Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Criticism Bites

"The issue of criticism is not something you solve. It's something you manage. You will always have your critics."

This statement is found in the introduction to Brian Berry's book Criticism Bites: Dealing With, Responding To, and Learning From Your Critics, a wonderfully practical and wisdom-rich treatise on dealing with criticism as a leader in the church. If you're a leader, you'll be criticized. Period. Instead of avoiding criticism, Brian invites leaders to dig deep at understanding the heart issues behind why criticism can hurt so much, as well as offer tools to equip leaders to handle critiques and attacks in the future.

The first section of the book deals with the why behind the sting of criticism. Let's face it--no one genuinely enjoys criticism. Tolerate it, appreciate it in small doses, but enjoy it? Not so much. Brian invites the reader to ask the question, "why do I dislike criticism so much?" Even deeper, "why is criticism so painful?" Identity issues, comparison games, and even finances all play a role. For me, the deep pain of criticism surfaces most clearly due to an insecurity about a lack of self-awareness. I think I know myself fairly well, so when someone questions my identity or abilities, it bites deeper than expected. I wonder, "are they right? Did I miss something about myself? What if I've always been like this, and never knew it?" In fact, the harshest criticism I ever received came from a leader who frankly told me during an evaluation that something I had done "lacked self-awareness." It tore me up for weeks. Brian navigates these deeper heart issues with grace and wisdom, pointing out where the wounds of criticism can grow and fester if left open and unhealed.

Perhaps the best wisdom in the book comes from Brian's exhortation to keep the main thing the main thing. We're called to please God, not people (one of my personal values), which allows us to make mistakes and fail without losing our sense of self-worth or succumb to others' expectations:
As one of my friends says, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." He's simply saying that if we're called to do it, then we can take some criticism and do it badly--because the point is not how well we did that thing, that we kept the main thing the main thing and we're in process on it. That's better than being people who quit because we couldn't do it well enough to get the loudest applause. If we take criticism as the final word on us, we won't be able to deflect, accept, or hear any critical commentary without it crushing us. 
Success is not a goal we worship; it is a process we embrace.
The last section of the book addresses practical tools and wisdom for handling criticism well, including the value of good communication, giving grace to critics, and remembering that discouragement doesn't come from God. This latter bit of wisdom is so deeply important to remember, not only when receiving discouraging criticism, but before I share my own critiques or feedback with someone else. "Discouragement" is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit. When I need to admonish or exhort someone, it has to be done with a tone of grace, compassion, and the desire to build up, not tear down.

Brian is a ministry friend I first encountered in the YMCP cohort. Since then, he's become a source of wisdom and encouragement for me as we spur one another on in our respective ministries. His wisdom comes from years of youth ministry and a deep desire to encourage and support fellow youth workers and church leaders, and I'd highly recommend both this book and his previous book, As For Me and My Crazy House.

Get Criticism Bites at Amazon, Simply Youth Ministry, and The Youth Cartel. Share in the comments: what's the harshest criticism you've ever received?

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