What to Do When You Are Unfairly Criticized as a Pastor

No question, you will be criticized as a pastor. How do you deal with it? (Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash)

Everyone who does anything will be criticized. As a rule, the critics are the do-nothings, the nay-sayers and spectators who sit in the grandstand and feed off one another's negativism.

The man in the arena is the achiever. As Theodore Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Here is how the great apostle put it:

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"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; and always carrying around in the body the death of the Lord Jesus, that also the life of Jesus might be expressed in our bodies" (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

That is your manifesto, Christian worker. Take those words to heart.

Now ...

1. If you are a church member but not one of the ministers and you hear unjust criticism of your minister, you should not allow that to go unchallenged. Speak up.

As you have opportunity and with firm kindness, tell the critic:

—The facts of the case if you know them.

—How important it is that we all pray for and support our ministers.

—Unity of the body of Christ is a huge deal to Jesus. Notice in His "high priestly prayer" of John 17 that twice, verses 21 and 23, Jesus links unity of the believers to evangelism. No divided congregation ever reached anyone for Jesus.

—That the Lord takes personally how we treat the servants He sends. That's the message of Matthew 22's opening parable and it is illustrated all through Scripture.

2. If you are the pastor being unjustly criticized, you deal with it differently.

Give it to Jesus. No one understands the way He does. He "endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself," says Hebrews 12:3.

Lighten up. Don't treat this as though it were the end of the world. It may well be the end of your honeymoon with that congregation, but all that means is you may now get down to the real work of pastoring the flock. Honeymoons are unreal and enjoyable only for a time. No one wants to live in the dreamy world of romantic illusions forever.

Remember that you are the point man for the Lord's people. When the ranchhands move the herd to the higher meadows for greener pastures, someone must ride point, setting the direction, finding the safe path. If you are the pastor, that's you. The target is on your back. That's why they pay you the big bucks. (Smile if you must.)

Keep in mind also that you were unjustly complimented (and compensated?) when the congregation did something really well. When the worship leader and the choir presented an amazing Christmas program, among the accolades passed out, some landed on your doorstep. When the children's ministry does well and the young people are flourishing, the congregation brags on you. After all, you are the leader. You are in charge of the team. You're doing well.

So, it works both ways.

A Bible Lesson

There's a great Bible lesson on handling criticism found in 2 Samuel chapters 16-19, where King David deals with Shimei. Not always the best role model for us, this time David gets it just right both coming and going. That is, as he leaves Jerusalem, fleeing the army of rebellious Absalom, Shimei throws rocks at him and curses him. David deals with him wisely.

Later, returning to the city after the rebellion has ended, David is met by a penitent Shimei and shows us again how to be merciful. The rest of the story, alas, is that David passed off to son Solomon the final disposition of the Shimei case, 1 Kings chapter 2. But the lessons are still valid.

For any Christian, we do well to expect criticism when we exercise courage and act for the Lord, to deal with it kindly and responsibly, and to go forward.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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