Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

When You Are Criticized

          It was my honor to present this teaching at the Reynolds Academy Seminar at the United Methodist Church Of The Resurrection (Leawood, Kansas) in the Kansas City area:


How To Handle Criticism

April 23, 2009

Reynolds Academy

Kansas City Seminar


         There is one aspect of ministry I am an expert in: being criticized.

I had no idea when I began serving as a local church pastor how much hearing and receiving criticism would be part of life as a pastor.

         Over the years I have learned that I am in good company. Jesus was criticized for what He did and the way He did it.

         Jesus was criticized for eating too much (Matthew 11:19), for being a drunk (Luke 7:34), for hanging around with the wrong kind of people (Matthew 11:19, Mark 2:16).

         At the end of His ministry Jesus and His work was criticized by the religious leaders of the day as an insult to God (Mark 14:63-64).

         But the one that really struck me was the time Jesus was criticized for the very character and nature of His ministry. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day said of Him:

         It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” {Matthew 12:24}

         Jesus was called the devil! His ministry was criticized for being evil.

         Jesus said, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” {Matthew 10:25}

         Jesus said, “If people criticized Me, the master of the house, for being the devil, how more will criticize the servants in the house!”

         This was a turning point for me.

         I heard Jesus say, when it comes to criticism I need to

(1) expect it.

         But as we learn to accept the reality of criticism in this life, there is another lesson that I have learned during the last several years.

         When it comes to criticism I need to

(2) ignore it.

         Two Bible passages have really helped me here. The first one comes from Nehemiah 6:1-4:

1 Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no gap left in it (though up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?” 4 They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.

         Nehemiah was focused on the work and the vision he had from God. He was working to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and bring security to the city.

         But Nehemiah had enemies. There were people who did not want him to succeed. So they sent word to Nehemiah to see if they could distract him from his mission by coming to hear their criticisms and complaints.

         Nehemiah responded by saying,

“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?” {Nehemiah 6:3}

         Nehemiah told his critics, “I am focused on a great work I’ve been given by God. I am not going to lose focus, quite that work, and come down to your level.

         Nehemiah ignored the complaints of his critics.

         Jesus embodied the same principle.

         As He journeyed to the home of a religious leader whose daughter was at the point of death, some came and said to Jesus:

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” 36 Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” {Mark 5:35-36}


         The phrase that leaps off the page is “Ignoring what they said…”

When Jesus was faced with talk of defeat and death, He ignored it, and told the father whose daughter was at the point of death, “Don’t live in fear. Live in faith.”

         Instead, Jesus kept His focus on bring healing to the hurting and new life out of death.


         If anyone knew about the pain of criticism it was Abraham Lincoln. He said:

         “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I am; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

         Lincoln knew when it comes to criticism the best course of action is to ignore it and keep focused on the mission at hand.


         There is an old story that you are probably familiar with, but I need to remember it often because it keeps me motivated in the face of life’s inevitable criticism. Here it is:

         One day a farmer’s old mule fell into an abandoned well. The old mule began to loudly bray and cry in fear.

         The farmer loved that old mule. He had depended on that mule for many years, so he wanted to find a way to rescue his beloved animal.

         The farmer called all of his neighbors to come over to help. They began to consider how they might go about getting the mule safely out of the abandoned well.

         One neighbor suggested trying to lasso the mule and pull it up out of the well.

         The farmer decided it would not work. The mule would never survive such an ordeal.

         After considering every option the farmer decided the only thing to do was put the mule out of its misery. He would cover the mule with dirt and bury it alive.

         So the farmer and his neighbors began to shovel dirt down into the abandoned well. As the dirt landed on the back of the old mule, it began to moan and cry even louder. At one point, the mule had so much dirt on his back he just shook as hard as he could…

         And an amazing thing happened.

         When he shook off the dirt, he was able to step up a little bit higher.

         The farmers kept shoveling, and every time the dirt landed on the back of the mule he just shook it off, and stepped up.

         After a few minutes of no crying from the mule, the farmers thought he must surely be buried. Still they shoveled more dirt.

         Imagine their surprise when they looked into the hole and saw the mule just five feet below the edge of the well!

         They shoveled even faster and every time the mule just shook it off and stepped up.

         When the dirt had been piled high enough, the mule shook off the last of the dirt, stepped up out of the well, and just kept right on walking.


         Like Nehemiah, as long as I am focused on doing a great work for God, I refuse to come down and waste time on the useless complaints and criticisms of this world.

         Like Jesus, I am learning that in this world of so much need by so many, to keep working to bring healing and life to the hurt and hopelessness around me, and just ignore all the talk of defeat and death.

         And like that old mule, I’m learning that the best way to handle all dirt that gets dumped on us from time to time, is to just shake it off and step up!




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