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May 31, 2011

How to Offer Criticism: Part Four

In an attempt to encourage healthy, honest dialog, and fruitful, Christian criticism I am offering five thoughts on how to criticize well. Here are the links for parts one, two, and three.

Today in part four I'm reminding us to check our motivation and goal when criticizing.

#4 Check Your Motive and Goal

Some people are overly critical. This does not necessarily mean that they have good discernment, but that they are a quick draw whenever they find something missing the mark. Criticism can be good. At times we all need it, and need to offer our own. At times. Not all the time, and not for every thing we encounter that doesn't perfectly line up with our understanding of truth.

I am not suggesting that we become soft on truth, and not correct error. Scripture is clear on the need for that, especially for pastors who must shepherd the flock (1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Heb. 3:13). But Scripture is also clear that we must not be argumentative, prone to pick fights, and unnecessarily divisive (1 Cor. 11:18; Gal 5:20; 1 Tim. 2:8). To help with this we will do well to check both our motivation and our goal in offering criticism.

1. What's Your Motivation?

Why do I feel the need to respond to this person or statement? Am I driven by a sense of selfish anger or arrogance, or a desire to publicly punish someone? Or is there something higher moving me to speak out? Perhaps it is love for God, friend, and neighbor? Sometimes criticism (deserved or undeserved) is driven by a critic's desire to make waves more than a longing to rescue the perishing. Motives matter. And even though we remain sinners with mixed motives even on our best days, if we find ourselves driven by pride and self-serving motives it is better to leave the words of correction to others. I'm not the only one out there who can address the problem.

2. What's Your Goal?

So, even if I think my motives are good here, another question remains. What do I hope to accomplish? What is the end? Will my words help? Can they help? Am I speaking to protect those who may be led astray, and issue a warning to those who err? Of course, we don't know that our words will bear fruit, but we should have a goal. Sometimes offering a criticism only puts a spotlight on someone who wouldn't normally have it, and who will not receive our words well. Sometimes silence is golden. And yet, just because someone will not respond doesn't mean we should hold out tongues. False teachers must be called out and condemned for the good of the church.

Checking our motivation and goal before we criticize is mostly a safeguard for ourselves. It can discourage us from speaking at the wrong time, or give us a sense of urgency at the right time.

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Posted:May 31, 2011 at 12:00 am

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How to Offer Criticism: Part Four