Criticism: (noun) 2. the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding. (Source: dictionary.com)
FEEDBACK in life is something that comes unmetered and unmerited much of the time. It seems whether we’re Christian or not, or whether we’re operating in Christian communities or not, matters little. We cannot assume that Christians will either love their neighbour as themselves (Paul’s reminder of Jesus’ summation of the Matthew 22:37-39 Great Commandment in Galatians 5:14) or love one another (Jesus’ final commandment in John 13:34). These ‘commandments’ are not as inculcated in us as God would like. Our discipleship, however, is to be centred on these.
There always needs to be room for the provision of constructive feedback. That’s feedback that can be hard to hear. But that feedback, skilfully delivered, both motivates and inspires. It encourages. Criticism, on the other hand, plays the person and not the ball. It all depends on the motive of the feedback, for some feedback is apparently couched in love, but it doesn’t feel loving when it’s received. It falls short. It misses the mark. It’s no encouragement. Yes, even in constructive feedback there is encouragement. That’s the test of whether it’s constructive or not.
Having spent more than half my life in the industrial workplace I’ve dealt with much feedback, not all of it well intentioned, but some of it expertly delivered — because it was well intentioned. We might expect to run up against crudeness where trade unions battle daily with management. We come to expect crude behaviour from worldly people who frankly don’t care much for the airs and graces of ‘love’. And this is part of the problem — we come to expect more from our churches, our pastors, our fellow Christians, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
But we shouldn’t.
We’ve all fallen short of the holy standard of love at all times, in all situations, and in all ways. None of us can claim anything close to perfection. We’ve all patented our own original designs of the age old nemesis of holiness: sin.
Criticism will occur. We ourselves will criticise. We’ll be hurt, and we’ll hurt.
Our only protection against falling for being hurt by criticism is to expect it — to anticipate it before it comes, and to train ourselves to react via responses of grace.
Our only protection against falling into the sin of criticising others is to intend to encourage everyone all the time. That way, even when we have to deliver constructive feedback, we do so with loving care, prayerfully and gently, with the intent of building the other person up.
But if we bite and devour each other we’ll destroy each other, and, worse, we’ll bring not glory to God, but prove ourselves a laughingstock to a world testing our Christianity for the real thing or not. Recall what Jesus told us in John 13:35; that’s how the world knows we’re his disciples: if we love one another.
Criticism is not love. It’s ill-intentioned communication.
My challenge is this. It’s harder by far to deliver constructive feedback well (in a way that’s received thankfully) than it is to simply criticise, which can take no thought nor effort nor prayerful approach. Criticism can well be born out of laziness.
Christians ought to be up for such a challenge — to do the harder thing — for they seek to bless the Lord via their obedience to his commands.
Encouragement is respectful and honouring of a person’s soul, soothing to their wounds, and sensitivity for their vulnerabilities. It inspires people when they’re down, and it challenges when they’re up.
Encouragement is a gift in and from the giver, for the receiver. It builds up and does not tear down. No one was ever destroyed by encouragement. But many are by criticism.
Why would we criticise when we can encourage? If our intention is to love, we’ll convert every critical spirit into encouragement to build the other up.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.