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Coping with Criticism Constructively

 

“Criticisms are the nails which keep us on the cross dead to self.”[1] At least they puncture the soul and lodge in the memory for a long time. Few church leaders maintain any self-esteem after an executioner (i.e., critic) nails them.

Leaders fear criticism in large part because it often determines how their followers evaluate them, whether the criticism is justified or unjustified. Sometimes leaders find it simply impossible to correct misconceptions even when they are totally false.[2]

At the same time, critics can spur leaders on to success. As William J. Diehm aptly says, “Many persons have become great trying to prove to their critics that they could do what critics said they could not do.”[3] Of course, to turn criticism into a motivation rather than a demotivation requires a deep residual confidence in the leader’s own innate abilities and a determination to persevere whatever the cost.

But, for such confidence and determination to succeed, leaders need at least a minimal amount of working knowledge about a critic’s motivation. For instance, some critics only need more information. Other critics like how things have been and need time to process changes. Another group of critics feels left out of the decision-making process. A few critics are right and require only a simple confession of that fact from the leadership. The worst faultfinders simply complain about everything because they feel depressed, ignored, or powerless.[4] In any case, leaders must cope with criticism constructively by means of the appropriate philosophical and practical responses.

 

Constructive Philosophical Responses to Criticism

Responding constructively to criticism calls for a philosophical mindset. Leaders must learn to evaluate their own need for personal approval from critics. They must also train themselves to expect criticism. Leaders must differentiate between destructive and constructive criticism. And, last but not least, wise leaders develop an appreciation for the role of their critics.

Evaluate the Need for Approval from Critics

It is not healthy for leaders to care too much about what people think. As John Ortberg explains, “To truly care for people requires not caring too much about their approval or disapproval. Otherwise, the temptation to give their preferences too much emotional weight is almost inevitable” (emphasis his).[5] Fear of criticism robs leaders of their objectivity and courage.

How liberating for leaders to realize that they “are not the passive victim of others’ opinions! In fact, their opinions are powerless until [leaders] validate them. No one’s approval will affect [them] unless [leaders] grant it credibility and status. The same holds true for disapproval.”[6] While leaders are not able to control what people do to them outwardly, they are able to control their influence inwardly.

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Category: Fall 2014, Ministry

About the Author: Steve D. Eutsler, D.Min. (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), M.Div. (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), M.A. Biblical Literature (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), B.A. Bible (Central Bible College), is professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Global University in Springfield, Missouri. He has extensive experience as a pastor, evangelist, and educator and is the author of numerous articles and books. www.wix.com/SteveEutsler/reveut Email

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