FIRST-PERSON: When people criticize church leadership ...
In it he decries the "level and frequency" of criticism of pastors, something that he says "has increased significantly in the past several years." Maybe the level and intensity of criticism of pastors is up but no data is given.
Perhaps he has in mind some cases of calvinist pastors who have endured severe criticism after making changes consistent with their calvinistic views. Perhaps he has in mind the several cases of prominent SBC megachurch pastors who have to deal with anti-pastor blogs and websites. Steve Gaines at Bellevue, Mac Brunson at FBCJax, and Jerry Sutton formerly of Two Rivers all had or have members who operate or did operate such forums for criticism.
Or perhaps he has anecdotal evidence that the ordinary single staff pastor has a harder time with harsher critics these days.
It seems to me that the main difference with critics today, whether or not they are more frequent and harsh, is that they do have the option of a broader, more convenient, and more effective arena for criticism - blogs and websites and the like. A pastor in 2011 might wake up to a blog, even an anonymous blog that takes him to task. Welcome to the 21st century, pastor.
Ranier has some conclusions about the critics:
First, the standards of church membership have been low in many churches for many years. As a consequence our churches have more and more unregenerate members. Frankly, I would be not be surprised if some of the most vitriolic criticisms come from those who are not Christians.
First? I admit that it appeals to pastors if it is suggested that their critics may be pagans. But, is it proper to begin an address of criticism of pastors by raising the possibility that some critics are unbelievers? Sure, they may be, but it is a judgment that no pastor has the capability of making. It seems too self-serving to this pastor to "first" consider that some of my critics may just be lost. I don't think unregenerate members are the source of most criticism of pastors.
Second, church members have been unwilling to take a stand when they see and hear unwarranted criticism toward the pastor and other leaders.
I agree wholeheartedly. There are times when the pastor should be insulated, protected, defended, and bolstered by church members against critics. But, ah, the word “unwarranted” makes all the difference here. All of the cases mentioned above and, in cases I am familiar with, there is some degree of validity in criticism of the pastor. There are certainly some cases where such is unwarranted, as well.
Ranier continues by concluding,
It is truly a sin to remain silent when it is our God-given responsibility to confront those who ultimately would hinder the spread of the Gospel with the poison of their words.
Rather than classify criticism as “poison” and a "hindrance to the spread of the Gospel," what would be helpful would be an article on how a pastor and church should handle legitimate criticism. I would reluctantly admit that most of the criticism I have received over the decades has some degree of justification. I have benefited from some, have been hurt by some, and have found some worthy of being ingored. So, how should my church and I best handle critics?
A healthy church, a healthy pastor, and a pastor and church who have a healthy relationship will be one where criticism can be offered and handled properly by the both of them. A healthy church has channels for criticism. When members who criticize their pastor are treated dismissively, when they are called names, when the pastor flogs them from the pulpit rather than listen to them, when they (and sometimes their families) are crushed by heavyhanded tactics of the pastor or church leadership, something is wrong that our denominational leadership needs to recognize. Some pastors and churches need help in this area.
From where I stand and from what I see and read, it is completely understandable that critics, aware that they will never receive a hearing from their leadership, will sometimes take their criticism to alternative channels like blogs and discussion boards. They do this not because they are unregenerate, vicious, or cheapshot critics, but because they have been taught that they will not get a hearing from their pastor or church and that they will be treated badly if they do speak up.
I’m all for respecting one’s pastor. He should be given the benefit of the doubt in questionable decisions and actions. He should be allowed to exercise his leadership and gifts. And I recognize that there are church members with such a level of dissatisfaction that they will be much happier in another church and should be encouraged to pursue that course. But a pastor and church leadership have a responsibility to their membership to provide channels for critics, to listen, to respond properly.
It is as easy to beat up on the critics as it is for critics to beat up on the pastor. Let’s acknowledge that and provide helpful advice to both.