Criticism: Constructive or Destructive?

Criticism can be a great thing. It keeps us from becoming myopic, helps us grow personally and often leads to recognizing and solving real problems. However, there is a significant difference between valuable ‘constructive criticism’ and a critical person who seems to only offer criticism that is destructive.

Criticism Pic

Criticism Pic

Here are three questions to discern between the two:

1. Are they willing to personally help solve the problem?

Critical people are all about the ‘hit and run.’ They are quick to point out what’s wrong, but there is a lack of willingness to be a part of the solution. If the problem is financial, are they willing to provide money? If the solution to problem requires time, will they rearrange their calendar? It’s one thing to say, “This is what’s wrong- you need to make it better.” it’s another to say, “This is what’s wrong and I will do whatever I can to help you make it better.”

2. How do they respond if you or others disagree?

No one is always 100% correct in their criticism. There will probably be parts where the person offering criticism is spot-on and other parts where they miss the mark. The question is whether or not they are willing to engage in a healthy dialogue about what they see. If there is no willingness to budge or to genuinely listen to another perspective(s), their criticism is less constructive and is more destructive.

3. What is the ‘spirit’ of their criticism?

When someone is offering criticism, it is often difficult to know their intent. One thing you can do is trying to listen ‘between the words.” What is the nature of the criticism? What is the heart in which it is being expressed? For criticism to be truly be constructive, it should be given with the goal of helping the recipient improve and be more successful, not to belittle or humiliate.

We all have given and received criticism. What advice would you add that may help criticism be less destructive and more constructive?

Water or Gasoline

People seem to fall into one of two categories… water or gasoline. Being able to discern between the two is important when building teams, discerning friendships, raising a family and even choosing a spouse.

Water or Gasoline Donovan Christian

Every arena of life is filled with ‘flare-ups’- challenging situations that have the potential to harm organizations and relationships. While some of these are preventable, most are not. The key, however, is not the prevention of these difficult situations, but the response.

When a ‘water’ person sees a flare-up, their instinctive response is to put water on the flame, thus reducing its destructive potential. Conversely, when a “gasoline” person sees a flare-up, their response is to douse it with flammable liquid. The result is just as we would expect, a difficult situation becoming more difficult… a small problem becoming a big problem… a contained flame with flickering embers becoming a raging inferno.

Water extinguishes. Fuel feeds. “For lack of wood, the fire goes out…” (Proverbs 26:20). It’s that simple.

One additional word of caution/encouragement. Water and gasoline are both contagious. If the initial response to a problem is with water, expect the bucket brigade. If it’s gas- pyromaniacs of the word unite. So… carefully guard the first response knowing this will determine much of what follows.

Which do you tend to be? Water or gasoline? How have you seen this to be true in your life situations?

Two Key Questions for Team Members

Anything Something

Anyone who has ever been part of a team knows that they can be great, awful or anything in between. The primary factor determining a groups quality, is how each member interacts with other members of the team.

I’ve found that there are two simple, yet profound questions that can greatly contribute to a team’s health and effectiveness. We can call them the ‘anything/something’ questions.

Is there anything you need?
Is there something I can help you with?

One of the primary reasons a team breaks down is because team members become self-centered. They become focused on the completion of their own task and indifferent to the tasks of others. Our two questions are the remedy.

Making headway with your own assignment? See if you can lend a hand on someone else’s. Did you complete your own project? How can you help a team member complete theirs?

If your role on the team is one of support, you will become a hero to your supervisor by asking the questions often. “Is there anything you need?” followed by, “Ok. That’s done. Is there something else I can help you with?

Try it out. Ask the questions. You will be amazed at how much better your team becomes when you do!

How have you seen or experienced this on your own teams?

Thankful for Gift or Giver?

Gift or Giver

Thanksgiving Day is a welcome respite from the typical unthankful, hurried, disconnected lives most people get caught in. Even the most critical, thankless person will often find pause, even if for just a few moments at the table, to express thanks.

While thankfulness in any form is healthy, there is a significant difference between being thankful for the spread of food and being thankful for the one who provided it.

Our thankfulness can actually be quite selfish.

It goes something along the lines of: “I like to eat. I like to eat good food. I am thankful I am eating good food.” The locus of the thankfulness is easy to see: I, Me, Self. So, my thankfulness has actually become self-centered. The reason that I’m thankful, the basis of my gratitude, is the fact that I’m getting something I want.

The better alternative shifts the focus. It puts less emphasis on what I’m getting and re-focuses on the provider. We might call this “selfless thankfulness.” Yes, I may be getting something I want (a great meal), but I am primarily grateful that there is someone in my life who loves and cares for me enough to provide me with something good.

The application in our relationship with God is profound.

If I am only grateful when I’m getting the things that I want (ie. finances, relationships, etc.) then my thankfulness will ebb and flow depending on whether I believe my needs are being met. If, however, I start with the truth that there is a great and good God who never changes, my thankfulness will not only be steadfast, it will be properly directed where it should be.

What is the focus of your thankfulness? The gift or the Giver?

Are You Deceived? The critical difference between hearing and doing.

Modern day Christians have mastered the art of hearing.

We live in a time when we have more access to hearing the truth of the Bible than any other time in history. Beyond the typical Sunday sermon, we have Bible studies, small groups, conferences and seminars. Add to these online sermons, television sermons, books, blogs, podcast and smart phone apps.

Let me be clear, I am not against any of these things. To the contrary, I am a proponent. I personally utilize them and encourage others to do the same.

My concern is this, many Christians have confused the good act of hearing with the better priority of doing.

Hearing Doing donovanchristian.com

James warned us against this when he said, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)

How do we deceive ourselves? At least two ways. First, by believing that hearing is the main goal… it simply is not. Second, by thinking, “Because I am engaging with the truth of Scripture, I am growing, changing, applying… living it out.”

The truth is, there is no correlation whatsoever with the amount of our hearing and the degree of our doing. Because of this, a person can be a Bible scholar, able to quote verse and reference, understand Hebrew and Greek, and bear little resemblance to Jesus in their character and lifestyle. In fact, hearing is a great disguise for doing.

Doing is the priority. Application is the key. Life transformation is the goal.

I have said this before and it’s worth repeating. If most Christians heard nothing more from Scripture and simply started doing what they already know, they as individuals, their communities, and our world would be radically transformed. However, as long as we deceive ourselves into thinking that hearing is the objective, we will be content in our own self-deception.

What have you been prioritizing in your own life? What ideas do you have to keep “doing” as your focus?

7 Questions for Campers Coming Home

This is the time of year when thousands of young men and women will head off with their church youth group to experience camp. It is well spent time that creates lasting memories and often serves as a catalyst for significant spiritual growth.

Camp Sign

When our kids return home and stumble out of the bus/van, we have the unique opportunity to take part in and continue their experience.

The first order of business… peeling the clothes off your middle school boy, incinerating them, and dragging him into the shower. After that, here are seven questions to ask your camper.

1. What did you learn about yourself?
Camp shakes things up and puts campers in environments that force self-discovery.

2. Who did you spend time with (fellow campers and adults)?
Camp relationships are both significant and telling.

3. How did it help being away from TV/computers/phones/video games?
Modern-day life is filled with distractions that keep us from hearing from God.

4. What did the speaker talk about & how can you apply it?
Good camps have a theme and the speaker will encourage practical life-application.

5. What did your counselor or youth group leader say that had an impact on you?
Adults make it a point to speak into the lives of their campers.

6. What did you learn about who God is?
God is not more present at camp, campers are just more aware of His presence.

7. What did you learn about what God wants for your life?
Many major life decisions have come as a result of a camp experience.

A few bonus tips to keep in mind:

  • Limit questions that can be answered with a “Yes” or No.”
  • Give plenty of time for answers and don’t be afraid of silence.
  • Have the conversation away from phones/TV/computer/etc.

The Key to a Lasting Marriage

Marriage anniversaries are a big deal. They represent important milestones and signify the blessing of having held true to a promise.

I’ve had the honor of knowing several couples who experienced the privilege of celebrating fifty years of marriage. When I have the opportunity, I do some investigating to see how they accomplished such an admirable feat. They all have a common theme.

Older Married Couple

I can tell you what I’ve never heard, “It was 50 years of bliss. We made it this long because it’s been so easy.”

Instead, what I have heard time and time again is, “We hit a couple of spots where it seemed like it was going to end, but we worked through it. It was hard. It was painful, but we fought for our marriage.” That is the key to making a marriage last.

Here’s an important truth we all need to remember: Many of today’s best marriages were yesterday’s worst.

Most (if not all) healthy marriages today, at one point (or several points) were on the brink of failure. They had moments of intense counseling, arguing, crying, sleeping on the couch, and painfully hard conversations about ending the relationship. But the truth of 1 Corinthians 13:7 shined through because, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

What is the key to a lasting marriage? It is not having an easy marriage. It’s two people committed to working through the hard times, knowing that the best times are yet ahead.

How have you seen this to be true in your own marriage?

The School Dance: A Metaphor

School DanceI remember my first school dance well. The awkwardness of pre-pubescent hormones combined with a complete inability to look cool to the rhythm of music. The only highlight worth remembering was hearing an epic track from a new band called U2.

The school dance serves as a fitting metaphor for the Christian life. Lots of people call themselves Christians, but their experience of following Christ varies greatly. Most will fit into one of four categories:

1. No-Show

People in this category may have prayed a prayer at some point in their life and would profess to being a Christian, but the primary focus of their life is not for Jesus. No-shows miss out on what being a follower of Christ is all about and never experience the joy and abundant life Jesus offers.

2. Wallflower

These are people who go through the motions. Wallflowers get to the dance, but they never get on the dance floor. They show up to church and occasionally pray, but there’s little engagement. They get glimpses of what life in Christ could be and should be, but they never get to take part in it. They like the idea of dancing, but they won’t move their feet.

3. Reserved

People who are reserved not only get to the dance, they also get on the floor. They know the value of following Christ and living the life He intended, but there’s always something holding them back. They move their feet, but they can’t quite go all in because something’s holding them back. This could be personal comfort, fear, insecurity, a competing idol, or a variety of factors.

4. Enthusiast

The enthusiast is all in. They show up, get on the floor and go all out. Enthusiast often aren’t good dancers, they just care more about what God thinks than what people think. It’s not that they don’t have insecurities, it’s just that they’ve found something greater than their insecurity. Christ is the center of all they do- work, family, leisure, finances, schedule, etc. The result is a full, deep, rich experience and a life filled with great joy and purpose.

Which kind of person are you? Which do you hope to be? What needs to change to make it happen?

The Cure For Critical

Are you critical? Do you often find yourself assessing other people and finding that they come up short? Do people feel like they can never measure up to your expectations or do anything right?

Critical

While there is nothing wrong with legitimate criticism, or what we might call “loving discernment,” there are those who tend to be overly critical. They expect and inspect, readily finding deficiencies, causing inevitable strain on relationships.

Fault-finding becomes a pair of pessimistic lenses through which we see the world, consequently stealing our joy.

Like many negative behaviors, a critical spirit is a symptom of an underlying disease… pride. A critic is someone who considers themselves an authority. Pride believes, “I know what’s best… I know what’s right, and because something isn’t the way I believe it should be, it must be wrong.”

So, how do we overcome a critical spirit? If pride is the disease of a critical spirit, humility is the cure.

A humble spirit willingly admits that there may be alternate views to their own and that these views are equally worth consideration. Humility recognizes value in other people and lowers the “self-superiority” of a critical spirit.

The benefits are many including a more positive outlook on life, improved relationships and being liberated from the misery of being critical.

So why not start today? Ask God to replace any pride-rooted criticism with grace-filled humility and watch what happens!

What kind of impact has an overly critical spirit had on your own life?

Don’t Feed the Beast

I was having coffee with a good friend recently when we shared a moment of accountability. “How’s the battle with lust?” It’s an honest question men will readily ask/answer who sincerely desire to live Godly lives.

His response caught me in a good way… “It’s been going well. I haven’t been feeding the beast.” I thought this was a helpful and accurate description (and even said I would be “borrowing” it.)

Wild Dog

It’s true with any sin and certainly with lust. It can either be fed or starved. We can entertain thoughts or we can guard thoughts. We can stare or we can look away. We can expose ourselves to anything and everything or we can filter what we bring into our lives.

The outcome for either choice is real.

If we choose to feed it, it will get stronger. The more we feed it… the greater its appetite becomes. If we choose to starve it, it will get weaker. Starve it long enough, and it may well eventually die.

This is why Colossians 3:5 (NLT) says, “… put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” Some things need to be killed and the only way to do so is to starve it to death.

It is likely that most of us have a sin that we have been feeding for far too long. We may not even know that we have doing it. As a result, it is healthy and strong because we have given it too much power. It’s time to take away its power, even if it’s one meal at a time.

What sin have you been feeding that you need to start starving? How have you seen this to be true in your own life?

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