Holy Conferencing and Criticism

I just got back from the United Methodist Pre-General Conference News Briefing. As part of the briefing there was instruction on “Holy Conferencing.” The issue is how to be civil when we disagree and have appreciative inquiry about what others are saying. At our South Carolina Delegation meeting on Sunday we heard one of our very effective clergypersons share 10 leadership principles. One of those reminded me of how to do holy conferencing. It was a lesson I learned a long time ago as a Little League baseball coach: Praise in public, and criticize in private.

Criticism really cuts doesn’t it? Even when it is supposedly constructive, by its very nature, it has to dismantle something before it can build back up. Have you ever been approached by someone asking your opinion about something and you know that if you really express how you feel that person will be slighted? We have all been in this position. What do we do? Do we lie and say what we think that the person wants to hear? Do we hedge things a bit and word our response in such a way that it goes down more smoothly? Do we dare ask, “Do you really want to know?” By asking the question we have already telegraphed our disapproval.

Caring enough to confront is a difficult proposition at best. If we don’t speak the truth we’re shirking our duty, and if we do we risk losing a friend. Aren’t we supposed to be critical sometimes? Without some judgment the world wouldn’t have standards of acceptable behavior. Christians are supposed to “speak the truth in love.” This is the key to a proper response to unacceptable behavior. Whatever we say or do must be infused with love!

How do referees stand the criticism that they take? Instant replay doesn’t seem to help. Second guessing has increased. The announcers take sides on which way they think that the call will go and exacerbate the controversy. A referee’s plight reminds me of what former hockey goalie, Jacque Plante, said: “How would you like a job where, if you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?” Does this imply that there is some truth in the adage: “If one person calls you a donkey, pay no attention to him. But if five people call you one, go out and buy yourself a saddle.”

Some of us, however, referees included, have been saddled with unfair criticism. What to do? Here’s the answer: Glean the truth from it, learn from it, and do something about it. What’s new? Criticism is often the way we human beings communicate. It doesn’t make it right, but it certainly is the way things are. And criticism is often the very thing that we need to hear. Thank God for Moms and Dads, teachers, and supervisors who have lovingly instructed us in what’s right and wrong. However, as Norman Vincent Peale put it, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

So, learn from the experience. However misguided or vile the source of the criticism, let it work for you rather than against you. Get whatever you can from the suggestions and do what is pleasing to God and not necessarily the person who is criticizing you. This response to criticism gives you both a listening ear and offers a higher allegiance to honor. You take the criticism, but you have the God-given grace to do what you will with it. Criticism always comes more easily than craftsmanship. It’s a lot easier to tear down than to build up. Some people find fault as if it were buried treasure.

So hear your critics out and then move on in graceful action. Thousands can offer their public opinion polls about you and they might still be wrong. Change the worst, improve the best, and don’t take everything so personally. Remember the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. The ultimate answer to criticism is that you only answer to God. God is the final Judge. If you dislike criticism so much, don’t do it yourself. Guard your thoughts and assessments. Triangling other people into your spat with a common friend only makes things worse. Sure, triangling can give much solace when you find out that you dislike the same thing, but is this really helpful when it tears down a third party? Advice: Mind your own business, “Speak the truth in love,” and maybe more importantly when you feel unjustly criticized, “Hear the truth in love, too!” That is a both a sign of holy conferencing and leadership!

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