One of the joys of serving in this position is I get to talk with pastors. I talk with pastors every day about a wide range of subjects from pastoral ministry/leadership to theology to denominational issues to the culture at large.
Though it is always a joy to visit with pastors, one subject that often comes up is not so joyous—how to deal with criticism. All pastors face criticism. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Criticism can discourage or demoralize a pastor and, unfortunately, even cause him to quit.
Some of the common criticisms I hear levied at pastors are: “You don’t preach as good as the last pastor…or as good as the guy I listen to online… or as good as the other pastor in town.” “You don’t care about certain people in the church.” “You can’t change that—we’ve always done it that way.” “Your preaching is good, but you make dumb decisions.” “You don’t make enough visits or calls to church members.”
It really stings when they come after the pastor’s family—“Your wife should be at more church events…She should talk to more people…Your kids run around the church too much.”
Sometimes criticism comes from people going through something painful in their own lives. As is often said, hurt people hurt people. Sometimes the criticism is well-founded, and it is something a pastor needs to hear and heed. Hopefully that criticism is given constructively; however, many times the criticism a pastor receives comes from selfishness, fear, ignorance or just plain meanness from the critic.
When a pastor is criticized, how he responds is important. When criticized, pastors should be humble and rather than lashing out at the critic, take the criticism to the Lord and other trusted individuals. They should ask key questions such as, “Is there any truth to this criticism?” “What is the source and motive behind this criticism?” “Should I respond to this criticism or just let it go?” “How will my response impact the church and my ministry and/or well-being?”
Pastor, amid criticism, focus on Jesus Who called you and equips you to pastor the particular church in which you serve. Get deeper into the Word and stay in your prayer closet longer. The enemy wants criticism to ruin you and your ministry, but your Savior can use it to sharpen and deepen your faith and abilities as a pastor. Remember that you most likely have a multitude more of encouragers in your church than critics and many more praying for you than criticizing you.
If you are a church member, be cautious about criticizing your pastor. No pastor is perfect, and sometimes valid concerns need to be discussed with him. Always do this in a genuinely loving spirit, being quick to be part of the solution to a problem if that is the issue.
We all do well to remember the words of admonition Paul gave to the Galatian church, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15). Similarly, James wrote, “Do not grumble against one another brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9).
I have added to my daily prayer list that pastors will handle the criticism they will inevitably receive in a graceful and healthy way that enables them to still thrive in ministry. I pray that pastor and parishioner alike can work through problems and disagreements in ways that do not damage or diminish the ministry of a church, but rather deepen its commitment to and sharpen its focus on the things God has called the church to be and do.