Four Ways to Deal Effectively With Criticism

This is the second in a three-part series addressing the topic of criticism. Last week, we looked at three reasons criticism can lead to ministry burnout. In this week’s post, Chad Hall provides insight into how to receive criticism.

So how can we deal effectively with criticism so that it doesn’t contribute to burnout? While there is no magic formula or simple recipe, there are some best practices. See how many of these four best practices work well for you.

First, make a distinction between criticism and feedback.

Criticism and feedback are not synonyms. Criticism seeks to blame and find fault while feedback aims to improve and build up. Similarly, criticism usually points to the past or to a personal character trait while feedback has an eye for development and improvement. The giver of feedback appreciates the recipient and has hope for what follows the feedback, while the critic just wants to be heard and often does not take into account the feelings of the recipient. Feedback is constructive while criticism destroys.

Unhealthy criticism attacks the person while feedback addresses behavior.

Unhealthy criticism attacks the person while feedback addresses behavior. The critic says, “You are selfish,” while the feedback provider says, “You are acting in selfish ways.” Criticism is too often about one’s being while healthy feedback is almost always about one’s doing. Finding your identity in Christ provides a stabilizing protection against the shame and blame that come from critical attacks of your being and allows you to hear well the helpful input about how you can do things better.

Second, try dulling the pain of criticism by considering the source via wise counsel.

The world is full of hurt people, some of whom are accustomed to hurting others. You need a handful of people who are safe, honest, and can help you decide what criticism is valid and what should be ignored.  And if someone is really toxic with his or her criticism, your trusted friends can help address the situation on your behalf.

Third, provide boundaries on feedback to keep it from becoming toxic criticism.

Similar to the guardrails on a mountain road, good boundaries allow for the free flow of feedback while at the same time preventing criticism. Your goal should not be to create a roadblock to all feedback, but to guard against abuse, shame, and attack.

I have a coaching client who has a great approach to feedback that really helps him consider the source and keep feedback confined. He is a pastor, and he regularly tells his church that he is open to feedback and wants to hear it. He practically begs for it. He’s also clear that the way to provide feedback is to share it with an elder. The elder will take notes and make sure he’s heard the feedback accurately. Then the elder will share it with two other elders and together they will determine if the feedback is something for the pastor or really best directed to someone else. If they sense it’s for the pastor, they will share it with him at the next elder board meeting where the feedback can be weighed and prayerfully considered in the midst of wise counsel.  Interestingly, the pastor starts every board meeting by asking, “What feedback do you have for me?”  The best way to receive feedback is to invite it and this pastor makes sure no unexpressed feedback sours into criticism.

Fourth, be open to encouragement.

If criticism tears down, encouragement builds up. Too many Christians I know actually resist encouragement because they think it will lead to pride. But encouragement is the vaccine and the antidote to criticism. Each of us needs to read God’s word and find the encouragement that comes from being a child in God’s family. We need to hear and accept the kind words from friends and family, and we need to take them to heart. We also need to develop an inner encourager who can speak the truth of grace and God’s provision.


About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.