How to Receive Criticism: 2 Types of Critics Who Can Teach You

The fact is, being a leader attracts criticism—if you want everyone to like you, go sell ice cream.

For example, one of my favorite critiques was from a fundamentalist website that once said that since I taught at a seminary where the president had denied the virgin birth, I could not be trusted because I too probably denied the virgin birth. (The president and the school were quite clear that they believed the virgin birth.) They had no real point.

But this type of criticism is common, though usually not that egregious. “Professional” critics, who are perpetually aggrieved, can tend to play loose with the facts. It’s a never-ending stream of accusations that have some truth but little character. Still listen to the truth, but weigh the character and track record of the critic.

It’s most surprising when it is a supposedly “Christian” critic, and often a conservative one, arguing for some theological issue. It seems that people who stand for the authority of Scripture often seem to forget that Scripture includes the ninth commandment: not bearing false witness.

Thus, in that case there is no point to the criticism. It is just the foolish ramblings of someone who wishes to misrepresent facts in the name of truth.

However, both unfriendly and friendly critics often DO have a point, and I think we need to turn our critics into teachers by seeking to understand what the lesson is. Then we ask how that point can be best understood and addressed in our lives.

So I always ask the question, even though perhaps the critic has inarticulately stated it, “Is there truth here that I need to address?” Then I consider what God may be trying to teach me through the criticism. And I actually find that the majority of critics have some truth to their criticism, though the majority of criticisms do not. (Why that math? Because, in my experience, a few critics do most of the criticism, but it’s the less-frequent critics who tend to be the most on target.)

If we’re humble but not foolish—casually disregarding people that God has places in our path—the end result is that we will be able to receive what should be received and ignore what should not be.

Critics are a gift. I know not every critic is, but if you discount them all because of a few, you miss the gift. You need critics to remind you that you are not perfect. You have to remember that, though it may not seem like it—believe it or not—they are often right.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.