10 Ways to Give Constructive Criticism

If I only preached on what I’d mastered, I’d never preach again. Sometimes, I’ve even had to preach on topics that I’d barely begun to understand or do. That’s the territory I’m in today with this blog post. I’d say that offering constructive criticism is probably one of my weakest areas, even worse that my ability to receive it! So, take this very much as “Here’s where I’d like to go,” or “Here’s what I’ve learned about constructive criticism from a lifetime of giving destructive criticism.”

1. It’s preceded by praise
I don’t believe in “the sandwich principle” that says you must put a slice of praise before and after every criticism. That often devalues the praise and deceives the person. However, I do believe that for criticism to have any hope of accomplishing anything, it should be set in the wider context of praise. There should be praise in the bank, before we start drawing down with any criticisms.

2. It’s infrequent
On the basis of #1, some people think that a little bit of praise sprinkled here and there permits them to launch frequent nuclear missiles at their unfortunate targets. In Practicing Affirmation, Sam Crabtree suggests a praise/criticism ratio of at least 3:1 and preferably closer to 5:1. But he also says that “relationships are healthy when so much affirmation is being spread around that no one is keeping track of either affirmation or correction.”

3. It’s limited
Criticism should be more like a sniper’s bullet than buckshot. It aims at one specific target and refuses to take potshots at anything else. “And while we’re at it, let me tell you…” Please don’t.

4. It majors on majors
If you’re going to criticize every fault and failing of everyone around you, you’re going to be very busy…and lonely. We live in a sinful world. The best of us are flaw-full. We simply must learn to overlook minor faults in others – not talk about them to others and, if possible, not even think about them. Save your critical energy for major targets. That way you’ll help yourself and others.

5. It’s supported by evidence
First, make sure you are criticizing what God criticizes, that you’re not basing everything simply on your own preferences or prejudices. Second, can you prove it? Can you point to evidence to support your criticism? Is “I think…” and “I feel…” and “I suspect…” the best you’ve got? Then let it go.

6. It’s aim is building not demolition
All criticism involves some element of demolition: wrong conduct to be torn down,  wrong beliefs to be razed. But the ultimate aim is to build something better, even beautiful, in its place. If our motive is to leave a person’s life in smoldering ruins, then we are doing the devil’s work. But if our aim is a better person, a stronger person, a more mature person, then we are in the profitable business of constructive criticism.

7. It’s prayerfully considered
It’s so easy to spout out an ill-considered or nil-considered criticism in response to an immediate event or conversation. That rarely accomplishes anything beneficial, and usually results in a shouting (or crying) match. No matter how tempting, it is almost always advisable to take 24 hours at least and to pray over it. That should help purify the motive, identify the best target, and dampen the emotions. Which brings us to…

8. It’s dispassionate
This is probably my greatest weakness of many others in this area. I find it so hard to be calm and cool about certain things. My red face, tense voice, and shaky hands start people’s alarm bells ringing, and, unsurprisingly, their defenses go up, as does their temperature. Not a recipe for building anything good.

9. It comes from the right person
The Bible is very clear about the need to respect our elders. Usually that will mean we will rarely offer criticism to our superiors, or if we do, it will be with strict qualifications (1 Tim. 5:1-2, 19). I’ve sometimes been asked by a boss or an older Christian to say if I notice anything in their character or conduct that is wrong. I find that almost impossible to do. And I think that’s OK. Our superiors should normally look to their superiors for correction. And let’s focus on those whom the Lord has committed to our responsibility, not on those we have no relationship with and no authority over.

10. It’s humble
Have you ever changed as a result of an arrogant person pointing out your faults? No, neither have I. In fact, I’ve probably determined to do what was critiqued even more. But when a person humbly comes alongside me, confesses his own faults, admits his own struggles, maybe even in that particular area, then my ears are open and so is my heart.


The Brokenhearted Evangelist

Book Review: The Brokenhearted Evangelist by Jeremy Walker

Thesis: The most urgent and effective evangelists are those who have known and felt the agony of their own sin and the delight of Christ’s salvation.

Proof: Psalm 51.

Many of us grieve over how pathetic we are at evangelism – both at on-to-one evangelism and preaching evangelistically. Some of us have tried to learn strategies and techniques to improve, without much long-term success.

