“Fifty years hence it will matter very little how these people treated us. It will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God.” William Booth
As a younger pastor, I am not sure I was fully prepared for just how critical some people could be concerning my leadership and my service. Ministry life is truly life in a fishbowl. Not only me but my family was being observed as well. That goes with the calling; and though it is not one of the more pleasant aspects of ministry, it is one that we all will deal with from time to time. My experience is that most people are loving and appreciative of your role in their life; but at times, criticism of your actions and your motives can come. Sadly, if we do not handle those times properly, it can affect our present ministry and set some very serious precedents for the future.
Years ago, in the midst of a very discouraging time, God gave me three principles to guide me through times of criticism. They became so important to me, that I review them regularly. Let me share them with you.
I will take every experience of criticism to honestly examine my words and actions.
I am flesh and therefore capable of any every failure of the flesh. There are times when criticism of our lives and ministries is justified. Hopefully, that criticism is offered in love and with a desire to help; but even if it is not, it does not change the fact that it is justified criticism. I may not be able to correct the spirit of the one who is being critical, but I can correct that which the criticism exposed in me to be wrong. Someone else’s bad behavior does not allow me to excuse my own failure. Proverbs 26:12 says, “See’st thou a man wise in his own conceits? there is more hope of a fool than him.” Instead, “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” Proverbs 1:5
If the criticism is unjust, then in humility I will attempt to explain my words and actions so that they can be understood by the critic.
The servant of the Lord must have the spirit of teaching not striving. Our flesh does not enjoy being forbearing, patient, and kind; but that is the response which can lead to agreement and unity. If you are not given the opportunity to explain, then be forgiving. That does not mean that you do not move forward with what God has given you to do, but you move forward with a heart always ready to reconcile with the critic. I love the event in Paul and Mark’s life when, instead of being bitter against the criticism of Paul, Mark became a trusted co-laborer with him in the ministry of the gospel.
I will not use times of criticism to attack those that are critical of me.
The failures in the critic’s life do not strengthen the decisions and choices in my life. If I am right, I am right regardless of the state of the critic’s spiritual life; and if I am wrong, the critic’s spiritual life does not change that fact. When William Booth was being viciously criticized by a detractor, his assistants urged him to return the attack. Booth answered this way, “Fifty years hence it will matter very little how these people treated us. It will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God.” Go on serving and let God vindicate you.
They say the only way to escape criticism is to say nothing, be nothing, and do nothing. No, thank you! That is not the life any of us want to live. So then, if you are criticized and it is justified, make the changes called for. If it is unfair, try to win the critic to your view, but in humility continue what God has given you to do. Do not use the critic’s failures to vindicate you; let God do that, through prospering what He has given you to do.