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If you are a leader, you will be criticized. If you are not being criticized, you are probably not a leader.

The issue is not whether or not you will be the subject of criticism; the greater issue is how you should respond.

As a general rule, leaders should respond to criticism. I do my best to do so, or at the very least, ask someone in my organization to respond.

Critics, more often than not, deserve a response. They need to hear from the leader who can give them his or her perspective. They need to hear from a leader in the event the response can be an opportunity for reconciliation.

But there are times when leaders should not respond to critics.

These times are rare and should be the subject of prayer and counsel. Nehemiah is a biblical character who is often used to define principles of leadership. Look at this passage from Nehemiah 6:2–4. See how Nehemiah, in this case, chose not to respond to a persistent critic.

“Sanballat and Geshem sent me a message: ‘Come let’s meet together in the valley.’ But they were planning to harm me. So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?’ Four times they sent me the same proposal, and I gave them the same reply.” (HCSB)

Nehemiah offers us both biblical and practical principles about those rare occasions when you shouldn’t respond to critics.

1. When you have already repeatedly responded.

For some critics, a response is not sufficient. They will not stop until they have gotten their way. There comes a point where further communication becomes an exercise in futility. It’s time to move on and do “the great work.”

2. When the critic intends harm.

An occasional critic is not so much interested in communicating his or her issue as causing you harm. Their issue is not actually the issue. They want you hurt in some way.

Further communication will only cause problems.

3. When the critic will not reason.

Many critics have very valid points. Whether we agree or disagree, we need to listen to their perspective.

Other critics simply want to rant. There is rarely a good outcome when meeting with the very unreasonable and ranting critic.

4. When the criticism becomes an ad hominem attack.

An ad hominem attack takes place when a person attacks your character. The issue is peripheral, and is only used to assail you personally.

There is often no need to deal with the critic because he or she really doesn’t care about the issue.

Criticism is painful for most leaders. It is for me. But most criticisms are good for leaders. We can learn from our critics, and we can grow as leaders. But there are a few times when we simply should not respond. In those cases, any response only exacerbates something that is already bad.

Sometimes we need to be like Nehemiah: Continue our work and ignore the critic.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources and the co-author of Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.
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Lafern Cobb

commented on Mar 20, 2014

I have been in the ministry for 30 years and a Pastor for 20 years and am now half way through my 21st year. There is no other life for me than serving the Lord Jesus! He called me to Pastor! Criticism comes with the calling. I learned years ago to take it to God. He can see the whole picture which I never am able to do. Besides while I am responding to criticism I might miss an opportunity to help someone and being a Shepherd and Servant is what I am called to do. So I never respond to the critics, it isn't in my job description. Sometimes it has taken years, but people have actually come to me and apologized after more than 10 years for saying something or doing something against me or the ministry. Silence toward our critics is always the best response....it's not about us, it's about Jesus!

Richard Scotland

commented on Mar 20, 2014

Good common sense there! It is easy to get all hung up on criticism and we can take something personally when it is not intended that way. However, more than just a few churches can have the most awful gossiping and critiquing going on behind peoples back. Just as well church is a place for sinners :)

Johnny Prettyman

commented on Mar 20, 2014

Thank you for sharing that. You'll never know how healing that is.

Jimmy Jackson

commented on Mar 20, 2014

Great advice! If you don't respond to the criticism when it is needed, you never know the damage that is being done to other people who is pull into the problem. And, rest assured there is a problem. Besides we are called to be like Christ and He addressed His critics.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Mar 21, 2014

Thanks Brother Rainer...this was great practical advice...losing our temper and hitting back at critics can tarnish the Lord's reputation as well as our testimony like Moses found out much to his chagrin

James Bohrer

commented on Mar 21, 2014

Great word! When a church has good operating procedures: books are open, doctrine clear, and ministry principles are aligned with purpose, criticism can be helpful in fine tuning. On the other hand, when the church operates as mentioned above, criticism or suggestions are simply a spiritual issue. Either the person is not really aligned with the church's mission or out of ego wants more influence than appropriate. The most difficult part of that comes when such people are avoided. The ego driven or immature spirit assumes that silence is agreement. How do we raise the level of awareness in a church where most people are too busy to be engaged enough to help such people either see that the issue is themselves or they really don't fit.

Billy Hodges

commented on Aug 30, 2014

This was definitely a timely word and I appreciate your candor, Thom. As many has already commented, criticism seems to come with calling. The issue we all face is when to respond, how to respond WHILE continuing the work we have been called to do.

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