Maybe you’re not like me. Your first reaction when someone criticizes your teaching is an immediate, thankful, gentle response. You don’t suffer inner turmoil replaying their criticism over and over. You never doubt yourself.
Or maybe you’re like every Bible teacher and — at least sometimes — struggle with criticism.
All Bible teachers are criticized, at some point. There are two (completely) natural reactions which aren’t helpful:
1. Become so defensive that we don’t have the opportunity to learn from it.
2. Take it so closely that we are discouraged and disheartened and never want to teach again.
Here are some tips to avoid these unhelpful reactions.
First, recognize that criticism is feedback, and feedback is a gift. Most criticism (I do not say all) is based in part on some truth. My grandparents used to talk about the popcorn principle — there’s a little bit of kernel in all that fluff.
Feedback helps us understand our effectiveness, and gives us information about how to improve our teaching. This is true even for negative feedback that we’d rather not hear.
So be thankful for the feedback, and you are much less likely to respond in a bad way, and more prepared to learn from it.
Second, don’t take all the criticism personally. It helps to recognize that we’re happy with positive feedback. So mature teachers need to put value on criticism. Hold your personal identify apart from a specific teaching event that provoked criticism.
Third, focus on how you respond. This is where most of us fail!
Don’t respond to the tone of criticism, just the content — even if you don’t think it’s correct or justified. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” (Proverbs 26:4) If there’s a kernel of truth in the popcorn, focus your response on this, not the fluff.
It may help to begin your response by testing your understanding of the criticism. Ask a question, like “So, what I heard was that you think I tell too many personal stories and this takes time away from studying the text. Is that correct?” By asking a question, you initiate a conversation. This helps immensely in guarding against a “war of words.”
Always say “Thank you” in your response. Make it specific. For example, “Thanks for the comments and feedback, Jill. I’m working at improving my teaching. You’ve given me something helpful to think about.”
Delay your response — especially if you feel any surge of anger or pride. Words spoken in anger or pride “feel good” at the moment, but are nearly always regretted later. Patience lets us respond in godly ways.
Smile as you respond. The physical act of smiling will help you relax more. I’m not suggesting a fake, smarmy smile that’s forced. Ask the Lord to help you smile, and you will find it influences not only your attitude but the attitudes of others.
Fourth, learn handle false criticism appropriately. If you evaluate criticism, and after prayer find it is without basis, then you need to choose not to let it affect you. This will need to be a conscious choice! If you keep reviewing the criticism, then you give it weight and strength to attack you all over again. You can respond gently to our critics, but understand that you stand or fall only to your Master in Heaven. Resist any urge to counter-criticize. Silence is better than fighting back at someone.
These tips should help you get the most value out of critical feedback, without damaging relationships.