Some people are so critical. You know those people. Whenever you see their name pop up on your phone, or see their email in your inbox, your heart starts beating a little faster. You get a little angry. You shrink away.
Maybe it just comes with pastoring, but I’ve never been so criticized in my life – or at least I’ve never felt so criticized. One of the challenges with the position is interpreting the many underhanded comments, glances, and questions you get. It can be hard to know whether the person is implying a criticism or not. But more often than not, when I’ve asked for clarification, it turns out to be critical.
Maybe people think pastors have it too easy. Maybe people think that it’s their job to put pastors in their place. Or maybe people just don’t realize how they’re coming across.
In most businesses, there are a barrage of complaints aimed at leaders. From customers and the public to employees and vendors, running a business is an extremely difficult task when you don’t have tough skin. It’s one of the things I’ve struggled with for a long time. I always want people to be happy – so happy that I often stress about how other people feel about me. I don’t think anybody enjoys customer service, but I’m especially averse to it.
Of course, I don’t mind criticism in general. And I don’t mind dealing with difficult people. Part of me actually enjoys it. It’s just when the criticism feels close to home – when it reaches an area of insecurity for me. When the software I personally developed failed a customer at some point, I’d get extremely worried. When a family member didn’t like a choice I made after a lot of deliberation, I got protective. But when my coach didn’t like the shot I took, or when a professor didn’t like the way I phrased a sentence in a paper, I didn’t mind so much.
I think everybody has their insecurities, and in those insecurities, we react the most defensively to criticism. It’s not just me; we all do it. But as much as I know that, I can still be just as critical of others.
Here’s what I’m saying: as much as I might not like other people’s criticisms, I myself am guilt of criticizing others with the same insensitivity. I’m used to working in areas of confidence, and I’m used to working with people who also are confident. This is really common among entrepreneurs and marketing-type folks. We’re just as insecure as others, but when it comes to our jobs, we carry around less doubts (since our work took a huge leap of faith to begin with). At least that’s how it seems to me.
But when you start working in a church, you’re confronted by both your own inadequacies and others a lot faster. I don’t care if someone thinks I should do a social media post differently; I’m confident in what I’m doing. But I’m a lot less confident when someone complains about the new trajectory of the volunteer team at church.
The truth is: we’re all a mixed bag of healthy confidence, arrogance, and insecurity. I would do well to remember that next time I have a criticism toward someone else or their work.
Now, I’m not saying that all critiques are bad. You wouldn’t have art if you didn’t have critique. It’s what refines us and our work. But there’s a difference between critique and criticism. The -ism makes all the difference. When we’re so critical we don’t realize what we’re doing and/or insensitive to those we do it around, we become destructive and not constructive. We don’t empower someone to do better; we push them to keep doing what they’re doing or give-up altogether.
Instead, we need to learn to critique with compassion – to critique not out of instinct or superiority, but out of love for the other person. When I see someone doing something outside of their strength or simply doing something half-way, and assuming I have the relationship with them to warrant it, I can speak into their work, inviting them to do better (not telling them how-to do it, but asking them questions to get them thinking about it). Criticism tears down, but compassion builds up.
So I’m going to work on being more compassionate and less critical. I want to be more like Jesus and less like the pharisees. I want to help people to discover for themselves how they can do better, not instruct them on how I think they should do what they’re doing. When I critique, I want it to be for someone else’s benefit – not because I’m simply uncomfortable with their work, their lifestyle, their personality, their approach. I want to be for others, not against them.