How to Handle Criticism

The other day, I was criticized (I know you find it hard to believe). I got an email that was rather rude and well, nasty. I wish I could say these kinds of things were out of the ordinary, but they’re not. Criticism is a fact of life.

If you’re in any kind of leadership, you’ll attract criticism. I used to think it was only pastors who got treated this way, but now I know just about everybody, in some form or fashion, deals with anger directed at them for who they are or what they’ve done.

Social media has only made this worse. For some reason, people feel emboldened to say things in email things we’d never say face to face.

So, if criticism is a fact of life, how do we deal with it?

Here’s how I’ve learned to respond. It may not be the perfect system, but it works for me. Perhaps it’ll work for you.

First, when I hear (or read) the criticism, I ask myself, “Is it true?”

Whether I like to admit it or not, sometimes the criticism is true and even deserved. If true, I own it. If part of it is true, I own that part and release the rest. But sometimes, the messenger may be rude and hateful . . . and right. God’s messengers aren’t always angels of light.

But what if it’s not true? Then I let it go. Just because someone has dumped something on me doesn’t mean I have to keep it. I’ve learned that I can reject the message without rejecting the person. If I hear them out—if I really listen—I’ve valued them as a person without necessarily having to agree with their message.

Second, I ask myself, “Could this person be trying to tell me something else?”

Sometimes, people in pain sound angry, but they’re just hurting more than they can say. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had that started in anger but ended up being pastoral care. Especially if you’re a minister, don’t let someone’s anger push you away before you have a chance to really hear what’s on their heart.

Third, I try not to get defensive.

The person criticizing me really can’t take anything important from me (or you). At the end of the conversation, Jesus will still love me. My wife will still love me and so will my sons and their wives . . . and most of my friends. I’m free to remain open to truth . . . no matter how God brings it to me. I’ve found there’s very little risk in doing this.

Lastly, I deal with the criticism once.

I don’t keep going over and over the same conversation either in my head or with the other person. Once I’ve dealt with it, I move on.

If the other person wants to keep on talking about it, then let them. Perhaps I haven’t really heard them and they have a reason they want to keep on talking. But if I have heard them, I try to understand why they keep going over the same thing again and again (which is something else entirely) and help them move on.

One final word: you can’t spend all of your time responding to critics. You would never get anything done.

Be polite. Be loving and prayerful, but don’t lose focus.

Jesus has called you to a mission. He warned us there would be critics. So, don’t be surprised when there are.

Anything I Can’t Stop Thinking Of

“Anything I can’t stop thinking of, is an idol,” Jimmy Needham sings in his song “Clear the Stage.” We’ve adopted this song as the theme song for our current teaching series in Kairos.   Needham’s point? Anything that consumes your thoughts will soon consume your heart. The command to guard our thoughts is more than a nice bumper sticker teaching.  As James reminds us in chapter 1 of his letter, sin begins with our thoughts.  The things  we think about continuously soon become our desires and our desires become our actions and our actions define the character of who we are.

Do you see the line?

Thoughts  Desires  Actions  Character  Identity (the essence of who we are)…

Most of the time, we focus on stopping the ACTION. We think, “Well, as long as I’m not doing anything wrong. . . it doesn’t hurt anyone if I just think about doing something wrong.” Well, that’s just wrong.

Think about anything long enough and it will fester into a desire. The mind has amazing powers to make things happen – even if it’s the wrong things happening.

That’s why we talk so much about controlling our thoughts.  Now, first, let’s deal with “wrong thinking about thinking” mistake number 1.

You CAN control your thoughts. It takes a little practice, but it can be done.  In fact, we do it every day.  It’s called concentration.  We focus on a video game for hours at a time – and we don’t think about anything else.  We focus on playing a guitar for hours – and we don’t think about anything else.  See what I mean? It can be done.  The goal is to give your mind something positive to think about.

This leads us to “wrong thinking about thinking” mistake number 2.

Even thinking against something is still thinking about it! You have heard about my life long struggles against Oreos.  Here’s what I’ve learned. If I spend the day thinking about how I’ve got to be strong and NOT eat an Oreo, guess what? I’m going to eat an Oreo by the end of the day.  The goal isn’t to think about NOT doing wrong. The goal is to think about doing right, about being righteous.

How do we do that? The Apostle Paul had some interesting counsel. In Philippians 4, he writes:

Finally brothers, whatever is true,  whatever is honorable,  whatever is just,  whatever is pure,  whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence  and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received  and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:8-9).

These are the things we think about. We read the gospels and we think about Jesus. We read the Psalms and we think about God’s faithfulness. We read Genesis and we think about God’s power. We read the epistles and we think about how God never gives up.

And what we think about becomes what we desire. What we desire becomes what we do. What we do becomes who we are.

Think about that.


Sharpening the Saw

The old story of the logger who spent most of his time sharpening his saw reminds us that in order to do our best, we have to be at our best.  Sadly, our culture’s hyper addiction to doing keeps most of us too tired and distracted to do our best.

Take prayer for instance. Most Christ followers would tell you that prayer is the most important thing in a disciple’s life. Yet, most of us do not prioritize prayer in our lives. We have too much to do. We’ll get back to Jesus when we can. We’re sure He’ll understand.  Just let us get this one last thing done…

And we know what happens. We never get back to prayer. As a result, our lives lose their focus, energy and their meaning. Instead of seeing prayer as doing nothing, we need to understand that prayer is where the MOST important stuff gets done – alignment, depth, focus – that allows us to live our lives in the most effective and kingdom impactful ways. How much time do we waste doing things that aren’t the things Jesus wanted us to be doing in the first place?

Prayer is the time that makes all of the time valuable and meaningful. If you skip prayer time, don’t be surprised if nothing else works like it’s supposed to…



Checking for a Good Connection

Most of you know my father owned a television and appliance store when I was growing up. I was the pick-up and delivery guy.  Sometimes, I would ride with the technician on service calls.

Believe it or not, we would ride out to a house for a service call, go in to check a television set only to realize it had become unplugged from the wall socket.  We would plug it in and the TV would work fine. There was nothing wrong with the set. It was just unplugged.

Of course, we had to charge them for the service call anyway!

Now, you know where I’m going with this, but the point needs to be made so I’ll write on.

In the craziness of our busy lives, we become disconnected from those that are most important in our lives – our spouses, our children, our friends, even ourselves…and of course, God. We don’t mean for this to happen, but in all of our frantic moving around, things get tugged loose and when that happens, what matters most is lost.

How do you prevent this?

You check your connections. Take a few minutes today and check with your spouse, yourself, your kids…and yes, God. Make sure the connection is secure. That way you won’t lose power in your life when you need it most.