You Can Take It, But Can You Dish It Out?

A few weeks ago I received an email from someone who was extremely negative.  It was from someone who disagreed with an approach I was taking in ministry.  I was not surprised to hear from someone who disagreed with me as I always invite dissenting and opposing opinions.  I want to grow by hearing from those who see things from a different perspective.

This email was different.  It was in response to the reader seeing the above graphic that was featured in our Children’s Ministry newsletter around Easter weekend (featuring a bunny and eggs).

Here is the email in its entirety…

“I have been doing children’s ministry for a long time and asked to be added to your updates.  I have to say I was shocked that the first picture I saw about easter was a bunny and your family event will be based on the egg and not Christ and that is sad!!!!!!!!!  When we start pleasing the world we should stop!!!!!  GOD BLESS AND MAY THE  HOLY SPIRIT CONVICT YOUR LEADERSHIP!!!”

I know that we, as leaders, understand that we will get criticized.  We are taught to deal with criticism – it’s just “part of the deal.”  I wasn’t shaken by this email.  In fact, I chuckled a bit as I read it.  However, the fact remains that this email was from a fellow Kids Ministry LEADER!

The content and approach of this email got me thinking.  Do we, as leaders, communicate criticism properly?  So, I thought I would share my thoughts on when it is appropriate to criticize – and how you should deliver that criticism.

1)  It’s OK to criticize – when you are part of the team.

Criticism is helpful when it comes from those who are on your team.  These people have a vested interest in the outcome and effectiveness of the leader they are criticizing.  As Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

This person was not a part of the team.  They had zero knowledge of what was planned at the event, the goal of the event, or how many times we would be presenting Christ at the event.  They didn’t ask questions and allow me to clarify.  They simply looked at a graphic – and lashed out with criticism.

I wonder – how often do each of US choose to snipe and criticize those who are doing ministry differently than we think they should?  If we are not on the team and are not privy to the information – we should hold back in our negative criticism.

2)  It’s OK to criticize  – when you are speaking in love.

Ephesians 4:15 clearly teaches, speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”  When offering criticism we should speak softly, carefully, and thoughtfully.  Avoid the “hit and run” approach that this person used in their email to me.  Don’t use ALL CAPS as a hammer.  Don’t use fifteen exclamation points to make your point seem stronger.  Many of us do this – it’s not helpful.  Rather than shooting arrows, ask questions and/or offer helpful solutions.

3)  It’s OK to criticize – but criticism is best offered in person.

E-mail is a terrific way to encourage someone or praise them.  It is not an appropriate tool for criticism.  Most likely, your tone will be misunderstood and you will simply offend the other person, thus causing them to miss your whole point.  These kinds of conversations are usually better handled face-to-face or, if necessary, over the phone.

Remember – E-mail messages live forever.  They are easily forwarded.  You can easily create a firestorm of conflict if you are not careful.  Trust me, I’ve been guilty of this in the past.  It is never helpful.

What do you think?  Am I wrong?  I invite you to share other ways that we, as leaders, miss the mark when offering criticism.  Let’s learn from each other (and each other’s mistakes).

(for the record – I did not reply to the individual who sent the email)

29 thoughts on “You Can Take It, But Can You Dish It Out?

  1. Thanks Brian,
    I think this is a more than appropriate post. So many times people are eager to lash out without taking the time to understand the heart of what they are seeing. These three things are so critical to giving criticism. I think the only thing I would also offer as a fourth point is that if you are willing to criticize also be ready with a helpful solution. This really flows from your first and second point. If you are part of the team and you’re doing it in love then you’ll be ready to offer an alternative that will help the ministry succeed.
    Thanks for posting this. It’s good stuff!

  2. Thank you for the post. Sometimes we are too quick to criticize others without realizing there is a correct way to do so. This includes spouses and children (ouch).
    We have had someone criticize our Easter Outreach as well. Like your outreach, they didn’t know the whole story. All they saw was egg hunts and bunnies. What they didn’t see was that there were 53 adults and children who asked Christ into their heart and lives that day. That is what it is about.

