Criticism — sometimes it’s warranted, other times, it’s not. Sometimes you will give the criticism, and sometimes you will get it. And if you’re particularly influential, you will receive more of it than others. Before you give biblical admonition to someone, first consider a few things.
Have I prayed for them?
Before you pass on the criticism, be sure to pray for the person. Sometimes God will use your prayer to change the thing about the person you think needs the correction — he’ll do the heavy lifting for you. And sometimes God will change you and show you that you shouldn’t speak out to that person, usually because it’s not your place (or your desire to criticize springs from sin and not from love). Either way, start with prayer. You need God’s help in this process.
Examine your motives.
How do you know when to speak out, and when to hold your tongue? That’s a tough one and it comes with wisdom and experience. It is difficult to assess one’s motives. The best thing to do is to search and see what the Bible has to say and ask other, trusted Christian friends for help.
Do I have all the information correct?
There have been plenty of times where I’ve criticized someone before gathering all the necessary information. This is a mistake. It’s usually done out of impatience, or my desire to be efficient and get things done quickly. Before you approach someone with critical words, be sure you have gathered all of the information. Often, what we think needs correction is simply just a misunderstanding.
Is the problem really me?
Criticism is necessary for character flaws, not personality preferences. People who are not just like you and I are the worst people on the planet. Or so we think. We get bothered by two sorts of people: 1. People who are just like us. 2. People who are nothing like us. We don’t notice sin in them, but we want to correct them because we wish they were different.
In these moments, it’s better to step back and gain a deeper appreciation for the church. The body of Christ is diverse. In Christ, people who would otherwise never hang out spend time together every week. This is bound to lead to frustration. Paul wouldn’t say “bear with one another” (Colossians 3:13) if it wasn’t sometimes hard to do so. All that to say this: Consistent patterns of sinfulness should be addressed; occasional personal annoyances (probably) should not.
Should I overlook the offense?
One of my favorite verses for living in Christian community comes from Proverbs 19:11: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Big, sinful offenses you’ll want to address. But consider overlooking the small ones and just moving on. If you’re the friend that needs to have a conversation about every little thing that the other person does that bothers you, you’re going to be an insufferable friend. I’m not sure I’ve ever regretted overlooking an offense.
Can I identify something I admire about them before I criticize them?
Okay, it’s time to give the biblical admonition. Out of love, you’re ready to have a hard conversation with someone. Before you say the hard thing, it’s also good to say something you admire about the person. Lead with love. Identify an evidence of grace you see in their life and tell them that first.
Should I bring others with me?
There are some conversations that are best with another elder or leader or friend. This is not always necessary or appropriate, but a third party can be there to act as a unifier for the two.
Just say it. Be kind. Have the right tone. Smile. But don’t be ambiguous. The person you criticize should leave knowing exactly what you said and why you said it. They shouldn’t leave thinking, “Wait, what was that conversation about?” Be clear and brief. Then listen well if your critique is met with a rebuttal.
This list is not exhaustive. It’s just a few practical things you may want to consider before you critique someone. The urge to do so happens more often than we’d like to admit. We need the wisdom of God and others when these urges arise.