How do we handle criticism?
K. Allan Blume, BR Editor
April 17, 2017

How do we handle criticism?

How do we handle criticism?
K. Allan Blume, BR Editor
April 17, 2017

Sometimes it helps to state the obvious. So, here goes my opening line. Churches are filled with humans. In other words, there is no chance for perfection in any church – zero chance! There is no perfect church. We’ve said that so many times it has become a cliché.

Individually, we are fallen human beings; cursed with the sin nature of Adam. Though redeemed by God through Jesus when we repent of sin, no believer achieves sinless perfection this side of heaven.

There are no perfect pastors, no perfect teachers, no perfect musicians and no perfect church members. Together, these well-meaning human beings produce a very imperfect church body.

We wish it was not true, but our lofty goals and best intentions are well beyond the actual result of gathered believers.

Somehow, all of this basic information is overlooked by those who take pleasure in hurling verbal grenades at churches and toward those within this temporal, earthly gathering of believers.

There was a time when criticism against churches came through gossip, anonymous letters or face-to-face condemnation. Now social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are the new delivery methods.

Unrealistically, critics have a different set of expectations for God’s church. Since God is perfect and His Son, Jesus, is the perfect Savior, surely we should expect His church to be on the same standard. At least, that’s conclusion of many outsiders.

Chuck Lawless writes a popular blog that provides practical help for churches and church leaders. He draws from his experience as a former pastor and his daily interaction with ministry leaders as the dean and vice-president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions.

In a post early last year on ChuckLawless.com, he described, “What pastors don’t like about their jobs.”

The information was drawn from responses to his non-scientific survey on Facebook and Twitter. Lawless said, “The responses were quick and numerous.”

Obviously, pastors want to talk about the things that trouble them and complicate their job.

Pastors’ top 12 dislikes were listed by Lawless. The top six are:

  1. Criticism and conflict.
  2. Unrealistic expectations.
  3. Committees and administration.
  4. Little family time.
  5. Unreliable volunteers.
  6. Loneliness.

You can read the other six at ChuckLawless.com. A book could be written on each of the 12 concerns.

Pastors and their families can provide ample illustrations if a writer is willing to pursue the project.

With no pretense of making an exhaustive statement, I want to comment briefly on the subject of criticism, included in the first item on the list.

Criticism is a good tool for improvement when offered constructively, with a motive to edify.

That is not likely the kind of criticism pastors had in mind when they listed the things they dislike about their jobs. Instead of constructive criticism, they were probably thinking about destructive criticism that is designed to hurt.

Some of that is aimed at the church at large. Some is focused on hurting individuals in the church, including the pastor and his family.

The two biggest criticisms of churches seem to be, first, “your standards are too high,” and second, “your standards are too low.”

First, a church is accused of high standards for baptism, membership, marriage, alcohol and basic moral standards. For example, your church may be criticized when, “they won’t accept my baptism as an infant,” or “they rejected my baptism as a Jehovah’s Witness.”

What about this one, “I’m not going through a membership class to join that church. I know more than they do about being a good church member.”

I’m sure most Biblical Recorder readers can fill in the blanks with many more illustrations.

Your critics think the standards for the church are too high. By the way, this is the “perfect” church they are criticizing, right? Think about that.

Second, a church is criticized because their standards are too low. Have you heard something like this? “They let that man join the church even though he has a prison record.” Or, “That woman used to be a drug dealer, now she’s a church member.”

By the way, this is the “imperfect” church they are criticizing, right? Think about that.

Even the most petty complaints tend to fall into these two categories.

Random criticisms don’t usually make sense.

Like a drive-by shooting, drive-by criticism can be very cruel and completely senseless.

Church leaders, you read the cheap shots on Facebook, or you heard a second-hand comment from a church member and wonder if you should respond. When you hear someone making very judgmental comments about the church being very judgmental, you wonder if it should be ignored or confronted.

It’s painful to hear criticisms, and it is difficult to discern when a response is appropriate.

If you’re President Donald Trump, maybe you can fire a tweet into cyberspace. But, if you’re a pastor, such a response could spark the end of your leadership in ministry.

In most cases, a response is not necessary. In all cases, time and wise counsel from mature believers will be priceless as you weigh the value of an appropriate response.

Remember this, criticism is easy. It requires no moral character to unjustly blast the pastor, the church or one of its members.

Random criticism is an expression of man’s fallen nature. It’s evil.

Put everything in perspective. Recognize that most church members are men and women of character.

They love the church and the leaders. They pray for each other. They want their pastor to be a successful, effective pastor. They want their church fellowship to reach the community with the gospel.

As a pastor, I’ve been frustrated by critics and self-centered church members over the years. But, I am eternally grateful for serving alongside some really great brothers and sisters who have encouraged and strengthened me.

I give God glory for those who blessed my family and allowed them to serve God according to His design. The priceless relationships we had (and still have) with these church members far outweigh the sting of the critics.

Stay the course. Don’t get sidetracked by critics.

Remember Paul’s plea in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”