  3. Great post! I just want to add that a one day bunny or eggs event can quicky turn into a lifelong love of the church and God. If we can get them to our facilities, then we can share God’s love, but we have to get them here! We have had many families join our church family as a direct result of an outreach that didn’t scream God. If they see we love their kids, they will come! As a rule I don’t like to keep kids waiting to hunt eggs while trying to teach about Christ, but is has brought many to church that weekend to hear:)

  4. I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULD ADDRESS THIS IN A BLOG!!!!!!!!!!!! JESUS DIDN’T USE BLOGS!!!!!!!!!!!! Just kidding. Great response. 🙂

  5. Good points and I agree. Ephesians 4:29-32 should rule all of our communications in whatever form we use. An email can not convey the speaker’s heart, emotions or body language; which are all vital for communication to occur. A phone call is the next best thing to face -to- face, then a letter, then an email, then Twitter [LOL]

    Keep up the good work. Finish well! Keep your eyes on the goal, presenting Christ Jesus in action, attitude, and words.

  6. Great posts! I am in agreement and would not have responded either in love! Regardless of what we do sometimes we are just destined to be under the gun! People are so quick to judge when they don’t know our hearts or reasoning behind the things that we do or don’t do! Awesome post will be very helpful I’m quite sure you’re not alone…So thankful for all you guys do! Blessings! From South Ga…

  7. Amen, Brian. You’ve shared practical insightful advice here. Thanks so much.

    I also try to remember that often the person sharing criticism may not be trying to take a personal shot at me, but actually be trying to address what they see as a programmatic issue. But, since I often have really put a lot of time and heart into an outreach like this, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve been hit in the heart. One must learn to separate the emotional investment out when one’s a leader, and is being criticized. (…breathe!)

  8. Some of the quotes I had posted by my desk (on the wall) that help me are:

    “The loudest boos usually come from those in the cheap seats.”
    “Usually the person leading the charge will be shot at the most.”
    “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your lips. Keep corrupt talk far from your mouth.” – Proverbs 4:23,24

  9. Wow!! This is an amazing blog! Thanks for sharing! This was very encouraging, very practical, and insightful! It’s encouraging to know that I’m not alone in my thought patterns when issue like this come up in my own ministry. Wow! You are a great leader P. Brian!

  10. Pingback: You Can Take It, But Can You Dish It Out? | Worship Leaders

  11. I would add that only criticize if you know the community that the ministry is impacting. Our egg hunt starts with an easy craft that ties in the gospel and the we have the egg hunt and that’s it. It takes about 15 minutes and we don’t actually stand up and say anything about the gospel because the community we live in is used to everything from a church being conditional upon something (usually money) and sometimes we just want to love them and invite them back for a Sunday. It works for us. In a community where there is a church on every corner, probably wouldn’t work as well. The type of community means a lot. Thanks Brian, great post.

  12. Come on Brian, at least next time put a cross on the eggs! That way you won’t offend the Pharisees. 🙂 Great post man! Keep up the great work. Love your stuff and what the Lord is doing through you.

  13. Thank you for a great post. I think that there are times when thoughtful, constructive criticism from an “outsider” is extremely helpful–for instance a first-timer expressing that they couldn’t see the signs directing them where to go etc. Words spoken to benefit are appreciated. Blessings!

    • Very true, Donna! Although I personally would not even consider that criticism. I need that kind of help as much as I can get it. Thank for sharing!!!! Excellent thought!

  14. So can we really criticize this blog if we are not part of your leadership team? Hehehehe
    But Donna raises a good point that can’t be translated as “not criticism.” Criticism must not always be seen as negative. I am grateful a doctor is critical of my health, an accountability partner is critical of my spiritual jouney, my wife is critical of my family time, and a 1 time out of town visitor critical of our campus signage. Each of those can be negative at times, but don’t always have to be. Yet we most often feel backed into a corner when persons are critical, b/c we interpret it as a slam. In every case I mentioned, the criticism that I could interpret as negative can very likely be one that is intented to rescue me in that particular area from sure harm or further conflict. And not all of those are on “my team.”

    Keep the conversations rolling. Thanks.

    • Totally cool. I asked for the criticism in this case. Yes I certainly agree that outside voices can be very helpful. I think when you are not part of “the team”, any criticism should be tempered with a “giving you the benefit of the doubt” sort of tone. This email certainly wasn’t. And that sort of “drive by” criticism I receive a lot from other leaders in ministry. That was really the point of the post – to speak to other kids ministry leaders and ask if WE need to learn how to properly criticize. As the title says, “We can take it, but can we dish it out?” I think we have learned much about being able to receive criticism, but we have to think thru the same grid when we are offering it to others. Agree?

      • Sure we need to learn how to give criticism in Christlikeness. Much more that we could say here regarding that…maybe another blog.
        At minimum, The “Drive By” critics who only want to throw stones are expected and should be responded to as you did…don’t.

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