On the basis of David’s experience in Psalm 51, Jeremy Walker argues, persuasively, that what we need is not better methods but deeper knowledge and experience of our sin and of salvation through Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice. It’s that, says Jeremy, that “makes a Christian not only urgent, earnest, and eager to see men and women saved from their sins but also compelling and convicting.”

It’s after David has passed through the deep waters of tearful conviction and joyful (re)conversion that he says: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall be converted to you” (Ps. 51:13).

The five chapters answer five questions:

  1. Am I Willing? Our Undeniable Obligation
  2. Am I Effective? Our Necessary Equipment
  3. Am I Committed? Our Appointed Means
  4. Am I Focused? Our Declared Aim
  5. Am I Fruitful? Our Great Expectation

Two section of the book stood out. First, in chapter 1, Jeremy provides eight answers to the question: What are some of the holy pressures that carry us from being brokenhearted over our sin to being brokenhearted evangelists?

  • The reality of our own experience of salvation (if we’ve received the greatest ever gift, how can we not share it?)
  • Our spiritual well-being and joy (God may chastise us for failing to evangelize)
  • The sincerity of our prayers (how can we pay “Your kingdom come” and do nothing to bring it?)
  • The health of Christ’s Church (we can’t rely on just internal church growth)
  • Our obedience to God (whatever our calling, we are called to speak a word for Jesus Christ)
  • The souls of the unsaved (what kind of friend does not share good news with his friends?)
  • The honor of Jesus Christ 
  • The glory of God

Second, in chapter 4, Jeremy pictures the unconverted person as an archery target and asks what circle are we aiming at:

  • The white ring of self-referential evangelism: Aiming to make ourselves look  good or feel good.
  • The black ring of social acceptability: Aiming to control or restrain a person’s sin.
  • The blue ring of good citizenship: Aiming to help someone be a better citizen, father, wife, employee, etc.
  • The red ring of good churchmanship: Aiming to get people to become members of our church.
  • The bullseye of conversion to Christ: Nothing else will do!

I believe this book will help many Gospel archers aim better, by helping us to aim the arrow first at ourselves.

The Brokenhearted Evangelist by Jeremy Walker. Apart from regularly contributing to Ref21, Jeremy also posts at his own blog, The Wanderer.


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10 Reasons Why it is More Blessed to Give than to Receive

The most unbelieved beatitude in the Bible is: “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). The giver happier than the getter? Surely some mistake? That goes against all our intuitions and instincts. So let me help you to believe it and act upon it by giving you ten reasons why it is more blessed to give than to receive.

  1. Giving obeys God’s command
  2. Giving submits to God’s Lordship
  3. Giving exhibits God’s heart
  4. Giving illustrates God’s salvation
  5. Giving trusts God’s provision
  6. Giving widens God’s smile
  7. Giving advances God’s kingdom
  8. Giving promotes God’s sanctifying of us
  9. Giving testifies to God’s power
  10. Giving praises God’s character

Read the full article over at Christianity.com.


Unbelievable Gospel

Book Review: Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson.

Jonathan Dodson says that the Gospel is often unbelievable because:

  • Although the Gospel is good news, many don’t know how the Gospel is good news for them.
  • Christians may be good at telling what the Gospel is, but are poor at saying what the Gospel does.
  • Five common stereotypes of evangelism – preachy, impersonal, intolerant, know-it-all, and shallow evangelism – make Christians reluctant to share the Gospel.

In this short, lively, and practical book, Jonathan shares from his own experience how he has learned to help people know not only what the Gospel is, but how the Gospel is good news for them; and to do so in a way that avoids being preachy, impersonal, intolerant, etc.

What I especially appreciated was the way that Jonathan demonstrated how these “unbelievable” forms of evangelism result from wrong theology. This is not just about better technique; it’s about better theology; and better technique will be the result. I also liked how Jonathan communicated this theology using five vivid biblical metaphors, making it accessible and memorable.

You don’t need to agree with every detail of Jonathan’s cultural engagement to benefit from this book. It’s certainly helped me to get a little further along the road of the what, why, and how of personal evangelism.

Buy Unbelieveable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter or read his articles at Gospel Centered Discipleship.


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