Every church has ‘em. The Chronic Critic … the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased. No matter what you do, they have something negative to say.
You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times, was on a mission from God.
Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.
Complete this statement:
The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I …
2. Blew up
5. Stayed silent and drove my anger inward
6. Became defensive
7. Felt embarrassed
8. Listened and learned from the critic
Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobiah was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the Five Ps below.
Nehemiah 4:1-9 tells the story:
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (NIV)
You’ll recall that God gave Nehemiah a burden to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, a noble task. He obeyed God’s prompting and got criticized for it.
The five insights below from Nehemiah’s response to his chronic critics give us a good template to follow when we’re criticized. I call them the Five P’s.
1. Prepare for it.
If you want to make a difference for God, you will be criticized, even though what you’re doing is noble. We live in a fallen world and this world’s systems and values oppose the rule of God. If Satan can use criticism to derail you, he will.
The greater impact you have for God, the more you will be criticized, not less. If you try to please everybody, you may avoid criticism, but you’ll be miserable.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism. (Harrison’s Postulate)
2. Pause and pray.
Instead of reacting, retorting, getting defensive, showing the illogic of his critics, Nehemiah first turned to the Lord in prayer (v. 4). The criticism hurt, but he did not even the score. He asked the Lord to bring appropriate judgment.
Prayer takes the sting out of criticism, and when we pause, it gives time for clear thinking to rule rather than reactivity.
I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer … . (Matthew 5:44, Message)
3. Pray and process.
Criticism often makes us feel bad and often we act irrationally or in an unhealthy way to it. When we get criticized, we must, however, process that criticism by asking these kinds of questions. What is valid about it? What do I do with it? Do I ignore it? Do I confront the criticizer? Do I learn from it?
We should not disregard all criticism. We can learn much from our critics. Some critics can even become our best coaches.
Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they reprove me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. (Psalm 141:5, NLT)
Evaluate the merit of criticism in two ways.
1. In light of the spirit and attitude in which it was given. Did the critic criticize to help you or to hurt you?
2. In light of the voices to whom your critic listens. Does the critic hang around with godly people, or simply run with a pack of other critics?
4. Proceed with care.
Although Nehemiah often prayed, he didn’t use prayer as an excuse to do nothing. He did something. He moved forward with the project to rebuild the wall.
When the chronic critic criticizes you, don’t let it immobilize you. Do something tangible.
You may need to separate yourself from your constant critics and not listen to them any longer.
You may need to boldly tell your critic to stop criticizing.
You may need to listen and learn from your critic.
5. Protect your vulnerabilities.
In response to his critics, he posted guards at the wall’s most vulnerable places. Sometimes criticism reveals where were are weakest and most vulnerable.
When such criticism reveals those weaknesses, we may need to take some of these extra steps to deal with those sensitive places.
Consult a good counselor.
Invite a safe friend into your life to help you process the criticism.
Study Scripture to see what God’s Word says about that area.
Read a helpful book that addresses your sensitive area.
Ultimately, we must look to Christ who provided the perfect pattern for responding to our chronic critics.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23, NIV)
What has helped you respond to your critics?