The Preacher and His CriticsJuly 9, 2013
If you are a faithful student of God’s Word, if you preach truth to the very best of your ability, and if you try your hardest to exemplify Christ-like qualities you will never be criticized. Now, if you believe that, you’ll probably want to just go ahead and read a different post on this blog because you have done something no other preacher has ever done, including Christ Himself.
In naiveté, I used to think everyone loved the man of God. I mean, he preaches the Bible, he shepherds the soul, he looks after the spiritual well-being of his flock, he encourages the oppressed; why wouldn’t you love someone like that? Dennis Wholey states, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly just because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian.” Not everyone values your purpose, your passion, or even your preaching. And to assume they do puts you in a position to get knocked down.
Criticism is part of the ministerial package, and to expect anything less is to work from a premise that we are better than Christ. Jesus lived under constant scrutiny during the entire course of His public ministry. His motives, His message, His manners, His methods, His mission…they were all called into question by the religious talking-heads of His day. They not only criticized Him, they actually plotted against Him. They held secret meetings about Him and enlisted others to the same view. None of this took place until He began reaching the masses with truth. Having a public ministry oftentimes means having a public misery.
“To avoid criticism,” said Elbert Hubbard, “do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” It is true, the low-key, under-the-radar mentality to ministry may satisfy the whims of the temperamental, but there is a greater judgment at stake with this approach: falling under the criticism of God. Let’s face it; criticism is weaved into the fabric of public ministry. There is no way around it.
The Hindering Aspect of Criticism
Just because you expect it doesn’t lessen its sting once it arrives. You may go to the doctor knowing you need a shot, even expecting to receive a shot; but just because you expect it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Criticism hurts, and the strongest of men, when subjected to its force can become weakened by its blow.
The disadvantage of the preacher is that criticism comes from all angles. Every aspect of your life will fall under the spiritual microscope of your people. Consider the various areas of examination:
- Leadership Abilities
- Administrative Skills
- Preaching Style and Delivery
- Visionary Direction
- Family Relationships
- Personality and Charisma
- Appearance and Physical Features
- Financial Status
- Personal Friendships and Associations
- Time Management
- Philosophies and Convictions
Preaching is personal. And when you make a strong decision and take a convictional stand, the critics will come out of the proverbial woodwork just to give you a piece of their mind.
The Healthy Aspect of Criticism
The one thing we must avoid is trying to avoid criticism altogether. Not all criticism is bad. As a matter of fact, there are some times when it is necessary. When given in the right spirit, with the right motive, under the right circumstances, criticism can be your greatest companion. The Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).
In his book Christlike, Bill Hull contends, “Some of the most encouraging people in my life have affirmed their belief in me while at the same time mentioning areas needing attention.” Thirteen years ago, during the first year of my pastorate, I worked a funeral with an older preacher. I actually officiated the service but he was asked to speak as well. After the memorial was over, he took me to the side and pointed out some of my mistakes. At the time I was offended. His critique of my service seemed menial and almost critical, but looking back I am now thankful for his remarks. What I didn’t realize is that he was actually helping me become a better minister. Through his criticism I adjusted my sophomoric approach to the funeral ministry and was better able to serve future families in the time of their loss.
Charles Spurgeon said, “What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man.” Abraham Lincoln declared, “He who has the heart to help has the right to criticize.” If you are fortunate enough to have a friend who will look beyond your sensitivity and try to help you even when it hurts, then you should, with confidence, call that man a friend indeed. As a preacher you will have to determine which critics are there to hurt you and which critics have been directed by God to help you.
The Humbling Aspect of Criticism
To think we are above improvement is a dangerous and deceptive notion. We may not like to admit it, but one of the reasons criticism hurts so badly is because it touches one of the most sensitive areas of our heart- the part composed of pride. Norman Vincent Peale accurately contends, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
To think you wrestle not with a prideful heart actually derives from a heart full of pride; and such pride needs to be discovered and destroyed. Sometimes pride is only exposed through the loud, irritating, and obnoxious voice of the critic. It is better to fall under the scrutiny of man and adjust accordingly, than to resist God’s development and fall under His wrath. The greater context of our criticism is that God is the Master Potter who is working, shaping, molding us to be the kind of preacher we need to be. “There is a kernel of truth in every criticism” said Dawson Trotman, “look for it, and when you find it, rejoice in its value.”