Destructive criticism is often a regular part of our lives. This is a criticism that tears down rather than builds up the person it is targeted at. The more ‘public’ a person is, the more criticism he tends to face, simply by virtue of the fact that more people know him. Those leading a ministry are especially vulnerable to such criticism.
It is an unavoidable reality of ministry. Almost always, someone else will have a different method of doing things, or a different opinion on a matter, just as we have our own methods and our own opinion. We all like to impose our methods, as we think that we have the best method, and the best opinion on the matter. Our inherent pride only serves to increase the friction and spark division and conflict. This can easily lead to uncontrollable anger, a sense of injustice, insecurity from a lack of approval, or depression from being unappreciated. How can a leader biblically handle criticism in the ministry?
1. Gain some perspective on your flaws by preaching the gospel to yourself.
Christ is your worst critic, and your greatest lover. The cross testify to the heinousness of our sinful hearts. No one but the Son of God, the most valuable person in existence, could pay the price for our sins. As Jesus died on the cross, we are told that we are wicked, rebellious, detestable people. But he is also demonstrating the depth of his love for us. Though we are unworthy sinners, he chose to die for us. This is a liberating perspective! When faced with a deluge of criticism, we must cast them in light of the cross and tell ourselves that what our critics think of us pale in comparison to what Christ thinks of us as sinners. So we’re really discovering nothing new about ourselves. Our critics are merely confirming that we are fallible sinners. But instead of despairing in our sin, we too know that Christ has died for us so that there is no longer any condemnation for us, but only grace and love.
2. Constantly find your approval in Christ.
We like to be approved by people. We don’t like being unpopular. We desire to feel secure and loved and cherished. The approval of others is an idol leaders are prone to have. The gospel cuts through our idols, and tells us that we are approved, secure, loved and cherished by God because of what Christ did for us on the cross, and not because of what we are currently doing or what we believe on some matter. This gives us immense liberty and courage to press on in our work and keeps us from being discouraged and depressed by the opinions of others. We must constantly put to death the idol of approval and turn to the gospel of grace.
3. Humbly learn what you can.
There may be some truth behind what your critics say, despite their motivations. Be humble and be willing to listen and learn. We are not trying to put up a show of infallibility as leaders. Infallibility is reserved for Jesus. We are sinners prone to error. Our critics can be a means of grace by which we learn to be more godly, or wiser in some matter, or become more competent in some skill. So treasure them. (In fact we ought to be highly suspicious if no one seems to be coming to us to point out our mistakes)
4. Overcome unwarranted criticism with godliness.
When criticised, it is easy to want to get even. We try to dig up some dirty stuff on your opponent, and it becomes a mudslinging affair. But this is not the way of Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” He tells us to “outdo one another in showing honour.” He reminds us to “overcome evil with good” and to remember that vengeance belongs to God. Therefore we ought to continue to conduct ourselves in a godly manner, with a gracious tongue and a gentle spirit. It makes no sense for one sinner to criticise another for being a sinner. It’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.