The Critic Helped Me

Many leaders have been encouraged and emboldened by the words of Theodore Roosevelt in his speech, “The Man in the Arena.” In that speech, Roosevelt said:  

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

While our hearts may be stirred by those words, we are still left with what to do when criticism comes.

In 30-plus years of vocational ministry, I have received a fair amount of criticism. Most of it was at least partially deserved — some of it was completely deserved.  

Criticism, however, can be devastating. It has the ability — if too much weight is given to it — to completely color everything in one’s life. But it need not be that way. 

Every follower of Jesus Christ is in the middle of their own sanctification (John 17:17). God is shaping us to be more like our Lord Jesus (Romans 8:29). To conform us to the image of Christ, there are many things that must be corrected. Sometimes criticism can help us see those things for ourselves.   

Here are six action words that can help us benefit from criticism: 

1. Listen: When someone summons the courage to share a concern about you — face to face — do them the courtesy of listening to understand, without interrupting or defending. Ask questions for clarification if needed, but make it your aim to listen. God may be using them for your good.  

2. Pray: Ask God to help you process what you have heard. God loves you and knows the truth about you and, in time, will give you the grace to learn and grow through criticism. Ask God to help you not be bitter or resentful, but to be helped and made better.  

3. Process: Find someone to talk to about what you have heard, or if you process alone, consider journaling your thoughts. Sometimes writing things down can lead to mental clarity. When someone likes you, they overlook your faults. When someone doesn’t like you, then everything is a fault. Talk through the criticism with a trusted friend who can help you put it in perspective.  

4. Own: Take full responsibility for anything in the criticism for which you are at fault and seek to make it right. Confess your fault to the Lord and to others if necessary. Avoid blaming or making excuses. If you are at fault, then own it.  

5. Grow: Growth is hard and often doesn’t happen quickly. Just ask the little boy who wants to be taller. It is our responsibility, however, to develop a plan to help us overcome our shortcomings.  

6. Lead: Listen to the criticism, thank the person who shared it, pray through it and process it, take responsibility for what you did wrong and seek to grow from it — but don’t stop leading.  

If you do these things, you may be able to say at some future date, “the critic helped me.” 

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