Prov. 15:31 – “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise” (NLT).
If you build a ministry where no one can give you feedback, you are teaching your congregation to be proud and self-defensive.1 – Mark Dever
I used to think I was a good preacher because many people used to thank me for my sermons. My superior in the organisation I worked for never gave me any feedback. Unfortunately, he only criticised me behind my back! When I began preaching in a new church, people appreciated my sermons, but there was one man who was not fully satisfied. Initially, I was quite reluctant to take his feedback because I thought I was doing well and didn’t need to improve. But over time, he helped me see areas in which I could improve and grow, and this has been a blessing to me and my ministry. This positive experience helped me realise that I actually need feedback in every other area of my life.
The word ‘criticism’ usually carries a negative connotation. When people think of criticism, they usually think about fault-finding or being judgmental. Indeed, not all criticism out there is beneficial because many only intend to attack us or to pull us down. Such are often pessimistic, and prejudiced, and such criticism causes a lot of damage. We need to be careful to seek and learn from the right kind of criticism.
Constructive criticism focuses primarily on improvement or development. Its aim is not to attack someone or their work, but instead, to help the person improve. Now this does not mean we don’t have negative things to say while giving constructive criticism. In fact, the reason for criticism is to draw attention to errors or imperfections. However, the purpose for doing this is intentionally to spur others on to improve in character or work.
It is easy for us to become critical and judgmental when we see the errors of others. And we are quick to form a negative impression of others in our minds and to treat them as hopeless or evil people. However, we should avoid looking down on them. Instead, when we see errors in others, we should prayerfully seek opportunities to help them grow.
We need to remember that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Rom. 3:23). All humans are flawed, and no one on this side of eternity is perfect. Even the best “saint” has his or her shortcomings, and this is because we all have sinful nature. We all will continue to struggle with our sinful nature as long as we live in this mortal frame. However, the gospel offers pardon for our sins, and also Christ’s redeeming grace for our everyday struggles:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Ti. 2:11-14).
Constructive criticism plays a very crucial part of building a healthy church and as well as a strong ministry. Our sanctification takes place in communion with other godly people and not in isolation. We need to be surrounded by people who love us, who can reprove us when they see our flaws, and who want to help us grow. We need people not only to show us our flaws, but also to point us to Christ’s redeeming grace for our change. We all need improvement in our character, behaviour, manner of speech, habits, ethics, work and a lot more. Therefore, we need to be open to change; that is to receive correction from others for our good.
Receiving feedback or constructive criticism is a sign of our humility, and willingness to grow and improve. Such an attitude is necessary for all those in any form of ministry in the body of Christ. Our understanding of ourselves is highly warped, which can lead us to close doors for our growth. We are naturally defensive when people give us feedback or correction, which is a sign of pride. Humility of mind: not having a high opinion of one’s self is what we all need. We must let this realization sink deep within us that we are mere humans, sinners though saved by grace and that we are susceptible to fall and sometimes even into gross error. Such an awareness will enable us to be open to healthy constructive criticism and allow growth in our lives. Arrogance and defensiveness are hazardous to us as well as to the ministry in the church.
I heard of a certain young man in a church who was excited to learn the Bible. He met with the leaders of the church to study the Word of God regularly, and asked many real and thought-provoking questions. The leaders of the church were impressed with the growth he was showing, and they eventually allowed him to preach. And, he did a good job. Soon after his sermon, people showered appreciations on him. But an elderly man was appalled at the response of the young man when he approached him with some feedback, “I know all these things, and you need not teach me!” Sadly, with all his learning, the young man failed to learn humility, and did not want to grow and improve.
Unlike this young man, we must all consciously cultivate an attitude of accepting criticism without being defensive right from the time we are young Christians. Even though it is difficult, we must all learn to deny ourselves daily (Matt. 16:24), to clothe ourselves with humility, (1 Pet. 5:5), and aspire to have the mind of Christ in us (Phil. 2:5). This attitude is crucial for any of us to grow and to serve in the body of Christ.
The Bible says that ‘a fool rejects reproof but a wise man will love reproof’ (Prov. 9:8-9).
May God help us to be wise.
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash