Book Review: Pastors and Their Critics, by Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson
Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson. Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry. P&R Publishing, 2020. 177 pages.
“He who stands in the front will soon be kicked in the rear,” so the old Dutch saying goes. This is certainly true for pastors. As authors Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson remind us in this new book, Pastors and Their Critics:
The majority of of men being trained for gospel ministry are not being taught how to handle and respond [to criticism]. A lack of training can quickly lead to disillusionment . . . and in far too many cases, even resignation.
While there are certainly real and legitimate reasons for pastors to step out of ministry, inadequate preparation for handling criticism ought not to be one of them. That is why this book should be a welcome resource for any aspiring and practicing pastor. Being forewarned in this area is essential in stemming the rising tide of disillusionment and resignation in the wake of unforeseen criticism.
CRITICISM IN THE BIBLE
Pastors and their Critics divides into four parts. Part One lays the biblical foundations for coping with criticism. Here, Beeke and Thompson survey the theme of leadership criticism in the Old and New Testaments: “Unjust criticism is woven like a black thread through covenant history” (19). This tour alone is worth the price of the book as it reminds us that criticism has always accompanied godly leadership in Scripture and it helps us not treat criticism as though “something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12).
Beginning in the garden, Beeke and Thompson show that God himself was the first target of misplaced criticism. Satan, after distorting the motives and character of God, deceives Eve into believing that God could not be trusted as a generous and kind “giver,” but rather questioned as a stingy and restrictive “taker.” This slanderous accusation was leveled at the one “who has nothing in him worthy of criticism.” We as pastors have earned some of our criticism: “When we are criticized, there is usually at least a sliver of truth in what is being said. . . . But not so with God” (21).
From there, Beeke and Thompson walk us through criticism in the lives of Old Testament saints like Moses and Aaron, David, and Nehemiah. Chapter 2 surveys criticism in the life of our Savior and how he responded to it, “leaving us an example that we might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
A MATTER OF THE HEART
Beeke and Thompson state that “learning to cope with criticism and to give criticism in the Christian ministry is largely a matter of the heart. There are painful lessons we must learn here, and they are seldom learned quickly or easily” (15). With this in mind, the authors provide in part two of the book numerous practical principles for both coping with criticism and in part three they consider how to give and receive constructive criticism in the church.
This point is particularly important since we as pastors need to remember that handling criticism is not first a matter of skill, but a matter of the heart. Meeting criticism with realism, level-headedness, sobriety of judgement, and humility are all matters of grace, not gift. Therefore, we do well to remember that in giving and receiving criticism, God is at work to teach us and shape us. Far from being something we should avoid, criticism should be viewed as a stewardship for our spiritual growth and one of many repeated lessons we will need in the school of grace.
A NEEDED RESOURCE
This book is one that pastors should read and revisit frequently. It should be read personally and discussed as elder teams. It should be incorporated into internships, seminary classes, and leadership training materials. It should be shared widely in local pastors fellowships.
Pastors and Their Critics is the right kind of pastoral theology: biblically-rooted, oriented to the heart, and immediately applicable to ministry. I have no criticism for this book.