Criticism is an unavoidable part of being a leader. As it’s been said by others, the more influence you obtain, the more criticism you must endure. It can sting to be criticized but, paradoxically, it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, criticism is a blessing in many ways. How?
I can think of at least five ways in which criticism is a blessing. The first is obvious. Criticism is a sign that people are paying attention to you. Attention (getting people to notice you) and influence (getting people to take action) are not identical, but they are similar, and they’re what every blogger or podcaster or preacher or author is looking for, especially influence.
There are thousands of Christian blogs, but how many get read? Podcasts are blowing up, but how many will succeed? If you are a Christian content producer of some sort, and someone criticizes you, you should feel seen, blessed. Some work isn’t good enough to warrant critique. Criticism is a sign that you’re making a difference.
Criticism also gives you an opportunity to pray for another person. This is the second way in which criticism is a blessing. Whenever I get criticized, especially after preaching a sermon, I try to remember to pray for the critic (although I don’t always remember to do this), right then and there on the spot. I don’t do this aloud, of course, but in my mind. By praying for my critics, it removes any potential festering of, say, unrighteous anger or resentment. It also allows me to practice Jesus’s words to pray for my enemies (Matthew 5:44). Praying for your critics honors God and helps you.
Third, criticism helps you learn and grow. This is especially true if the criticism derives from the lips of a confidant, someone like your spouse or an elder or your best friend. These people love you and are trying to help you. So if you’re the kind of person who desires to improve in the areas in which you are getting criticism (like preaching and writing, for example), you should not despise criticism, but welcome it. The best content creators are the ones humble enough to admit that they can be better, and they constantly are looking for feedback to improve.
But what about the critiques of your enemies? Yes — you should pay attention to their critiques, at least at first. If they are incessantly criticizing you, then it may be wise to ignore them. But an occasional enemy with misplaced intentions still might be able to point out something that you’re doing wrong or can improve on.
Criticism — and this my fourth point — keeps you from going off track. The Proverb says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). Wounds hurt, but they prevent something worse from happening. They prevent you from going off the rails.
A parent must discipline a child who runs out in the street. An elder must address unsound doctrine in the church. If you’re thinking about going into $60k of debt to get a degree, someone might try to show you a more efficient route. We sometimes have our hearts set on the wrong thing, and God lovingly brings people into our lives to help us stay the course. We are all prone to an incredible amount of selfishness and self-centeredness. The reason why we call it “blind spots” is because they’re blind. We literally cannot see them. We need the help of other godly, trusted Christian friends to point them out.
Finally, criticism helps you to identify idols in your heart, to use a Tim Keller expression. Someone critiques your sermon. You get defensive. Why? Could it be that you find your sense of worth from your preaching ability? Your book gets a scathing two-star Amazon review. You’re heated. Why? Could it be that you find your identity in your reputation — what people think about you and especially what they think about your writing?
Whenever you get defensive, ask yourself: “Why am I getting defensive?” Often it’s because you’re trying to defend a sin issue in your heart. Criticism helps you identify areas of growth.
Should you always heed criticism? No. Some people will give you criticism that is foolish. The problem is them, not you. They’re the ones that are jealous and hurting, and they want to take it out on you. But for most of us, this is not the kind of criticism that we get on a regular basis. So although you may not take action after hearing criticism, it’s usually a good idea to listen to it — especially when it comes from a trusted friend. In many ways, criticism is a blessing.
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