If you’re a pastor, you most certainly have detractors, people who for one reason or another don’t like you. Maybe it’s a person who criticizes you to your face or writes you a nasty-gram—a sour text, email, or, worse, Facebook post. You’ve probably gotten one of these notes…
“I don’t get much out of your preaching.”
“I don’t think you care about me.”
“You abused your authority.”
“That was a bad decision.”
How should you, as a pastor, think about receiving criticism? Consider six things.
1. Pastors make mistakes.
You are sinner. You don’t always get things right. And hopefully, you’re humble enough to admit your mistakes. If you did make a mistake, don’t be prideful. Admit your mistake, ask for forgiveness, and move on.
2. Sometimes pastors will be falsely accused.
Suppose it isn’t a mistake you made, but an untrue accusation. Maybe someone doesn’t like you, so his or her plan is to stir up trouble. Sometimes someone makes assumptions about you, and, as you know, assumptions often lead to confusion. Sometimes a person is hurt by something you said or did, so they attack you. Regardless of how messy this gets, the Bible gives a lot of wisdom on how to sort this out (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-20; 1 Timothy 5:19). If possible, pray and deal with this according to Scripture, and if you’re lost, ask other leaders or trusted friends for wisdom.
3. Sometimes, pastor, your best intentions don’t matter.
As a pastor you will make decisions that, inevitably, will be disliked by someone. Or maybe you did something, and you had no idea that it would hurt or offend a church member. Here’s the kicker—Lord willing, you did this with the best of intentions. You never meant it to harm or offend anyone. And yet, it did. So what’s next? Do what you can to figure out if you hurt or offended someone unnecessarily (maybe your timing was poor, or your tone was not good); or if you are dealing with prickly or sensitive person. Then seek reconciliation.
4. Practically, do what you can to avoid the extremes of authoritarianism (where no critique is heard, much less cared about or sought after by leadership) and anti-authoritarianism (where everything gets critiqued, nothing is celebrated, and honesty is lost).
How do you cultivate an environment on staff and in your church where honesty, hard conversations, and godly criticism can be offered in a Christ-honoring way? A few suggestions….
- You should model giving and receiving godly criticism with your staff by providing a forum for Sunday teachers to give and receive godly criticism (1 Peter 5:5). Our church staff meets weekly with the senior pastor to review the Sunday services, including Sunday School, and we talk about what went well and what went poorly. Our goal is not to tear a guy down, but to give both encouragement and constructive feedback so as to help him grow in Christ.
- In this public forum, I’ve seen our pastors model humility in taking criticism from the staff, including interns! As one of our preaching pastors said, “How is our staff going to learn to give and receive godly criticism if I don’t model it myself? Even if what a guy says is dumb, I want to model humility of listening and receiving the critique.”
- Encourage the church staff to receive feedback from church members about their particular area of ministry (children, youth, Sunday school, etc.).
- Pastor, through your teaching and prayers instruct your church on living a life where they are invested in each others’ lives, which includes a willingness to speak into each others’ lives, ask hard questions, and offer godly correction. You want to teach your church not to be harsh (Ephesians 4:29) or judgmental (Matthew 7:1-5), but to be tender and gracious, especially with those who are doing poorly spiritually (Proverbs 15:1; 25:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
- Pray for wisdom and self-control to not be defensive in your personal conversations with church members. It’s a good opportunity for you to model taking godly criticism (Proverbs 18:17).
- You should read good material (and encourage your church members also to read) what it means to disagree with one another, criticize each other, and still show charity. A good, short, and very helpful article is Alfred Poirier’s The Cross and Criticism.
- Teach your church members a biblically sound way to dialogue with church leadership, including criticizing a leader (1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 13:17). Pastor: how are they to know unless you specifically instruct them? If you don’t say anything, don’t be surprised when some of your members resemble the harsh, demeaning, sarcastic, or contemptuous ways of the world in their criticism.
Keep in mind…
5. Every pastor needs God’s grace.
That same gospel of grace that you proclaim to others, you also need. The same God who rescues sinners, rescues you (Ezekiel 34:11-12; James 4:5). Pastor, you are a sinner, just like your church members (Romans 3:23). But remember, more importantly, you are a forgiven sinner, just like your church members (1 John 1:12).
6. Pastor, ground your identity in Christ, not the opinion of your church members.
It’s way too easy to be swayed by the opinion of your church members. The Bible describes this as the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). Your identity as a pastor should never be rooted in what others think about you. Instead, your identity must always come first and foremost from your union with Christ. He is your Savior. He is sovereign over every territory in your life, including your pastorate.