Critiquing Critique

Recently I ran across “The Pastor and Personal Criticism” by C.J. Mahaney. He says, “if you are a pastor, you will be criticized” and he got me thinking… What should I do when someone critique’s me? Especially if I don’t believe I deserve the critique. For me it’s an interesting question. After all, I’m supposed to have it all figured out, right?

I’m supposed to be the leader. I’m the one spending all this money on education. Aren’t I getting paid to have the credentials to critique others? Even more, what if someone critique’s me concerning my own special interests? Say, Islam for example. What if someone who has never studied Islam and never met a Muslim tries to tell me my understanding of them is wrong?  How should I respond? Or say, preaching. What if someone who has never preached before (or preaches sub-par sermons, or preaches too long, or is hard to understand, etc), tries to tell me how I should preach? Or what if they suggest I shorten my sermons? Or use more stories… Or….etc. Do I listen? Do I defend myself? Do I critique their critique? After all, how can I preach a good sermon in less than 45 minutes? ;) Interestingly, Tim Keller has recommended young preachers go no more than 30 minutes, since, most likely, anything more may be dangerously close to “personal ramblings because they like to hear themselves talk”…

Thankfully, I’m at the stage where I can still ask the question. At this point, I’m not really in many leadership positions. And in some ways this is purposeful. Before I came to the Boston area I had been worn thin… lots of leadership roles, lots of front-line work, lots of stuff to do, and I felt like I needed a few years to slide into the background. I needed to be “still”…To watch, learn, listen. This is an ongoing lesson, and I’m really enjoying it. Humility is a much more natural reaction now that I see my way may not be the best way. Since I’m not the one “leading the pack” I can finally sit back and watch others – and I’ve been very intrigued by how they deal with critique.

To be honest, I am kinda frustrated with my age group, and those who act my age. The “leaders” around me who are say, 35 and below all seem to float one way – it’s an almost unanimous decision – they critique their critiquers. They defend themselves against supposed “weaknesses.” They clarify, oppose, sometimes in a very condescending way. They “get er done,” “bring her home hard,” “come back strong,” “rebuke the heretics,” etc. They resist changing who they are, and oppose those who see things differently, since these young bucks certainly know better…

Then there are those who have been in ministry for a few years and actually know what they are doing. I’ve been impressed by their very distinctive Matthean saltiness (Here I am making broad distinctions but you get my general point). Some of these more experienced ministers have this weird ability to not only put-out but take-in as well. “Evaluation on the go” so to speak. I was struck the other day as I was listening to a “seasoned veteran,” a very well known and respected preacher answer questions from a seminary audience. Someone critiqued him on the way he preaches, and instead of defending himself, he just took it, and thanked the critiquer (figures, those of us in seminary have it all figured out). This struck me. This preacher had all the right in the world to defend himself, and he didn’t.

So now I ask my 25-year old self… what would I do in that situation? What should I do? All the while one of the most memorable lines I heard in my first semester was from a professor who said,  “it took me three years to get through seminary, and about three years to get over it.” How high do I view myself and my education? What kind of “leader” am I, really? Do I love being in the lead, being in the right, being in power? How do I critique criticism?

C.J. Mahaney says, “A pastor can expect criticism because it is part of God’s sanctification process – a tool that he uses to reveal idols and accelerate the pastor’s growth in humility.”

This is something I need to think about more. Whether at home, work, school, or church – how do I react to criticism – and what does that say about me?