Criticism. It can be good and bad, right? In school, we talk about giving constructive criticism when we edit each other's work. But we also admonish our children not to criticize unnecessarily the work of others. Criticism can build up, or it can tear down. When you're in ministry, you learn what it's like to hear criticism. Sometimes, critical words convict in a helpful and yet painful way. Other times, criticism only stings and leads not to gospel change, but to bitterness and fear. How can we, as church members, love the church in how we give and receive criticism?
Let's talk about giving criticism first. Because of our sinful natures, and our tendencies to want things our way, we often fall into judgmentalism or critical spirits (see my friend Heather's post on this topic). As I mentioned at the beginning of this series, my husband and I weren't too psyched about being a part of our church when we first arrived on the scene. We had all kinds of critical things to say: the music is lame, the preaching is too long, the building is a wreck, it's too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, it's so disorganized. While many of these things may have been true to some extent, I think that deep down, our biggest criticism or complaint was this: this church isn't like our old church. We loved what we had, this isn't it, and we're grumpy about it. Ever been there?
At that point, we kept all our criticism to ourselves. While we were quite young at the time, I think we had a sense that not all of our complaints were completely fair, and that to voice them would only be detrimental.
But what if things come up that do need to be addressed? First, we must consider what we criticize and examine our motives. Is what we're seeing really something that needs to be addressed, or is it a matter of personal preference? Does the issue in question affect many, or a few (or just you)? Is the issue in question a matter of heresy or being true to the Bible? All of these questions should be taken into account before we voice our criticism.
Second, we should consider how we criticize. Words matter. Tone matters. Previous relationship matters. Easing the blow matters. As a parent, I can tell you that I am much more likely to take to heart a teacher's criticism of my child, if the teacher has first told me one or two things that my child does well. Similarly, a pastor or lay leader (or anyone for that matter!) will hear your criticism better if you first bring some kind of affirmation. Not only that, but as Christians, we are required to believe the best of each other, and give one another the benefit of the doubt (1Corinthians 13:7).
Third, we should consider who we are and who we criticize. Are you brand-new to the church? I would suggest you hang around a bit and build up some relational capital before you begin to criticize too strenuously. Are you much younger than the one you have a problem with? I recommend examining your heart and making sure that you come with an appropriate level of respect before you criticize. In general, the younger we are, the more wisdom we need. We must consider that we probably don't know the whole story before we say everything that we feel is wrong. Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."
Please hear me: I am not saying that those in authority should never be criticized, or that the younger can never have a real point to make with someone older. No church or pastor or worship leader or Sunday school teacher is perfect; all can improve in some way. I would simply posit that, oftentimes, the condition of our own hearts and motives requires extensive examination before we level criticism. And when we do criticize, we need to make sure it is done in love, with a view to any plank that might be stuck in our own eye (see Matthew 7:3,4 and Luke 6:41,42).
Tomorrow we'll talk about how to love the church in our reception of criticism. Ouch!
This is the 15th part in a series. Go here read from the beginning. Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics!