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Why So Critical?
Jack Radcliffe

One doesn’t have to spend a lot of time around teenagers to learn a thing or two about the nature of their world and how they interact with each other. In many ways it is vastly different than anything we, as adults, ever have or will experience. In other ways, it’s an intense and less mature microcosm of the world we navigate.

Teenagers are doing their very best at trying to grow up. Despite the cadre of well-meaning adults present in their lives, most attempt to manage this journey trusting only the input of each other. Teenagers are helping other teenagers to grow up.

Lately I’ve learned that, like adults, one of teenagers’ core values is respect. In the adolescent world, however, securing it takes a different route than their parents and teachers take. You and I would give respect to those who are, for example, trustworthy, have solid character, are truthful, caring, and keep promises. Taking this a step further, we may even give respect before it is earned.

Not surprisingly, teenagers don’t seem to catch on to this. Rather, for them, the ones who appear the most critical, threatening by yelling, swearing, and being jerks, get respect. At first, I thought I didn’t see it quite right. Then a college student set me straight, confirming that this is how you get respect.

It’s sad, but too many of us are at our best when we’re loudly berating others with vulgarity. It’s become natural to make others’ little annoyances into major issues that need our expertise to correct. Why? Perhaps because when we have little control in our own lives, we feel the need to gain control somewhere or over someone else. If you have a sibling, spouse, or close friend, it’s likely one or more of you have developed a critical nature. We all have it.

Paul knew this and discovered it had gotten so bad in the Roman church it needed to be addressed. In Romans 14, we find the conflicting issues of food and the observance of special holidays. Judaism was full of laws about what food was right to eat and what wasn’t and which holidays needed to be observed. Many Jewish converts to Christianity were having a hard time letting go of those rules, and they became very critical of those who didn’t. It’s the classic “I’m right, you’re not, and here’s why” argument that we all know is always wildly successful (note sarcasm).

Here’s Paul’s wisdom on the situation: “Who are you to condemn?” (v. 4) Put another way, “Who are you to criticize?” Ouch.

Here are some things I’m trying to do and teach my kids to become less critical:

1.     Ask, Is the issue a moral problem or simply about my preference? Almost everything I get irritated about with family or friends is about my preferences. The solution: Get over it.

2.     If it is a moral issue, am I the person to address it? If so, I must treat the person with dignity and respect in bringing it to their attention.

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . . . Let us aim for harmony…and try to build each other up” (Romans 14:17-19).

Jack Radcliffe is a husband and father of four, coach (www.redwoodcoach.com), ministry trainer and speaker, dean of The Youth Ministry Institute of the Tennessee Conference UMC, and adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College. He has an M.Div from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a D.Min in Practical Theology, Adolescent Development and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

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K. John Bell
Grace Pointe Church
Naperville and Plainfield, Illinois

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