Receiving Criticism

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Seminary has some weird moments. One of the more awkward classes is this torturous thing called Preaching Lab. This involves about 7 students, a professor, and a video camera. Students take turns throughout the semester preaching sermons in class. Typically, there will be 2 sermons per class. (It’s usually as awkward as it sounds). Having preached a sermon, you get immediate feedback from both your professor and your fellow classmates. Then you get the added pleasure of having to go home and watch the video for self critique. The labs are actually helpful, if not painful. Friendly fire is still fire, but hey, at least it’s friendly.

The underlying premise behind the lab is the preacher-to-be needs some refinement. Of course, men walk into those classes will all levels of ability and experience. For some, it’s the first time they’ve preached a full length sermon (which probably isn’t best). You have others who have perhaps been preaching many years. Regardless, you open yourself up to the friendly firing squad.

Taking critique from friends is humbling but it’s not that hard to swallow. You know, after all, these are your friends who have your best in mind. Any tendency towards defensiveness is at least curbed knowing your critics want you to succeed. Jonathan Edwards has a masterful piece entitled Searching Your Conscience. He notes:

It is foolhardy, as well as unchristian, to take offense, and resent it, when we are thus told of our faults.

As hard is it may be to hear, we are fools acting unchristianly when we reject critique. When we discount criticism, we in effect say that we either think we are above criticism or we think we are above their criticism.

Friendly critique is useful but there is another type of critique which may actually be more useful: critique from your enemies. Your friends want to help you but they are (hopefully) gracious and don’t want to completely annihilate you. But what about your enemies Edwards is again helpful:

Those who revile us – though they do it from an unchristian spirit and in an unchristian manner – will usually identify the very areas where we are the most blameworthy.

Yikes. Note a few things. Critics that mean you harm can actually be useful, perhaps even more useful than your kinder critics. Like a jujitsu master, use your opponents criticism to your advantage. They mean to tear you down, use it to make you stronger. Your critics attack actual weaknesses. Back in the day when I used to play tennis, if I saw my opponent had a weak backhand, guess where I was hitting the ball? I wanted to win so I didn’t play to his strength. Your critics are trying to injure you. Pay attention to where they attack, they’ve likely picked a strategic spot to strike you. Learn from them, however uncharitable their critique may be.

A few proverbs speak directly to this issue:

Pr 13:18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction,
but whoever heeds reproof is honored.

The folly of rejecting reproof may eventually bring one to ruin. Take a man who is self confident and refuses to listen to others, eventually he will find himself disgraced.

Pr. 15:31 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

Ironically, in our attempts at self-preservation we do ourselves harm harm when we shut ourselves off to correction.

Pr 29:1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

The self-reliant fool won’t forever stay in his folly. He will be broken eventually.

Don’t be a fool who defensively pushes back at every point. When you receive criticism, pause and see if it’s true. It just may be that your critic has spotted a weakness in your character.

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Allen Cagle

About Allen Cagle

Allen serves as the Lead Pastor at Sunrise Community Church in Atlantic Beach, FL, in the Jacksonville area. He graduated from The Master’s Seminary (MDiv) in 2005 and from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin) in 2017. Allen is married to Mindy and has three awesome kids.