In class today, Professor Klassen continued in our study on 1 Timothy 3. We discussed the subject of elders being “gentle” (1 Tim 3:3). Toward the end of the study, he gave a few practical points on how we as gentle leaders must respond to personal attacks. These points were convicting for me so I thought I would share them on the blog today. I’m hoping others would also benefit from these reminders even if you are not in church leadership. As believers we should always have a sober-minded response to all kinds of criticism, so I hope this will help you.
1) Recognize Your Blindness to Your Own Faults
When I get criticized for a specific fault, I need to consider that I may be blind to the fact that I am in the wrong. The tendency is for us to be more critical of others. We downplay their strengths and emphasize their weaknesses, but when it comes to us we do the very opposite. We downplay our weaknesses and emphasize our strengths. This elevated view of ourselves must be removed before we can listen and hear these concerns which may be true of us. We must be willing to acknowledge this blindness.
2) Consider the Source of Criticism
When issues arise, I need to observe the source. Is it coming from a generally mature, level-headed believer? Is this coming from a recognized leader or a pastor? Does this come from someone who knows me well? Does this person work with me, observe me? Does he or she know how I use my time?
The more this person knows me, the more I need to give weight to their words and criticism. I cannot just instantly dismiss it because it is a critique. I need to pay attention, even if they didn’t articulate it with the best words. I must check if this person is trying to present objective evidence about my life or conduct.
If it comes from someone who you met for the first time, maybe they don’t have all the information. Or maybe it is a person who is a new believers and does not understand the way things happen at your church. Maybe I do not have to be as discouraged since they do not truly understand. Still, we need to be discerning and understanding when they speak. Despite the source of the critique, I need to consider whether or not this is true of me.
3) Realize that Communication is Not Always Successful
How we communicate to others is of great importance. Sometimes conflict comes from miscommunication. A personal attack may arise as a result of my mistakes in communication. Sure, my motive may be correct in what I’ve attempted to do. Maybe my conscience is clean, maybe I didn’t speak heresy or obscure the truth.
Though this all may be true, my communication, my body language, my choice of words, or my tone may NOT have been correct at that moment. I must admit to this error in communication. I can’t just defend my motives and say, “You took that the wrong way,” which really puts the blame on them (and takes it off of me). There must be a recognition of the wrong decisions made at that moment. There needs to be time to explain what I mean and how I miscommunicated.
It is troubling when a man defends his own motives but does not pay attention to the words he uses. He should not think it is a waste of time to clarify. It’s wrong for him to insist that people just need to believe the best in him as if he is untouchable and beyond correction. This person cannot insist on his claim for others to “believing the best” in him, but he should take the time to go back and clarify with humility.
4) Strive to Be a Peacemaker
An attitude of peace will diffuse many misunderstandings and strife. I must be an person who establishes peace in all that I do. I must be characterized as someone who is peaceable. When criticism comes, a general attitude of peace is a good tool in how I deal with those who are coming to me. Harsh words stir up strife, but gentle answers will turn away wrath. Therefore, I must make sure that peace should be central to my attitude even when I am being attacked by someone who is not seeking peace. We must be peacemakers in all that we do!
These are only practical suggestions that seek to apply the biblical attitude/principle of gentleness in the context of personal attacks. There is much more that can be said or done when we fall subject to criticism and correction. They may be justified critiques or even emotionally charged accusations. Nevertheless, our job is not to control the actions of others but our responsibility is over our Christ-like response. We are able to reflect Christ in how we interact with others and how we respond to personal attacks.