9 Healthy Ways to Respond to Criticism
One thing I know from experience (and so do you): It never feels good to be criticized…especially unfairly.
But here’s the deal, as much as we might not like it, criticism is part of life in a world like ours. I don’t say this to discourage us, just to name the reality.
When it comes to criticism, there are many wrong ways to respond. And of course, in our flesh and sin, we’re always going to respond poorly. This is why we need to think through the right ways to respond and then pursue those by the grace and power of Christ. The truth is, if we are going to faithfully persevere in our ministries, we will have to learn how to rightly respond to criticism that is sure to come our way, fairly or unfairly. So, let’s consider several of these:
#1. Humbly admit when I’m wrong or have made a mistake. There are times that we are wrong, and we need to be criticized. Regardless of the intent of the person doing the criticizing, we need to humble ourselves and admit that we made a mistake. We need to ask for forgiveness. This is basic Christian discipleship. This is how our posture should be. And humility wins people over. The other person will get riled up when we respond in anger or defensiveness, especially if they have bad intent toward us. Instead, humbly admit our mistakes and diffuse the situation before anger can arise.
#2. Evaluate the criticism honestly. When criticism comes, a main question that we need to ask ourselves is, “What can I learn from this?” How can this help me grow as a pastor, as a leader, as a man of God?
#3. Pray about the criticism. We may feel that we’ve done nothing wrong, and yet when we go to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit may reveal some things in our hearts that show the validity of the criticism we received. In Psalm 32:8 we read, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” The Lord is offering us counsel in the midst of challenges like experiencing criticism. We need Him to give us wisdom, so we go to Him in prayer.
#4. Don’t rail back. Don’t retaliate and come right back at them in the same way that they came at you. Jesus was the perfect model. No one was criticized more than Jesus. Between the Pharisees and others, he was constantly being criticized, and yet he never retaliated with the same sort of action. In 1 Peter 2:23 we read, “When Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus was unjustly accused and criticized, yet he continued to trust the Father and his sovereign care in all things.
#5. Consider the source. We need to consider who is criticizing us. Consider what this person’s motives could be. Is this criticism a result of their level of expertise in this area? Are they a wise or godly person? What are they actually saying? Or is this coming from someone who doesn’t really have a right to criticize and doesn’t really know what they’re talking about? We need to be discerning and consider the source of the criticism.
#6. Take your hurt to the Lord. Where do you run when you are criticized? Your hurt is real. The pain is real. What do we do with it? Our first response must be to run to the Lord. I think of David in the Psalms crying out to God in the midst of pain, hurt, and criticism that he faced. Part of what I see in David’s heart, and what we need to grow in, is trusting in the sovereignty of God in and over the criticism that we face in ministry. We need to run to Him and not to idols. We must sprint to the Lord.
#7. Preach the Gospel to yourself. Remember that no matter what criticism you face, your identity is not in your perfect performance. Your identity is in Jesus and his acceptance of you. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We want to receive criticism humbly, but we need to recognize that this is not about upholding our righteousness or our image. Our identity is not in being a great pastor or leader, it’s in being a son of the King.
#8. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” Revenge is never an option for the Christian that receives criticism. Instead, we must always seek to offer forgiveness to the one who wrongs us.
#9. Pray for the critic. It’s amazing what prayer does in the heart of the person who has been hurt and wounded. What do we do when we’re hurt by criticism? We run to the Lord and we pray for the critic. We pray that God would work in their heart, we pray that God would work in merciful ways in their life, to change their heart, and to help them grow.
These are nine ways that we can rightly respond to the criticism that will come into our lives and ministries. I urge you to look at your heart and to humbly go before the Lord and ask him to help you become a pastor or leader who deals rightly with the criticism that will surely come our way.