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Learning How Jesus Engaged Critics

Criticism can be helpful, but we can’t shut it down. In my early years of youth ministry, I learned a lot about how not to respond to criticism. Mostly through failure. I also learned that it is how we react to criticism that determines if we are going to grow as leaders and followers of Jesus. Most importantly: I learned that Jesus dealt with criticism and shows us how to deal with it today.

Jesus’ Critics

Jesus dealt with unsolicited criticism. You could say that He encountered several Armchair Messiahs in his ministry. He had people who thought He should be more dedicated to the Bible (Torah), more respectful of the Temple authorities, more violent in his opposition to the Roman rule, more practical in his teaching, and the list can go on.

Let’s just be clear about it: YOU ARE NOT JESUS.

Jesus had it much worse than we will ever have it when it comes to critics. His critics followed the JC-talk tour and came out to heckle him. They tried to get him arrested by trapping him in politically hot questions. They worked hard to get his followers to turn on him. In the end, they killed him. So remember, you don’t have it as bad as Jesus.

Learning From Jesus

Even though we are not Jesus, we can learn from him in this area. Let’s look at Jesus when he meets the unnamed woman accused of adultery by the religious leaders (John 8:2-11). He is presented with a situation that was a trap to discredit him. Some of us have our critics who try to publically discredit us too.

He has at least three ways He can respond in this situation.

  1. Authoritarian – He could have flexed his messianic power. Verbally attack the religious leaders for their disgusting act and overcome the trap. But he didn’t…
  2. Coward – He could have ignored the trap and walked away. In the desire for self preservation, he could have attempted to escape the situation without addressing it. But he didn’t…
  3. Courageous – He chose to meet his critics humbly. By literally bending down and with gentleness, he probed deeper into the conversation. The predictable outcomes (Yes – stone her; No – only Rome is allowed to kill) are pushed out by a simple observation, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” The critics are silenced (for now) and all come to a deeper reality that the Apostle Paul will write about later, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In the end, Jesus invited everyone to see the deeper story at work.

Just like Jesus, dare to be courageous and take criticism deeper by gently probing for the story behind the criticism.

paulsheneman_image_medThis is a guest post by Paul Sheneman who is an author, speaker and youth pastor, with over 15 years of youth ministry experience. He currently serves as the Methodist youth pastor in Macedonia, OH. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good and enjoys a good book. You can follow his ramblings at or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.

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