Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Criticism does not necessarily mean condemnation

Something that affects ministry, whether we be pastors, staff, leaders or members/disciples is how we hear and respond to criticism. As disciples of Jesus it is important for each of us to take some responsibility of how we respond to criticism otherwise we will be doomed and allow criticism to be turned into condemnation or we will simply ignore all criticism.

Condemnation is something we all experience…being labelled…being told we can’t succeed…being told we have problems by themselves can be quite helpful but become condemnation when we believe that these things mean we are doomed.

Some years ago a young enthustic 15 year old basketballer trying out for his state team Victoria in Australia (now basketball in Australia is not that strong…most young men choose aussie rules, rugby, rugby league, soccer, cricket, golf and tennis before basketaball) was told he wasn’t good enough, he wasn’t up to standard so was dropped from the squad. Now many young people may have been devastated, believing that they had no hope so what was the use continuing. However this young man heard what was said accepted what was true and rejected what wasn’t. Then went about being transformed by coaches and other guides. That young man is Andrew Bogut, who was the number 1 draft pick in 2005 for the American National Basketball Association and recently signed a $76 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks …If Bogut had taken that early form of criticism as condemnation he would have not been blessed and neither would have has his fans been blessed.

Now for each of us Satan is always attempting to convince us that our life and future with God is doomed because of our flaws, our failures, our sins. Now if we listen to that it will be, however God has something else to say. The reality is we have exactly these issues…we are sinners, we have flaws, we mess up, sin and yet because of Christ these things lose their power to condemn us….God still wants and makes it possible for you and me to receive his blessings and share his blessings.

This is the message of Romans 8 where God addresses a Christian community through St Paul we hear the following:
Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
This is something important for each of us to remember.....
That despite our flaws, inadequacies, flops, failures, etc. and despite any criticism targetted at us if we are trusting in Jesus Christ as our hope for salvation God will not reject us...God still sees us as special and valueable.

Unfortunately at times we can respond in ways that is not helpful to criticism and sometimes even allow criticism to condemn us or be used to damage our reputation.

Responding to criticism and Dealing with criticism

Remember not all criticism is equal.
Some criticism is simply made to put us down, other criticism is made to make someone or some other group look good (now that is a pretty poor way to approach life), some criticism is made for poltical reasons, some is ill informed, whilst some criticism can actually help us in our journies with God and others.

When criticism arises ask:
  • Is the criticism true, partially true or completely inaccurate?
  • Is it justified? Something maybe true but still be unfair criticism. Is this the case? Take for instance the winging of the israelites to Moses in Exodus 14...they had experienced hardship but they were focussed on the current situation rather than the future.
  • Is it based on facts or perception?
  • How consistent is it with the commandment You shall not bear false witness agains others, and the explanations as found in the small and large catechisms?
  • Why am I being criticised?
  • What values, outlook on life, understanding do those who are making the criticism have? and how does this compare to your own or what they should be? (In the church, as well as life this is important, because we have so many different perspectives floating around about all aspects of life and what is ask people what makes a good worship service and listen to the range of answers, ask people what makes a good parent and listen to the differences.)

When criticism is true or partially true and justified?

If criticism is true or at least partially true...

First recognise this as God's reminder of why you need Jesus for his primary role of salvation, especially when cristicism suggests we have sinned. When it is true, criticism helps us see we have fallen short of the glory of God, of God's standards and that Jesus saves us from being doomed.

Secondly criticism also reminds us of our reliance on God and his gifts to help us in our lives. Being ciriticised can often be a prompter to rely on God to help us with something in our life, either help us change or help us deal with that issue. Sometimes we can't change and we need help to deal with our inadequacies/situation, other times it is possible for us to change which is possible with God's help. This involves prayer, scripture reading, discussions with other Christians, seeking help from both church and secular resources, planning, time and being open to change.

Something extra.... But what about responding to anonymous criticism

Unfortunately at times people will use institutional structures, meetings (Someone may get other people to talk on their behalf), procedures or other means to make complaints or criticism anonymously rather than directly. As leaders in an organisation we need to look at this carefully and ask ourselves how consistent is such an approach with scripture, especially considering Matthew 18:15-20. Are we going to allow anonymous criticism to occur, why and when? A lot of the time anonymous criticism is not helpful, but just poor and even destructive behaviour. Things like meetings, surveys, complaints procedures and appraisals need to be managed appropriately so when anonymous criticism does arise it is handled constructively and to help, not hurt relationships. Something to consider....criticism that has the purpose of improving a relationship is good.....criticism that has the purpose of removing someone from a relationship is questionable.

However as people who maybe affected by anonymous criticism remember there are reasons why anonymous criticism occurs. My initial response to anonymous criticism is to listen to the cristism but not to respond to it, because some anonymous criticism is simply inappropriate activity of people wanting to hurt others without their points of view being analysed and questioned. However I am also aware that at times it is encouraged so as to elicit responses (eg. surveys) and other times it arises because people dont feel confident in their own abilities or have the time to talk about the issues and therefore are unwilling to criticise unless it is anonymous.

What we can do about anonymous criticism?

  • Don't ignore it completely...ask the questions under when criticism arises?
  • Ask can we talk privately to those who have made the criticism? (This may or may not be possible)
  • Encourage our organisations/church to develop helpful and appropriate ways to deal with anonymous criticism. This should include encouraging people to take their criticism directly to those they are criticising, even with help, etc.
  • Remind people we are about journeying together and relationships and anonymous criticism is often not helpful for relationships.
  • Remind people it is difficult to respond to an anonymous person.
  • Attempt to create an environment where people don't feel threatened in bringing up issues.
  • Help people see life is not always about win/lose.....
  • Listen to what people are saying, but don't necessarly suggest you agree with them.

Pastor Richard Schwedes

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