Friday, March 2, 2012

Constructive criticism

Those of you who know my story know that I served a small, rural church for twenty years as its bivocational pastor.  I went there with no experience and no education beyond high school.  Our church consisted mostly of people who worked blue collar jobs, farmed, or were retired.  We had one college graduate when I began who was a teacher in our local high school.  A few months after I began my pastorate she came to me after a morning service with a concern.  She told me that although my current church didn't care one way or the other, she was concerned that my poor grammar would hurt me in other churches.  Sometimes I do not handle criticism very well, but in this case I recognized that she was right.  I was a very poor English student in high school and really didn't know the basic rules of grammar.  I thanked her for her honesty and promised I would try to improve.

About a year later I enrolled in Boyce Bible School where one of the required courses was English.  That course terrified me more than all the others, but I was fortunate when our instructor turned out to be one of the best I've ever had.  She taught English in a way that even I could learn.  While I will never be mistaken as an English major I left that class with the knowledge of basic grammatical priniciples and the confidence to speak to any group.  That came in handy when a few years later I was asked to be the commencement speaker at our daughter's high school graduation with many of my former teachers in attendance.  It became even more helpful when I began writing books.  In fact, I invited my Boyce English teacher to my first book signing, and she came.  I told her that day that without her class I would never have had the confidence to try to write a book.

I thought about this experience the other day and sent an e-mail to the lady who confronted me that Sunday morning thirty years ago.  She has moved to another community to an assisted care facility, but we communicate occasionally by e-mail.  She remembered the incident and how frightened she was to share her concern with me.  She said she didn't want to hurt or anger me, but she didn't want something like grammar to impact my future ministry.  I thanked her for her willingness to speak truth to a young minister who needed to hear it in so many areas and told her that much of what I've done since then became possible because of that conversation.

How well do you handle constructive criticism?  I know pastors who become very angry if anyone criticizes anything they say or do.  I know one who has stormed out of church meetings when someone opposed something he suggested and then would be too sick to preach the next Sunday.  His arrogance will prevent him from ever becoming a better minister.  Others will listen but never make an attempt to follow through even if the change would make their ministries better.  We all have our critics who we would often prefer to never hear from, but even their criticisms may contain a nugget of truth that would help us become better ministers.

The next time someone criticizes you look for the truth in what they are saying.  When you find it then begin looking for the best way to address it.  Thank the critic and God that they care enough about you and your ministry to want to help you become better.  You will probably find, as I have, that you will grow more through your interactions with those who offer constructive criticism than you will just listening to those who always tell you what a wonderful person you are, but such growth will only come if we take the time to listen and prayerfully consider their comments.

No comments: