A Note to Those Who Criticize Me

August 31, 2013

I am in a position of fairly visible leadership. I have written books and articles and blog posts as well. I am fair game for critics. I should expect criticisms.

I respond to some of the criticisms; some of them I don’t. I have my reasons for each, though I know I am often fallible in my judgment on those matters.

My Emotional Reaction to Criticism

Though I may be setting myself up for admitting it, I confess that I am a relatively thin-skinned person. Criticisms make me feel lousy. More times than I would like to admit, I get defensive when I encounter criticisms. My first reaction is to respond with my own heated rhetoric. That is why I usually hold to my own twenty-four hour rule: Don’t respond until twenty-four hours have passed. If I wait a day, I will respond more reasonably; or I will elect not to respond at all.

So why have I allowed myself to lead an organization and write books and articles when I know I’m opening myself up for criticisms? How does a thin-skinned introvert allow these things to happen? Good questions. I haven’t figured them out myself. One possible answer is that I am really stupid. In fact, I think that is the more logical answer.

The Other Side of Criticisms

But I began this article with the title clearly stating that I’m speaking directly to my critics. Please allow me to do so.

Despite my fleshly weaknesses in dealing with you critics, I really owe you my deepest appreciation. You remind me that I am fallible, and that I should never think I can do or say things well in my own power. If I become proud because I think I’ve accomplished something significant, you offer me balance and perspective.

Many of you who are critical of me are right, and I am wrong. I need to remember that. When I come to the haughty conclusion that I am an expert or person of influence, you remind me that there are millions of people smarter than I am, wiser than I am, and more godly than I am.

Some of you are critical of me because you are hurting. I am connected to something or have said something that has caused you pain. Instead of being defensive to you, I need to be more pastoral, more Christ-like, and more concerned. I need to see past the anger and to see the child of God that you are.

Thank You

Please allow me to conclude with a few painful truths. First, I am fearful that this article will open me up to more criticisms. I should rejoice when God uses you as an instrument to humble me, but I am still weak and fearful. Second, I don’t want to pretend that this article is some type of resolution that will make me the perfect recipient of criticisms. I know I will still fail and continue to struggle with my weaknesses.

But I do want you to know, critics, that I thank you for your words of admonition. I have a strange relationship with you. I dread you and I need you. There will be times when I am right and you are wrong. But there will be many times when you are right and I am wrong.

Could I boldly ask you to do one thing for me if you are my critic? It is unfair to ask anything of you since you are already disappointed in me, my words, or my actions. Will you pray that I will have God-given wisdom to deal with those who disagree with me? Only in His strength can I ever hope to be the kind of leader He wants me to be.

Thank you, critics. I really do appreciate you.

Strange words from me. Strange words indeed.

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109 Comments

  • Chuck Lawless says on

    Good words, Thom.

  • Pat Hicks says on

    I like and appreciate you…keep up the good work…Pat

  • Kate Barnett says on

    Great advise to all! We all suffer from often unjust criticism …. the 99 agrees do not hold as much weight with the “thin skin” as the one disagree when there is great strength in it!!
    The “24 hour rule” works many wonders for both sides!!

    THANK YOU

  • Great post. I will remember your 24 hour rule and try to observe it. I find your helpful words in this post not so “strange” at all!

  • I served in SBC denominational work for 25 years.

    Thanks for the reminder that, if we humble ourselves (this is what the Bible directs), it is more than not that, our critics that point out where we need to grow.

    Joseph said to his brother, “What you meant for harm, God intended for good.” In that vain I would like to thank my critics for the help. I am better because of them.

    Thanks Thom for being a leader on this. Also, if your don’t mind, a word of criticism 😉 , you should have done it sooner.

    Dean Finley

  • Great post. Sometimes we can learn from critics, even when they aren’t coming to us in the right spirit.

  • One more reason why I read (and profit from) your blog. I am still learning these lessons myself and I appreciate the reminder. You are much more gracious than I am, though I have grown much in this area. One thing that has helped me is remembering that the ones who vocally oppose you are usually fewer than those who support you and pray for you and love you.

    I pray God bless you and keep you, Thom.

  • Sean Posr says on

    Dr. Lawless’ and your blog posts are some of the most helpful around. Thank you for that. I don’t count myself as a critic, but I will pray for you brother.

  • This is yet another example of why you are a great leader whom God has raised up and given as a gift to the SBC and the larger Christian family. May all of us follow your example and appreciate the work God does in us in uncomfortable ways. Thanks, Thom.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I am humbled by your words Hershael. You especially have been a model for humble leadership for me.

    • JerijoCox says on

      Thanks for those transparent words. They are a reflection of spiritual maturity, and an inspiration to others. Who doesn’t deal with critics on some level? I admire the way you gracefully handle the level of criticism you encounter regularly! We appreciate your work and leadership!

  • David Pitman says on

    Well said! I am praying for you.

  • Thank you so much for this posting! Being still relatively new to pastoring and getting used to critics this article helped me today. I have one particular critic that has been at me since the beginning. She even once told me quite plainly she doesn’t trust me and there was no particular reason for it, just is the situation. Although she does it with a smile on her face she is one of the most critical, negative, undermining people I have ever met in my life. Everything in me dislikes her and I truly struggle to see her with the eyes of a pastor. I think I am going to print this article out and tape it up next to my desk as a reminder.

  • If I say that’s a display of humility I might tempt you to pride, just kidding. Thanks Thom… the way up is the way down, to be last is to be first. Very loving and mature way to respond to criticism. On another note Thom I am a former LDS member and have been a strong advocate for “The Unexpected Journey,” I call it an apologetic of the heart. I share my testimony is this podcast, found here:

    http://raised3rdday.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/from-mormonism-to-ministry/

    Grace be with you,

    Tobby

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