If you should ever lift your head above the parapet of mediocrity and rise to the challenge of excellence, then you will experience criticism at times. This is just inevitable. It’s not about trying to avoid it – rather learning how to handle it well.
Not everybody understands your journey and nor is it reasonable to expect them to. The disappointment of feeling misunderstood can often be the very thing that feeds insecurity in the hearts of dreamers. In this case, criticism is always personal and painful. However, learn to settle in your heart that not everyone ‘gets’ you, and this managed expectation will go some way to helping you handle it better. Having said that, criticism can still hurt. When your heart is right and you’ve been working to do good, it can be wounding to hear someone express their disappointment in something you’ve said or done, especially when the intent behind it was honourable.
Sometimes criticism is valid. Lets face it, none of us are perfect. We all have the potential to mess up. In this case, a large dose of humble pie is the order of the day. A simple apology for a mistake you’ve made can go a long way to putting it right. There are some battles in life which are just not worth fighting since there are no spoils in victory. Interestingly, a heartfelt ‘sorry’ can actually enhance a person’s credibility and gain them respect. There have been times in my own life when I’ve publicly acknowledged challenging situations I could have handled better. Well, I guess I’m still learning on this journey too – but I figure people would rather be around a leader who is always real than always right. I’m just deeply grateful for God’s grace – and for the grace of those people in my life who stay faithful & keep loving me despite my flaws.
Of course there are times when criticism is unjust and unfair. When motives are questioned & the critique is aggressive or even bullying, this can be tough to handle. When we first planted the Junction Church in Loughborough, I’ll never forget receiving a long email from someone who I’d never met in my life. They were absolutely scathing about this ‘new church’ coming into town. The level of accusatory bile was off the scale, like nothing I’d ever read before. It genuinely saddened me to think that another Christian would be so savage in their judgment of a new church plant, especially when the heart behind it was simply to reach people who never go to church. Surely that should be celebrated? However, instead of reacting in anger, I chose to respond in grace. This was the wisest thing I could possibly have done and it is something I’ve never regretted. Five years later, the apocalyptic warnings about the damage this ‘new church’ would cause have fallen flat. It is in fact flourishing with loads of people who would not otherwise have ever gone to church. It would seem the bark of fear is always worse than it’s bite.
The point is that wisdom sometimes means staying quiet when you’d prefer to speak up. Other times, it means speaking up when you’d prefer to be quiet. Whatever criticisms you might face in your life, God’s wisdom is the key to dealing with it. If you need to apologise, do it well. If you’re faced with unjust judgments, hold your nerve and stay gracious. God will vindicate you in his own good time. In every circumstance, James encourages us to seek God’s wisdom and the promise is that God will give it to us ‘liberally’ (James 1:5).
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