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Handling Criticism

Handling Criticism

Greg Jones

I remember an episode of the old T.V. show the X-Files where a genie was granting wishes to Agent Mulder. Mulder wished for world peace and “poof,” the genie granted his wish by removing all the people from the world. I’ve heard it said that ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people.

The riskiest land mines I travail in my worship ministry are critics. They can feel like they are everywhere. I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to share with you the things that I’ve learned over the years. But before I do, let’s lay down a necessary foundation.

I need to ensure that I’m not living in a “glass house.” A glass house would be a place where I’m NOT open to being wrong or humble enough to look at my weaknesses. This will take a lot of ‘house cleaning’ for most of us. It takes humility to be willing to look at our weaknesses and admit we might have some improvements to work on. Find wise loving people in your life and ask them the hard questions about yourself. Weigh what they say and if their feedback is found credible, implement change. If you make this a life practice, you’ll get to the point where you can walk in confidence knowing that it will be difficult for a critic to ‘blind side’ you with a valid criticism.

Once we are out of the ‘glass house’, we are free to deal with the critic. The first thing I’ve learned is to express appreciation and empathy. I have found that empathy can defuse a confrontation and prevent it from going nuclear. Put yourself in your critic’s shoes and at least imagine how they might be feeling, automatically assuming their criticism is true. And most importantly, love your critic. Pray for their best even if they present themselves as your enemy.

One essential thing I’ve learned to do with my critic is to determine if they are open or closed. I can quickly determine if a person is open simply by asking them WHY they hold their position. Open people use reason to support their positions. If a person is open, then they are the easiest to work with. Simply ask them their reasoning, give them your reasoning and both of you can see whose reasons ‘weigh’ more.

If the critic can’t give a reason, maybe when pressed you find them simply regurgitating their original criticism, then that critic is closed. Closed people draw conclusions often because of their own psychology, not because of reality. In this case, I will simply thank them for expressing their ‘concern’, make sure they know I love them and walk away. I may even have to inform them that we will have to agree to disagree but in that case, I will have to resist telling them why. You may have to employ ambiguity here. Fortunately, this can be easy to do because closed people don’t tend to go deep, they are often presumptuous. Therefore, you can say something ambiguous without betraying your integrity. One general example might be, “I’ll look into it.” This is honest, as you’ll see below, but it doesn’t plumb the depths.

So I’m not necessarily ‘blowing off’ the critic. They may be right but they are not open enough to tell me why. I have made the mistake many times in the past of pressing in with questions to seek clarity, only to come up short with frustration on both sides, fracturing relations with the critic.

I have found that closed people tend to misunderstand a search for clarity with being ‘defensive’. You can’t win with these folks. So if what they are saying is not clear, don’t press it. And don’t feel guilty. The critic is really cutting off the conversation not you. You may be very interested in what they are saying or genuinely not understand them, but they close off your ability to go deeper to find clarity or a solution.

I was once given the criticism from a closed critic that when I lead worship, I often missed lyrics. Given the circumstances, I was perplexed at this so I started asking questions. Thankfully I could ask other people questions about this subject. As a result I was able to find that the real problem was that the multimedia person was not putting up the correct lyrics to our songs.

If I can’t definitively disagree with the critic, yet they are ill equipped to give me their reasoning, I have a circle of close friends who are Christ followers, and musicians with whom I can consult. Sometimes they can give me the detailed reasons the critic couldn’t give me and I can actually make a change for the better.

In closing, here are some scriptures to support these points:

  • “….first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:5 (NIV)
  • “….do not throw your pearls before swine….” – Matthew 7:6 (NIV)
  • “….the prudent hold their tongues”. Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)
  • “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” – Proverbs 19:20 (NIV)

I have made many mistakes when being confronted by critics. But I always try to never ‘waste a mistake’. If I only would have known some of the things I share with you here, I think I could have extended many ministry opportunities in my life and more importantly, preserved relationships. Be willing to stare your weaknesses in the eye without flinching, meet people where they are, yet never push people beyond where they can go and most importantly love them. This is the way of Christ.

Greg Jones is a musician, music teacher, worship leader and independent recording artist. On my site you find me sharing music instruction, with an emphasis on worship music and articles on worship leading.

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