Allow me to put a variation to a choice maxim we’d all do well to hear: “You cannot prevent critics or criticism, but you have a choice in how you deal with both.”
Anytime you do anything, not just in leadership, criticism will arise. How will you respond to it?
1. Curl up in a ball because someone said something you didn’t like to you about something you did or said.
2. Care less about what anyone does or says.
3. Bring those criticisms to the throne of grace.
I suggest the third, and here’s why. Any criticism you receive (1) are for your sanctification, and (2) may (at times) have a kernel of truth to them.
If you choose the first, then you struggle with pride (and its offspring, self-pity). If you find yourself struggling with someone saying something against you or holding to a different mindset than you, and it decimates you, you need to repent. No one is above criticism, especially we who live in democracies. Whether the criticism is legitimate or not, time will tell.
If you choose the second, look in the mirror and ask why what they have to say means nothing. You may well struggle with apathy (not love, not hatred, apathy). Those in leadership, especially those who are shepherds of a flock, will find criticisms to sting to a greater or lesser degree. The more you love the person doling out the criticism, the more it will hurt.
If it’s a friend, be grateful. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are profuse.” True friends have your back. We’ve all been nailed by people we thought were friends, but were really just telling us what we wanted to hear because they were afraid to lose something (influence, employment, reputation, etc.). But the value of a true friend who ‘wounds’ is like a surgeon who cuts into us, but it’s for healing and restoration.
Take the criticisms to the throne of grace. The sting that comes may be, again, due to our own pride. Take them to Christ, who will help us process them in ways that will be beneficial to both critic and the one criticized (that’s you).
One last thing: if you’re a leader, you’ll get criticized. “Well, I won’t do anything controversial or earthshaking.” You’ll be criticized for not taking a stand and moving forward. “Well, he’s moving too fast.” You’ll be criticized for not slowing down. It’ll happen. Sometimes, it seems many have the spiritual gift of criticism.
Which leads me to the last, last thing: what if the criticism you receive is unfair and baseless? Sadly, this happens as well. And, even more sadly, like moths to a flame, these types of criticisms draw people in. With consequences. When this happens, go to the person making the criticism and ask them, “Where do you base these accusations or statements of yours?” You may find that he put 2 and 2 together and came up with 5. A quick conversation, plus an encouragement/admonishment to come directly to you, should suffice.
If this doesn’t work, Matthew 18:15-17 comes into play in taking someone else with you who knows you and can also attest to the issue at hand. This should work, but the real problem doesn’t lie with the fact that someone said something against you to others. It’s that they said it. What kind of character/integrity issues are going on where this has become acceptable? Either you or someone needs to help them trace it back to the root cause.
Go to the throne of grace, open up the Word, and look at where God is leading from Scripture and ask for wisdom how to apply what you’re learning in the Word and before the throne and see where He’s leading and what doors are opening.
Will critics come? Sure.
But we should all long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest” (Matthew 25:23).
As long as Jesus is pleased, and we’re loving each other with all we have, we’re good.
After all, Jesus is enough.
Matt Perry serves as the Lead Pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, Colorado. He earned his M.Div and D.Min from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Check out his blog at http://www.leadwithjoy.net and follow him on twitter: @drmattperry.