Monday morning I dreaded that call! George was one of my long-term predecessor’s
biggest fans. And, as much as he was certain no one would ever fill my forerunner’s
shoes, George tried hard to turn me into a latter-day clone of him. As sure
as Monday followed Sunday, George called with an unsolicited and unfavorable
review of the previous day’s sermon. His criticisms seemed always to have at
least twice as many negative as positive points, they were often harsh, and,
after a while it seemed, intentionally cruel. Eventually, George’s calls became
insulting and slanderous. Finally, one day I firmly, but gently, asked him not
to call me any more with his Monday morning review. Soon afterward, George left
the church but not without slandering me in the community.
you’re a preacher and you don’t have critics, one of two conclusions can be
drawn: Either you’re already dead and buried, or you’re so hopelessly ineffective
as to be no threat to the devil! Criticism is part and parcel of every preacher’s
call. It’s as much a part of what we do as reading Scripture.
said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely
say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because
great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets
who were before you” (Matthew 5:11,12). Notice that Jesus does not
say, “Blessed are you IF . . . ” It is “when”
we are criticized, slandered, and maligned that we are blessed. Criticism and
slanderous insults are part of what we are to expect as preachers.
remarked Bishop Stephen Neill, “is the manure in which the Lord’s servant
grows best!” It took me a long time to realize that George was, in fact,
a plus to my ministry. His criticisms helped make me a better preacher and pastor.
His slander and insults kept me flying straight if for no other reason than
to prove George wrong to those who might hear him. As hard as it was for me
to see at the time, George, whether he intended to or not, was blessing me.
But that didn’t stop his criticism from stinging at the time!
can we who preach learn to handle criticism and our critics? In the years since
George, I’ve had many critics. Some have been justified and others have not.
Some convinced me that they had already made up their minds I was wrong about
something and they didn’t want to be confused by the truth. I’ve come to the
conclusion that God doesn’t want me to spend too much time trying to respond
to them all. Frankly, I’ve also realized that critics can be the devil’s instruments
in distracting us from the work we’re called to do.
learned some other things. One is to get used to the heat of criticism. It is
better to be criticized than unnoticed. Criticism comes with our call. If you’re
looking for a criticism-free life, you’re in the wrong place in ministry. Criticism
can be a good barometer that we’re being effective. “For in the same
way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
also tried to at least give some consideration to what critics say. Sometimes
I’ve asked a trusted counselor if the criticism has any merit. If it does, it’s
not criticism, even if said with malice; it’s instruction. It can add value
to who we are, what we do, or how we do it. “Listen to advice and accept
instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20). If
it’s not true, we should forget it and get back about the business of serving
the Lord. Praise is a wonderful ego booster but it is in criticism that we grow.
That is why I call criticism and slander “blessed manure!”
how Jesus dealt with opposition and criticism. Often He refused to answer, particularly
when His detractors didn’t really want to hear the truth. Only when they seemed
teachable – and simply had their facts wrong – did He respond. Ask
God to give you discernment here about which critics to answer and when to hold
you do, don’t respond in kind. You can’t throw dirt without getting your hands
dirty. Don’t become defensive. It’s natural to want to vindicate yourself, but
no matter how off-base the critic may be, cut him, or her, some slack. We never
know what is going on in their life away from our relationship.
gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs
15:1). Ask God to help you to know when to be silent and when to, gently but
firmly, set the record straight.
above all else, remember that you’re in good company. Every great servant of
God in history has had to deal with criticism and slander. Unless it has merit,
wear it as a medal of honor!
Leslie Holmes, pastor of Pittsburgh’s First Presbyterian Church, is a contributing
editor to Preaching. He is the author of a number of books. The latest,
The Creed: Life Principles for Today (Ambassador-Emerald Int’l), examines
the Apostles’ Creed in the light of post-modernism. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.