“Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticise them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” Anon

Everyone needs a critic. I’ve done a lot of stuff that I have thought at the time was brilliant only to return to it a few months later to realise it wasn’t as brilliant as I thought it was. It’s a human foible to believe too much in our personal ability to hold both details and perspective accurately at the same time. Everyone needs a second pair of eyes!

Without perspective, it’s easy to think you can sing when you can’t, think you can’t dance when you can, think you’re fat when you’re thin and think you’re thin when you’re fat!

Now don’t pick on me for the following huge generalisation but I believe that a lot of our society’s delusions and insecurities come from an absence of fatherhood. If there is a difference between the mandate of Motherhood and the mandate of Fatherhood I believe that Motherhood says ‘You can do it’ and ‘Don’t let anyone stop you or pull you down’. I believe that Fatherhood says ‘This is what you can do’ and ‘This is what you were born to excel in’. Motherhood provides the river, Fatherhood provides the banks. It’s these banks that provide constructive criticisms that are needed for great success.

Too much criticism, however, causes souls to shut down, minds to darken and spirits to shy away from anything that could involve more criticism. The paradox of the X Factor flunkies is that it was often too much criticism of the wrong kind that actually drove them into the isolation that led them to a critic free world of far-fetched imagination. In church life, heavy handed criticism has also led many into a similar critic free imaginary world of anointing, power and unlimited freedom.

It’s time we learnt how to be successful critics, creating a culture of both encouragement and direction, of both river and banks. Here’s six critical facts to help you do it.

1.Criticism is specific, praise is general

Dr Phil, from Oprah Winfrey fame, once said that we need at least one hundred words of praise to affect just one word of criticism. In my experience, it simply is not true. People have praised me a hundred times and I have still been obsessed about that one statement of criticism that was thrown at me. The reason why praise is so blunt and criticism is so sharp is that praise is usually general but criticism is usually specific.

In the past, people have left my church accusing the church of a lack of real teaching. Since I’m the ‘main teacher’, it’s actually been a personal attack on both my ministry and me. For the so many more who have enjoyed the teaching, I occasionally get a ‘That was great today Dave’, or ‘You preached brilliantly’. That’s as far as it usually goes. The ‘praise’ or ‘encouragement’ says nothing about why it was good, what was so good and why I was so good. The criticism spoke of a lack of depth, content and systematic outline. The praise spoke of ‘good’.

In marriage seminars, they often speak about each partner’s emotional bank account. You can only draw out what you put in. They say that if praise and encouragement adds one euro of emotion each time they’re spoken, then one criticism can actually take out 500 euros in one withdrawal. It is, in fact, even more than that as criticism is often remembered for life. The reason why we are so limited in our ability to correct and be positively critical is because the culture of praise that has been created has been marred by lazy generalisms and anaemic back patting, adding little to the emotional bank accounts of both our marriages and our churches.

It’s time to be praise specific – releasing hard working praise that works out why something was good and calls upon the power of words to communicate that ‘why’ in memorable prose. Only then can we participate in making it all so much better by being granted the access card to constructively criticise, aptly evaluate and courageously confront!

After a little training in my church, I have developed the beginning of such a culture. People regularly email me after a service to specifically praise the service and the positive influence it’s had on their life. All of my leaders know to not just tell me ‘That was great’ but why it was so great. And vice versa. I feel a health I’ve never known as I understand not only my failings but my brilliance! And that has opened me up to constructive criticism I would previously have been hardened to.

2. Criticism is often right words in the wrong season

In Genesis Chapter 1, God created lights in the sky to serve as ‘signs to mark seasons, days and years …’ I’ve recently been called ‘ahead of my time’. I’m trying to correct that by doing things at the right time and in the right season. Freddy Laker built a ‘no frills’ airline that was ahead of its time. It collapsed – only to be replaced by Easyjet and Ryanair whose success has come from being the right idea at the right time. ‘Knowing the times’ is everything say the Sons of Issacar.

The problem with criticism is that, even though it may be completely true, it’s generally delivered at the wrong time. People have said stuff about me that has been absolutely true, but absolutely wrong for the particular season it was heralded in. It’s usually been delivered out of season through anger and resentment.

