Wanted: More Critics

The church needs more critics.  Are you a critical person? Do you enjoy walking into a situation and evaluating its effectiveness? Do you measure what you see against a higher standard?

If you are uncertain if you meet the qualifications of a critic, here is the definition:  crit-ic  noun  \’kri-tik\

  1. one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
  2. one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances
  3. one given to harsh or captious judgment
In his book, What Leaders Do, Dave Browning says that leaders, “See what needs to be done, and do what needs to be done.” Leadership involves criticism because a leader is able to see areas that can be improved. In many cases a critic is simply a leader in need of implementation. The church is in great need of more leaders.
The church is also in need of those that are critical of God, critical of his people, and critical of how his people gather. The church needs more of these people, because those are the people the church church should be reaching. Every person far from God is critical of him, and it is the job of the church to show the reality of God and the love of Christ; to make friends of our greatest critics. If you don’t believe in Jesus, if you are critical of the church, please get to know someone you can be honest with. Share, ask questions, offer your criticism. If God is God, he can handle the questions, and if the church is doing what it is supposed to be doing, it can handle the criticism. Without your criticism, there may be little chance for improvement or change. People will not change until they are made clearly aware of the need to change by loving critics.

Not all criticism is bad, nor should we assume critics are not for our community. Very often our greatest critics are those who desire the most for the church. Church leaders must not fear criticism, they must learn to befriend and empower their critics. People are leaving churches in droves because their voice is not heard. Instead of ignoring criticism, church leaders should create safe and healthy platforms for those who are critical to share their input.
The church does not need silent critics who vote with their feet, the church needs more honest critics who engage in relationships. The church needs relational critics. It is easy to take shots from afar, to leave a comment on a review site, crush people on social media, or remain critical in your head. It is another thing entirely to meet and get to know well the people or system you are critical of.  Are you critical of a pastor or worship leader or simply critical of church or God in general?
Two types of critics:
In the church there are two types of critics, those who believe, and those who do not.
1. The believing critic: This person believes in Jesus, and wants the best for God and his people. The standard that a group is measured by is God and his word, or a previous effective model of community. This person:
  • May have the gift of prophecy (the truth telling type, not telling the future type)
  • May be gifted in an area that the community is lacking in
  • Might have been nudged by God to get involved, and using their criticism as an excuse not to respond
  • May have unresolved issues in the community or from their past

In any case, it is important for a believing critic to be heard. If that person is unable to share their criticisms, or act in ways that lead to change, they will isolate themselves from community. If that person is not involved in relationships where opinions and perspectives can be shared, then the person will become more and more negative.

2. The non-believing critic: This person is skeptical of Jesus, and perhaps does not even believe in God. However, they are a person with integrity and want a community to live out their own values. This person:
  • May have a superior skill set that the community could learn from (perhaps they are an artist, musician, communicator or teacher, or someone organizationally or administratively minded)
  • May have a negative experience that the community could learn from (a person who has been mistreated, judged or abused)
  • May have a relationship that needs to be mended (information about someone in the community that is not living by their own beliefs)

It is important for the non-believing critic to feel heard as well, so that the concerns with a few are not projected onto the whole. When a non-believing critic is a valued voice in a community, and when others learn from and listen to them they are more likely to stay engaged with those people.

