Nine Things That Lead to a Critical Spirit

Chris SonksenBy Chris Sonksen9 Minutes

Excerpt taken from SAVING YOUR CHURCH FROM ITSELF by Chris Sonksen.

Chapter 6
Drifting Toward a Critical Spirit: From Critiquing to Criticizing

 Nine Things That Lead to a Critical Spirit

What are the seeds that start the drift toward this toxic spirit of criticism? Below are nine of them. Maybe you can identify with one that has crept into your life.

1. Bad company

I have seen this more than once. A person starts to connect with someone who influences them in a negative way. The other person may be present in their lives or influence them through a podcast or blog. Either way, they have connected with someone who can water a very small, unhealthy seed that was already lodged in their heart. The influence of bad company is often unintentional, but it can still grow a seed of criticism into skepticism.

2. Immaturity

Criticism has the amazing ability to exploit the immaturity of someone. Maybe that individual feels that they could lead better, but they really don’t understand the pressures or demands of leading from the first chair. Often they begin to notice the flaws and shortcomings in others, and criticism becomes the outward expression of their inward disappointment. It becomes a double threat when their immaturity is coupled with arrogance. A person like this is misguided, but they’re absolutely sure they’re right.

3. Insecurity

Criticism is often a conscious or subconscious means to elevate one’s own self-esteem or self-image. A person who criticizes others is attempting to build themselves up or possibly feel more knowledgeable or important. They will mask their frailty when they feel unequal to those around them.

4. Negativity

This may seem fairly obvious, but I believe it’s worth mentioning: Some people have a propensity toward negativity. I don’t think they are born that way, although I am sure some may argue that position. Through time and circumstances, a person who fits into this category has learned the tendency to be negative. The good news is that if it is a learned response, it can be unlearned as well. However, if the person doesn’t do the work to alter their negative habits, they are only a step away from moving into a critical spirit.

5. Showing little to no grace

It is far easier to see other people’s faults than it is to see our own. This usually happens when we don’t regularly exercise grace toward those around us. That could be a result of not really experiencing or understanding the grace and mercy of God, or it could be a failure to extend to others the same grace that God has extended to us. Often we forget that the shortcomings of others can easily become shortcomings in our own lives. We are not above anyone else, and if we are not careful, we can begin to practice the very things we judge.

6. Selfish ambition

I have recently seen this issue play out in a close friend’s church. In this scenario, the criticism is quiet but strategic. When a person is motivated by selfish ambition, they begin to share their concerns and unhealthy thoughts with others on the team. Slowly, they begin to win over the hearts and minds of others until an alliance forms that rallies around the criticism being aimed at the leader. This alliance fuels the toxic intentions of the critic’s heart and moves them closer to accomplishing their own ambitions.

7. Unresolved bitterness

When left unattended, bitterness grows into an ugly weed that can potentially choke out the life of a leader and ministry. This unresolved bitterness may be the result of a team member feeling like they haven’t been treated fairly. It could come from something that was said or done but was never addressed in a biblical manner. It may have been carried over from another ministry or situation, long before the person even joined the current team. In any case, when this bitterness becomes more entrenched and intense, it can spin off in many directions, usually developing into criticism. When that criticism starts to gain speed, it can become a destructive force, creating a multitude of problems.

8. Jealousy

At the root of jealousy is a spirit of comparison. We see it in every walk of life. We compare our finances, lifestyle, successes, accomplishments, possessions, jobs, and favor to those of others. Our jealousy tears down what someone else has done to make us feel better about what we haven’t done. Jealousy causes us to want what someone else has. If we haven’t earned it or received it, then we criticize it. Somehow that makes us feel a little better.

Our jealousy tears down what someone else has done to make us feel better about what we haven’t done.

9. Ungratefulness

Living without gratitude can make us miserable. It robs our joy, affects our attitude, and steals any feeling of being content. A lack of gratitude in one area, when left unattended, will bleed into other areas of our lives.

Walking in a posture of ungratefulness will always lead us to criticism. Because we are not happy with our lives, we attack anyone who is happy with theirs. It is much easier to find someone to blame for our lot in life than to do something about it. Criticism, to some degree, is a release valve. We get to aim our hurt and pain at someone else, which temporarily makes us feel better. The problem is that doing so never really fixes anything. On the contrary, it actually makes matters worse. Over time, our criticism increases, spreads to others around us, and creates significant damage to almost everything it touches.

Do any of these ring true for your life? Are any of them making their way into the life of someone on your team? If your answer is yes to either of these questions, then I would caution you to take notice and do something about it. When these issues are left unattended, they will eventually create a wave of criticism that only leads to destruction. I have seen this over and over in ministry and in the life of leaders.

Criticism is a by-product. A critical spirit and lifestyle don’t start with criticism; they end up there. The reason you need to take note of the nine indicators above is because they are the early signs of criticism — the warning signals that criticism is on its way and that the damage will most likely be significant.

Order your copy of SAVING YOUR CHURCH FROM ITSELF by Chris Sonksen, published by Baker Publishing Group ( ©2022. Used by permission.