Constructive criticism is an incredible asset. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend….” Some of the most helpful advice and counsel I have ever received has come in the form of such “wounds.”
Yet, destructive criticism can be incredibly damaging to the work of God. (Perhaps this is part of the reason why there are so many verses in Scripture concerning our words and our tongues.) From time to time, growing ministries and faithful Christians will have detractors. Destructive criticism is a common issue for any leader trying to accomplish something of value. But being controlled by the opinions of others is a guaranteed way to miss God’s will for your life. One author said, “Anytime you step out to kill a giant, there will be criticism.” It’s true—ask David.
I’ve learned that, as with all communication, it is wise to “consider the source” as I determine what level of influence a particular criticism should have in my life. It is sad to realize that in a day when Christians are hated worldwide, much of the criticism Christians receive is from other Christians.
Over the years, the following questions have helped me to assess and filter criticism:
- Is there truth in this criticism from which I can learn?
- Is my rejection of this criticism due to pride in my heart?
- Am I recognizing that even unkind or untrue criticism is often a tool of God to form my heart for Him?
- Is this criticism from a stated enemy? If so, I should expect it. (Biblical examples include Goliath, Sennacherib, and Sanballat and Tobiah.)
- Is the critic under spiritual authority and accountability? Critics often demand of others what they do not live themselves.
- Has the critic come to me personally (biblically) with this issue? If not, the criticism is being handled in a carnal way.
- What fruit for Christ is evident in the critic’s life or ministry? Jesus said true Christians are known by their love and fruit (John 13:35; Matthew 7:16). I can learn something from everyone, but I personally tend to take advice from spiritual and fruitful Christians.
- Is the critic known for the fruit of lives changed or simply for his opinion? When people devote themselves to doing good and winning souls, they don’t have time to criticize.
- Is the critic known for a balanced life and ministry? Is the critic’s spirit genuinely edifying and uplifting? Reproof should always be accompanied by love and exhortation.
- Is the criticism related to a scripturally based doctrine or teaching, or is it a preference issue? Elevating preference to the level of doctrine is dangerous and divisive. There will always be a few “talking heads” who are loudest where the Scriptures are silent.
- Does the critic consider giving his opinions to be the same as contending for the faith? It is scriptural to contend for the faith (Jude 3). However, making public judgment over preference is not contending for the faith, and it is often the indication of a contentious heart. (Proverbs 13:10: “Only by pride cometh contention….”)
- If the critic has followers, are they fruitful, loving Christians, or unfruitful, malcontented people? Is the critic’s life and ministry marked by vibrancy and growth or by cynicism and death in his churches and family? Nearness is likeness.
- Is the critic seeking to build a following or gain attention for fleshly purposes by generally being negative about people who are more known than he is? If so, I should not empower the critic or further such a cause with an answer.
- Does the critic stand to gain financial support by gaining followers?
- Is the critic a faithful witness and soulwinner who has people in his ministry that he has won to Christ? Or is the critic attempting to build a following by a dramatic and divisive assertion of his opinions?
- Has the critic suffered in his life through a relationship with an angry, absent, or abusive father? If so, he may be crying out for attention and trying to prove himself in a fleshly manner. I should pray for this person. People struggling for acceptance will often criticize others to build themselves.
- Does the critic assume that his past affiliation with a known church or college validates him as an expert? If so, pray he will learn to find acceptance in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6) rather than in the approval of men.
- Is the critic attempting to manipulate opinion through a public forum as Sanballat and Tobiah of old? This method of criticism is strongly rebutted in Nehemiah 6.
- Does the critic agree with me in a majority of issues (e.g. salvation, Heaven, Hell, separated and conservative living, Baptist distinctives, etc.)? A spiritual man will take a potentially big problem and make it smaller. A carnal man will take a little issue and make it bigger.
- Has the critic assumed the position of “watchdog at large” over Christianity? If so, he is assuming a position God never created. The office of “apostle” has ceased.
- Do godly elders in my life consider the criticism to be true or helpful? I have several godly men with whom I am very transparent and accountable, even in personal areas of my life. When I’m doubtful of the benefit of a criticism, I’ll often ask them to help me understand it. They know me well and have an objective perspective that I may not have at the moment.
- Have I prayed for this critic? It is wise to do so. God may have allowed him into my life to increase my prayer life (Matthew 5:44).
- Has the critic maintained healthy relationships through decades, or is he marked by constantly changing alliances and friendships?
- Who is the critic’s pastor, and is that relationship healthy? Is the pastor a man of God who would hold the critic accountable? If so, pray that he will.
- Is the critic claiming to be a Baptist but failing to respect the doctrine of the “autonomy of the local church”? Is he attempting to influence other flocks while not helping to build one in the context of winning and discipling people?
- Does the critic seem to mostly criticize people or ministries larger than his own? Often, a critic is someone who points out how imperfectly other people do what he has never done.
- Does the critic seem to hope for my response or reaction? It’s best not to answer according to folly (Proverbs 26:4). All leaders are criticized; it’s their response that sets them apart.
- Do I fear criticism because of the fear of man’s opinion, or can I allow it to strengthen and deepen my convictions?
- Has the critic made proper assessments of actual problems, doctrinal compromise, or injustice? If he has, even if he is not correct in an assessment of my life or ministry, I’m thankful for the good he has accomplished.
- Does the critic know me or my family? Have we ever prayed together or gone soulwinning together? The less the relationship, the less valid the opinion or judgment.
- Does the critic practice 1 Corinthians 13? Does he believe and hope for the best? Does he allow for my growth or give the benefit of the doubt to a brother?
- Has the critic developed a reputation of joy in ministry? He may take himself too seriously. Don’t be guilty of the same.
- Has the critic or his family suffered much? People who have suffered will become more sensitive about creating hurt in the lives of others. Pray for your critic as he may have trials himself just around the corner.
These questions simply help me discern what is behind the criticism and how much I should invest in gleaning from it. I remind you to treat criticism like bubble gum. Chew on it a little, and then spit it out.