No one gets into ministry with pure motives.
How can I say this with such authority?
I’ll provide one word of explanation—sin (Rom. 3:23).
Sinless Jesus was the only person to serve others without a hidden agenda to serve Himself.
Now, I’m not saying that Jesus doesn’t reveal and transform our ulterior motives into other-centered, God-glorifying service—because He does. I’m also not saying that every leader in the church is a dirty rotten scoundrel just waiting to be found out.
I am saying that no matter how well-intentioned people are, they want to be liked and loved for what they do.
And there is one unrelenting proof of this fact in our lives—our defensiveness toward critique.
Love Your Enemies
If you are a leader, then you will have critics; it’s the nature of leadership.
And how quickly we conclude that these critics are our enemies—we set up the barricades, enlist our closest friends for war and combat their words with all our power.
But didn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45
Because Jesus loved and laid down His life for us while we were enemies, we too should love and lay down our lives for those who come against us.
Now I can hear some of you saying (because I’ve said it before myself), “I love them, but I don’t like what they’re putting me through.”
Too often we strive to embrace the critic in love—because Jesus told us to—while rejecting the criticism out right. But when we do that, we miss out on a beautiful opportunity.
Critiques are your Friends
Pastors and church planters, the fact that “Christ is your life” matters here (Col. 3:4). The cross transforms criticism because in Jesus you have already been critiqued and condemned.
Since the cross is the worst critique you will ever endure, you can now embrace all other critiques as friends.
1) Critique is a friend who reminds us our identity isn’t tied to perfection.
As a leader, you don’t have to be perfect because Jesus was for you. When people declare our imperfections out loud, we can be thankful for the reminder that our worth is not wrapped up in what we do.
Our sense of self comes from Another’s performance. And in His performance, we rest!
2) Critique is a friend who reminds us our goal is not being universally loved.
When we crave being liked by all, we desire something God doesn’t even possess. Jesus certainly wasn’t omni-liked. In fact, omni-acceptance goes against the grain of the provocative message of Jesus.
If every single person we know likes us, then we are probably not preaching the truth in love (2 Tm. 3:12).
As we’re reminded that not everyone loves us, it helps us be less in love with ourselves. It humbles us reminding us that being liked by the whole universe is not the goal— the goal is hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21).
3) Critique is a friend who reminds us of our humble state.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5
Our egos are far too inflatable to never experience critique. God does us a favor when critics come knocking at our door because He provides an open door for growth in humility.
And as we grow in humility, He gives us more grace. In this way, our critics are our greatest friends because they help us grow closer to the God we love and serve.
What will you do?
Next time someone slams one of your ideas or questions your place in leadership, how will you respond?
Will you try to defend yourself, convince them otherwise or even go to war?
Or will you remember you’ve already received the greatest critique at the cross and the greatest commendation in the resurrection?
Sometimes the critique of others is spot on (if so, then let’s change by God’s grace). At other times, criticism is so untrue that everyone knows it.
Either way, your response to critics tells you a lot about yourself—where you’re finding your identity, what’s your ministry goal and how highly you think of yourself.
Let’s not only love our critics, but let’s view them as friends—friends who help us know God more deeply. And what an invitation from God that is!
Rusty is the founding and lead pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Chattanooga, TN where he has the joy of serving people he loves with leaders he loves. He is married to Rachel who is out of his league, has a spirited son named Justus and a beautiful newborn daughter named Haven. Rusty can be found on Twitter here: @RustyMcKie