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

  • and father to my three sons. May Jesus continue to use you in amazing ways! I just prayed for you. Please remember us as well.

  • Thank you Dr. Rainer for your transparency & integrity. I will always remember my first impression of seminary class. You affirmed the authority of Scripture and the Supremacy of Christ in your intro. to Building An Evangelistic Church. God has used you to encourage me to be a Godly Pastor. Tomorrow I begin my 11th year at Calvary. This is a credit to the Faithfulness of God and the way He has used you to encourage me. Your faithfulness to your wife & sons has challenged me to be a Godly husband

  • Dave Menser says on

    Dr. Trainer, I should expect an article like this from you. You are one of the most impressive men of God I have ever met. Your humility and loving spirit is an inspiration. You demonstrated this as Dean at Southern and continue it today. It was a privilege to learn from you then and I continue to learn from you still. I pray for you and you wife and kids regularly. I will try to model your response. Blessings

  • Just a question here: how does dealing with criticism in your position differ from that of a pastor, since you have been both? I am assuming that you have little face time or relationship with critics. As a pastor of a church in a small town I have to life with critics and some of them could probably get me fired if they wanted. Seems to me that one would related to a critic very differently when they can actually do harm to you and not just criticize from a distance. Thanks for any words of wisdom!

  • Your blog is the only one I read consistently. Always VERY helpful. Don’t let critics change you. You’re helping a lot of pastors like me.

  • Nathan Millican says on

    Dr. Rainer, I’ve watched you get critiqued in public (SBC in Phoenix) and witnessed as you exemplified grace/mercy in your response to a certain individual. I’ve seen you interact w/people at SBTS years ago and the man you are in public is the man I’ve seen in private…you my friend are unpretentious – what you see is what you get. For that I’m very grateful.

    Blessings to you Dr. Rainer.

  • I am a bit confused. You rarely give anything but research data, do your critics hate data?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Gary –

      I sometimes offer my opinion on the data 🙂

      Some of my critics also don’t like some of my leadership decisions at LifeWay.

  • Christiane says on

    this helps me to reflect on my own sin of pride when under criticism, and it re-aligns my perspective for the good, so I’m sharing this and hope it helps anyone in need of it::

    “”O Jesus meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
    From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

    That others may be loved more than I,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be esteemed more than I,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be chosen and I set aside,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be preferred to me in everything,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”

    Written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2010/09/12/litany-of-humility-3/

  • Thanks Thom,

    I admit I have never praised you for all the good things God has done through you but I have critiqued one of your posts of the past.

    May God grant me to follow your Christ like example in dealing with criticism

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you Justin for your kind words. And thanks for critiquing me in the past. I needed it then, and I need it now.

  • It’s interesting that there are so many more critics than encouragers in the Christian community today. While not a critic of Thom, for all of us who fail by flexing our critical muscle, let’s focus on removing the beam from our own eye. Let us with the Psalmist cry, “show me any (every) wicked way in me.”

    There will be times when those close to me, those whom I have asked to keep me accountable, need to encourage me to improve. For those with whom I do not have this relationship, I need to fervently pray for them from the inside out: that strongholds be torn down, that they have eyes and ears to recognize the truth, that the shackles be removed and the prison doors incarcerating them be opened, and that they have receptive hearts to God’s leading, improvement, and correction. Only after I have prayed the same for myself and am sure of the Lord’s direction can I begin to give the uninvited critique and this speaking the truth in love. Let us remember…he who loves to speak the harsh truth loves harshness more than truth.

  • Dick Lincoln says on

    Model of vulnerability. Doubt it will affect critical types one way or another. It’s an outlook hard to change. It was a big help for all who think their critics or their situation are unique.Many Thanx to a big man in Christ.

  • I identify with this far too much. Why does God put thin-skinned people in leadership? In ministry? I’m too much like Peter and not enough like Christ too often. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. This was beautifully said. I do so much want to walk with God, to be someone He can trust, to be someone after His own heart, but there is a price, isn’t there? And that price, I believe, is humility in its purest form. And yet, we are human, full of ourselves, and not full enough of Him. What a struggle! And it will go on until we are made perfect with Him. God bless you as you wrestle with your humanity! I’m in the fight with you.

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