There are times when one Christian needs to address the bad habit, sin, or fault of another Christian. Obviously there’s a wrong way to do it (many of us know this from experience!). So how do we give constructive criticism in a good, Christian way? I appreciate David Murray’s advice on this. He wrote the following on constructive criticism (I’ve edited it for length):
1) It is Preceded by Praise. For criticism to have any hope of accomplishing anything, it should be set in the wider context of praise.
2) It is Infrequent. Some people think that a little bit of praise sprinkled here and there permits them to launch frequent nuclear missiles at their unfortunate targets. [Some] recommend a praise-criticism ratio of at least 3:1 and ideally closer to 5:1.
3) It is Limited. Effective criticism aims at one specific target and refuses to take potshots at anything else. ‘And while we’re at it, let me tell you…’ Please don’t.
4) It Majors on Majors. If you’re going to criticize every fault and failing of everyone around you, you’re going to be very busy and very lonely. The best of us are full of flaws. We simply must learn to overlook minor faults in others.
5) It is Supported by Evidence. Make sure that you’re criticizing what God criticizes, that you’re not basing everything on your preferences or prejudices. Also, can you prove it? Don’t base it on feelings or suspicions.
6) Its Aim is Building, not Demolishing. All criticism involves some element of demolition. But its ultimate aim is to build something better, even beautiful, in its place. If our motive is to leave a person’s life in smoldering ruins, we are doing the Devil’s work. But if our am is a better person, we are in the business of constructive criticism.
7) It is Prayerfully Considered. It is so easy to spout an ill-considered or unconsidered criticism in response to an immediate event or conversation. That will rarely accomplish anything beneficial. It is almost always advisable to take at least twenty-four hours and pray over it.
8) It is Dispassionate. It is not a good recipe for constructive criticism if you’re tense, angry, red-faced, and have clenched fists.
9) It is from the Right Person. The Bible is very clear about the need to respect our elders. Usually that means we will rarely offer criticism to our superiors, or if we do, it will be with strict qualifications. Let’s focus on those whom the Lord has committed to our responsibility.
10) It is Humble. Being critical makes us feel intellectually and morally superior, and it also makes others think the same of us. Pride is the motivation behind a lot of criticism. And yet, pride makes criticism ineffective. Have you ever changed as a result of an arrogant person pointing out your faults? …But when a person humbly comes alongside me, confesses his faults, admits his struggles, maybe even in that particular area, then my ears are open and so is my heart.
There is a place for constructive criticism in the Christian life. Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Prov. 27:26 NASB). Constructive criticism must be done with love and genuine concern for the other person (as Murray rightly noted). I recommend reading the full version of his list, which can be found on pages 137-139 of The Happy Christian by David Murray.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015