A Shadow Side Addendum: Criticism

I was recently at lunch with a friend talking about leadership, pastoring, and the ways the Lord is always challenging us to grow. This is a friend who I know will be honest with me and he is someone I trust. You need both—if you aren’t trusted but you’ll be honest then nobody wants your honesty. During the course of that lunch I asked this question: Ok, so where do you think I might have an issue in how I lead?

He paused.

I made a joke.

“Well, I was thinking about your posts about your values. One part of excellence is that you can become really critical.

I’m not sure if those exact words were used, but it was close.

I immediately thought of a previous lunch with another friend several months back. “Hans, I’ve been around you long enough know this: you have a tendency to be critical, but you are aware of it.”

Forget it. I’m never having lunch with people again.

The problem? These guys are exactly right.

Sure, I might just say I have a high standard and that it is a good thing—but that’s only part of the story. The other part of the story is that my “high standard” is really just an excuse to be critical.

I could start to think through the other values that I wrote about and see a theme:

  • Responsibility: I wish everyone would care as much as I do.
  • Responsiveness: Why haven’t they responded?
  • Generosity: They’re being cheap and inconsiderate.
  • Excellence: Nobody else will do a good job; I need to do it.
  • Integrity: There is never anything wrong with me.

Yep. All of them have a theme of what can be an undeniable, unwelcome, and unloving critical spirit.

I mean, I’m the guy who just preached on these verses (subbing out “slander” for “criticize”):

11 Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

No one wants to be around a critical leader. No one wants to be around someone who makes them feel as if they don’t measure up. No one wants to be on a team and feel as if one of their teammates is always underwhelmed and unimpressed by them.

Two thoughts come to my mind as I think about these conversations and my own leadership.

First, leaders need regular times to reflect and grow. In our “keep it moving” world we don’t slow down. We feel the need to be “on” all the time. “Sure, I have problems. everyone has problems.” That reality, however, is not an excuse to stunt the growth that God has for us. Pulling away, evaluating, and figuring out what’s really going on in us (and with our frustrations) will teach us a lot about ourselves.

Second, leaders need friends who will be honest with them (and that they trust). I wouldn’t have had a second thought about my posts or what I wrote about myself. It took someone else to show me what I wasn’t seeing. All leaders need this—we need people who are going to tell us what we’re not seeing. The very problem with our own self-assessment is that it is skewed in our favor. Other people are far less concerned with our opinions of ourselves. We need these people to be a regular, encouraging, and beneficial presence in our lives.

I’m grateful for lunch conversations that take a turn in unexpected ways. I’m glad that I have friends who love me enough to say things that I need to hear. And I’m sorry to those who experience the worst of me. Keep praying that I become all that the Lord has for me.

4 Replies to “A Shadow Side Addendum: Criticism”

  1. Your willingness to be transparent in this way just shows all of us your humble heart. And it’s a good example to all of us.

  2. Super timely message for me, brother, as I share the same tendency. I’m asking the Lord to do a work in me, as well. People, not performance, is what matters. You’re in my prayers- I appreciate the same. Hugs!!

  3. It’s wonderful to hear your heart. It takes humility and a willing spirit to even ask the hard questions. What a blessing that you have friends of iron in your life who are willing to sharpen you when asked. Thank you for sharing.

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