Whether you are a stay at home mom, a famous pastor, or a well read author or blogger, here is a wise piece of advice. Listen. To. Your. Critics. This is not the same as obeying our critics or changing to appease our critics because we are afraid of their criticisms. Listening to them means more than reading what they say just long enough to find a straw man we can build up and then hack to death on our own. To listen means to stop, hear what they are truly saying (what point do THEY think they are trying to convey), and consider the merit of their concerns. Why is that so hard?
1) Because we don't understand the difference in listening to our critics and being defined by our critics. In my humble opinion, the best way to NOT be defined by your critic is to actually listen to what they are saying. Then figure out for yourself what parts of their criticisms reflect legitimate weak areas in your life.
2) Because we hear tone louder than we hear words. I use the phrase, “same words, different tone” with my boys a lot. But what if your critic isn't changing their tone? The wise man or woman filters out tone and tries to hear heart concerns.
3) Because we think our critics want to destroy us. But that's an irrelevant point. Their motives are IRRELEVANT. Satan's great tool is redirection. Instead of hearing legitimate concerns about ourselves, we decide the critic is unworthy of our hearing because of motives we attribute to them. I can't say it strongly enough – if we put off self reflection because we are suspicious of the motives of our critic, we lose great opportunities for self correction.
4) Most of all, we don't listen to our critics because, despite our gospel beliefs, we look to our own righteousness to sustain our opinion about ourselves. We look to our own righteousness for confidence with others. The idea of some criticism actually being true about us is threatening to a mindset that SAYS it believes the gospel but hasn't fully appropriated it for itself. To quote Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “You can't handle the truth.” If you rouse up with unrighteous anger and straw men when you hear criticism of yourself or a beloved ministry, honestly, you have a gospel issue. Jesus needs disciples who can handle the truth, who can face their mistakes and failures head on (or those of their beloved ministries), because every person you are GOING TO disciple in the future needs to be able to do that too. Disciples who can't consider their own failings from the voice of a critic aren't going to be good at discipling others to bring their sins to Jesus for forgiveness and redemption.
Why positively should we listen to our critics?
1) Because even if they get some things wrong (or a lot of things wrong), there is probably at least a nugget of truth to their concerns.
2) Most of all – because we naturally tend toward people who think similarly to us. We have to work to hear opposing views. It is not human nature. I loved debate in high school and college. I loved to ARGUE with someone of opposing views, but it took great maturity in life before I could LISTEN to someone with opposing views. Our natural tendency is to seek out and surround ourselves with people who support our views or are heading in a direction we want to head. But those people likely have similar hangups to us. We tend toward them because they are comfortable. Which is why we need critics. They make us uncomfortable, but we'll never correct mistaken long held assumptions without being pushed out of our comfort zone. Correction is inherently uncomfortable.
When we listen to our critics in an unhealthy way, we cave to their concerns because of the peer pressure. When we listen to our critics in a healthy way, we lay down defensiveness and try to figure out what of their concerns fits with our root convictions. Not all of their criticisms will fit with our root convictions, but many, many times, much of their criticism will. Next time someone criticizes you, I encourage you to lay down defensiveness and respond, “I'm going to think about what you said.” Then, go think about what they said. Think about principles from Scripture and passages you've been reading. Think about sermons you've heard and long standing burdens the Spirit has laid on your heart. Pray for clarity from the Spirit and the Word. Let yourself be challenged. It's a beautiful thing, and it's called growth.