Two types of criticism: If you find yourself critical in a lot of situations, you need to know the difference between types of criticism, and which type leads to change.
1. Negative criticism: This is the type of criticism that others fear, because a negative critic is impossible to please. If you are constantly critical, it could simply mean you are a negative person. No community responds well to constant negativity, so it would be good to ask others if you are viewed in this way. Negative critics are a result of multiple unresolved or improved situations that lead a person to hopelessness.
2. Constructive criticism: This is where a critic is helpful, because their criticism comes with hope or plan for desired change. A person who is constructive can say, “This was not as good as it could be, and here are a few ways that it can be improved.” If you are going to be critical, come with ideas and hope for change.
How to be an effective critic:
1. Seek to understand: A good critic will ask questions, seek to understand, and not jump to conclusions. To properly analyze a situation, you should know why certain decisions were made, or why things are done the way they are.
2. Build friendships: Often, a person who you could help will be insecure (most people are) and unable to initially deal with your criticism. If you befriend a person, you words will more likely be received. Truth-teller types are often lacking in friendships because their honesty makes others uncomfortable, but friendship is helpful in making significant changes.
3. Be patient: Often critics do not see their criticisms acted on quickly enough, so a critic needs to be patient knowing that change takes time. If you have offered suggestions, you can check and see if anything is being implemented, but do not rush. Even minor changes in a community can rattle a community, Change takes time, so critics must learn patience.
How to respond to criticism:
1. Listen: There is truth in every criticism. Are you more committed to learning and humility, or to being right? Do not interject, to not justify, do not cut it off; simply listen.
2. Ask Questions: Ask about a person’s background and experiences to learn what makes their input in this situation important.
3. Say Thank You: It is intimidating for anyone to share with a leader, so be sure to thank them for their honesty, and the time they took to share how they feel. This does not mean you have to agree with them, but you should always be thankful that a person cared enough to communicate.
4. Seek Input: Seek to learn from different voices from different backgrounds, races, genders, political preferences and spiritual gifting. If your input looks too much like you, you will assume that the work is to make people more like you rather than love the diversity of God’s Kingdom.
5. Love: We are to love everyone, even our critics. How much criticism would go away if we all encountered God’s loving presence and extended love and grace to each other? Which do you desire more, to be loving, or to be right?
People want to be heard. Will you create platforms to listen?
How do you engage your critics?

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4 thoughts on “Wanted: More Critics

  1. I was thinking about this very thing tonight before reading your post. I am often someone who sees what could be better and I wrestle with how and when and to whom to communicate these things, as well as discerning whether or not the change I perceive needs to happen is within or without of my realm (I generally have an opinion about almost everything). Your post has given me more to consider. Thank you.

  2. An article about criticism is not complete without, well, criticism. My intent is to supply that deficiency in a way that honors the proud tradition of amateur online criticism.

    My main concern is that the article seems to lay the burden on the critic to remain engaged with their community. I dispute this as misguided and uninformed.

    While the (good) critic has a duty to exercise his craft from a position of brotherhood within a community, the community and its leadership have a greater duty to intentionally seek out and value those critical souls within their communities.
    Care must be taken to separate the true critic from the chronic crank, embracing the former and confronting the latter. Many communities that attempt this get it all wrong and end up controlled by cranks while the true critics all go silent or disappear.

    The problem is the true critic acts from a heart of love and compassion, while the crank acts out of selfishness and greed. Therefore when the inevitable response comes it goes straight to the heart of the critic, causing deep wounds, while the same response is exactly what the crank was looking for for the pupose of manipulating the situation to his benefit.

    To call out to critics and beg them not to disengage from community is not understanding and compassionate toward the position of extreme vulnerability and weakness a (good) critic voluntarily places himself in the moment he opens his mouth to comment on a situation.
    The greater need in today’s church is not for critics to remain engaged. The greater need is for today’s church to truly value (good) criticism and protect it from abuse or attack.
    While I see a church that desperately needs the critics contribution, I do not see a church that is truly ready for what a critic brings to the table.
    The typical end of the (good) critic is death, either emotionally, relationally, or physically. Who but God has the authority to call a man or woman to remain engaged when the end is likely to be death?

    • Yes! Thank you @eldrover. I appreciate your response.

      I was not intending to put the burden all on the critic. I did list ways to respond to a critic, so there would be more dialogue, and stronger relationships.

      I love how you differentiated between a true critic, and a crank. You recognized what a critic often needs to hear, which is “Thank you, that must have been difficult for you to say.” A constructive critic takes a risk, but it is a risk worth taking for a desired outcome.

      I did not mean to ignore the vulnerability of a critic, in fact, I was saying we need more. We need more vulnerability, more honesty, more helping each other from different perspectives. Of course if this were to happen, we need people better prepared for that type of vulnerability.

      I appreciate your word choices, they will be valuable next time I talk or write on this.

      Thanks for your input!

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