The beginning of a new year is always a time of reflection for me. I reflect on the year past but mostly on the year stretching out before me. Each year brings new challenges, new opportunities, and new criticisms. Ah, criticism! Just take on a challenge, exploit an opportunity, or even do something big enough to get you noticed and believe me – criticism will come.
I was a fan of the sacrificial service of Mother Teresa so naturally I watched the TV coverage of her death (which was largely eclipsed by the death of Princess Di) and picked up several magazines to read about what her life had meant. Mother Teresa died some 13 years ago but I’m so old that it seems like just yesterday that I picked up Newsweek the week of her death and read an ugly editorial entitled “Unmasking the Mother”. ABC hired Christopher Hitchens (author of Hell’s Angel — a book attacking Mother Teresa) and gave himairtime to criticize her during the broadcast of her funeral. Can you believe there are people who spend their time and energy looking for things to criticize about Mother Teresa?
Unfortunately, this is typical instead of exceptional. I was at a campus ministry conference a number of years ago where Tony Campolo was a main speaker. One of the national campus ministries there distributed “anti-Campolo” packets before his session — warning us of Tony’s “liberal” views. But don’t take my word for it. Google “Rick Warren” or “Rob Bell” and you’ll find a number of sites dedicated to “anti-Warren” and “anti-Bell” agenda.
Neither Mother Theresa, Campolo, Warren, or Bell were or are perfect – I have disagreements with some of their positions and views myself. However, there’s a pattern here. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative, Catholic or Protestant, young or old —when you resolve to accomplish something worthwhile, you become the target of critics. They question your motives and they challenge your methods. When it happens, it is tempting to go on the attack. If you do, you’ll only become as sidetracked as they are.
About 2000 years ago, Paul faced the same problem. He dedicated his life to proclaiming the radical message of the gospel of Jesus. He preached spiritual renewal, racial reconciliation, family respect, and social responsibility. In spite of all the good he accomplished, many opposed him. While Paul was busy saving souls, his critics watched him suspiciously. They challenged his theology, they questioned his integrity, and they celebrated his imprisonment.
So Paul said “To heck with this. Life’s too short. I quit.” Thank God that is not at all what he did. Criticism didn’t slow him down! Instead he took it as an affirmation that he was doing what he should be doing. Paul continued to do the work that God had called him to do and he expressed his philosophy of criticism and critics in Galatians 1:10…
“Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Paul cut’s to the heart of the matter. Who are you seeking to please? God or men? Seek to please men and you’ll eventually cease to be a servant of Christ. That’s brutal! But it is 100% true. I can not tell you how often I have literallly said aloud to myself “Which is it Tim? God or men? Whose approval really matters to you?” In fact that is one of my annual reflection questions.
Let me share with you something about criticism that I wish I had learned much earlier in my life and ministry: The nature of criticism is that it sounds much louder than praise.
That’s ok IF your heart is right with God, and you’re honestly seeking to do His will. IF not criticism can become deafeningly loud. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time to listen to criticism. I have learned much from my critics over the years.
But I have also learned this: Criticism is often just confirmation that you’re on the right track. If I have a philosophy towards criticism and critics this is it.
What about you? Any lessons you have learned about handling criticism? I would love to hear them.