their criticisms before a meeting. You can't go into a meeting without knowing how the voting will go.

2. Assume criticism is logical. It's always best to assume that a person's criticism is sincere. Given the base from which the person is working, the criticism is entirely logical. The key is to understand the base from which people work. Thus, to work with people's criticisms, we must know their deep beliefs, biases, experiences, theological positions, and especially their ego positions.

3. Limit the criticism you'll accept. A leader must know how to limit the criticism he or she accepts. Many times I have let one critical person keep me from recognizing the strength of the hundred who are in agreement. It's possible to turn a cold into a cancer.

4. Make constructive criticism part of the culture. Since criticism is going to come, it pays to make constructive criticism a part of the church culture. Every well-led organization needs to have an established, stated, understood, and agreed-upon culture. This won't increase the amount of criticism; instead, it will channel the existing criticism so that it accomplishes something valuable.

5. Don't turn criticism into a personal contest. So often we make criticism into a personal contest, when if left alone, it will die of its own lack of meaning. Learn to lose a battle in order to win a war.

6. Admit when you've been wrong. I try to look on every reasonable criticism as a chance to review my position. While the Scripture might be inerrant, those of us who lead are not infallible.

7. Don't take revenge. It's so important to personify tolerance and avoid all retribution. A dear friend was being emotionally crucified by his critics. These people had profited from him and owed him gratitude rather than criticism, but still they bitterly fought him. When he died, I found a prayer list in his Bible. At the top of his list were these simple yet powerful words: "Pray for those who are lying about me." To Discuss

    1. What are some ways we can limit the criticism we'll accept?
    2. What are the subtle ways we can take revenge on those who disagree or conflict with us?
    3. Does our church value constructive criticism? How can we show that?

From Building Church Leaders, published by Leadership Resources (c) 2000 Christianity Today Intl.

- courtesy of Scott Lord

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