We only have the capacity to work on one or two faults at a time. Instead of picking on us incessantly about every sin and failing we possess, the Holy Spirit works to a logistical plan that discerns the correct criticism for the current season. That is the art of great leadership. It’s the art of turning a blind eye to certain glaring issues, only to address them at a later date. Our critical eye should be positively fixed on only one aspect of the operation in which we’re involved. In this way, we avoid being overly and destructively critical and avoid people feeling helplessly picked on. It preserves both morale and momentum.

3.Criticism is what makes you

James Chapter 1 tells us to, ‘count it all joy when we face various trials and tribulations’ because the product of these trials is both maturity and completeness. Criticism is what makes you become a bigger, stronger person. Persecution, which is a form of criticism, is what hits the fan only to become fertiliser to next year’s crop of character and capacity.

Back in the early days of Hope City Church I was once or twice accused of being a ‘manipulator’, (which in some ways was true in that I was being ‘wise as a serpent’ but in essence was not true because my concerns were for the protection of the church and not myself). It led me to a much deeper and greater revelation of God’s favour, backing and calling that He had for my life. This in time has led to a strong confident church culture.

It’s essential that we don’t publicly react to criticism. Remember, in football, it’s the one who strikes back, not strikes first, who receives the red card. It’s essential that we privately allow its poison to create the white blood cells of revelation that in turn, creates great health and fitness for a greater tomorrow’s world. (Sure – it’s easier said than done, but right now I’m doing the saying!)

As both leaders and emerging leaders, we need to create a robust spirit where every word is turned around for the enlargement and inner development of the church. That’s pro-activity at its highest level.

4.Criticism is the tool of a friend

Proverbs 27:6 says, ‘the wounds of a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiples kisses’. An enemy holds back any criticism in order to seduce someone into a position of advantage. A friend tells it as it is.

If someone believes in my future and cares for my well-being, it’s time for me to listen. If you’ve had a shepherd’s heart created in you through loving your enemies and believing in the most straggly of sheep, then you’ve earned the right to speak into other people’s lives. It’s time to not baulk at the fear of rejection or the fear of people leaving you. It’s time to exercise your right. If you can’t correct someone without a torrent of backlash, they’re either not a sheep of your pasture, or so desperately insecure that it’s revealed far deeper issues that need to be dealt with. An undisciplined church is an undiscipled church. An undiscipled church is a bankless river – flood waters that rise and fall with menace and carelessness. It’s not what God had in mind when He spoke about His glorious church!

5.Criticism is a cure of the perfectionist

Most men have a perfectionist streak within them. They hate to be 78% successful or even 88%. It’s 100% or failure. They say ‘it’s the winning that counts’ not because of a pure will to win, but because of a fear of failing. It drives them into an unabated stress filled world. Their self criticism becomes self destructive.

The way to help remove this curse is firstly to realise the impossibility of perfection and try to accept it. Even an athlete has both peak performance outings, spliced by very average performances. ‘Performance’ has a cyclic element to it that we may not understand yet needs to be embraced.

Secondly, the capacity to quickly put failure in the past and turn the page is essential for every ‘perfectionist’ to break the curse. Port mortems are only helpful when held in an atmosphere of positive criticism and not negative criticism. There is a time to let sleeping dogs lie.

I remember Andrew Evans, the former Pastor of Paradise Community Church in Adelaide once saying simply to his Youth Pastor during a difficult Sunday’s service – ‘Let’s call it a day’. In other words, let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill. Let’s draw a line and refuse to either elongate the service, resurrect the service or do a post mortem on the service. Let’s leave it. It’s the adjustment every perfectionist needs to make. The ability to leave it – to let the past be the past. A new day awaits.

6.Criticism is a two way street

Matthew 7:2 says “For in the same way that you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”.

It works two ways. Whatever level of criticism you give out, you then place yourself under the same spotlight. If you’re overly critical, you may find that the back draft of personal criticism you place on yourself becomes too heavy a cross to bear. Consistent standards are essential for the integrity of a church. If there’s a plank in your own eye, everyone will know about it and refuse to have their speck dealt with until your plank is removed. What walks in the father walks in the son.

A critical spirit is essential to create a critically successful church that impacts the world. That spirit needs to be impregnated by a praising spirit and it must know when to speak and when to turn a blind eye. The secrets of great leadership lie within our ability to both enthuse and challenge, ignore and direct. Stand corrected!