Monday, February 7, 2011

Criticize your pastor? You might be lost.

This according to Thom Ranier in a Baptist Press article,
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.


Doug Hibbard said...

I've long been taught that "First" is: consider whether or not it's valid. "Second" is: recognize that it might be exaggerated because of other hurts but that there may be a valid criticism at the core.

Then, if it's invalid, contemplate the source. But always consider the statement first, because whatever the source it could be right.

One thing I have seen more of, though anecdotally, that I think needs dealt with is the criticism of pastors solely over the democratic votes of the church. This is what I see in small church life where I live. An individual makes a motion in business meeting, the church approves it, and then the minority that was either absent or against it then criticizes the pastor.

Even though it often was not done at his bidding or even with any fore-knowledge on his part. If you want to critique your pastor, do so. But if your beef is with the guy that made the motion to sell the old junky stuff that hasn't been used in 10 years, take it up with him, not the preacher!

And one last thought for the anonymous critics: I was taught 2 separate things. In seminary: ignore anonymous critics. By Dad: figure out why I'm being so unapproachable that they're being anonymous and fix that. I'm thinking Dad's right.


William said...

Thanks for the comment, Doug. First funeral I ever did was near you in West Helena on a cold, windy, February day. I can visualize the short service even now, three decades later.

Dr Who said...

There is one blog and situation you forgot to list Mr Thornton and one you really need to add to you list, Mike Everson and Prays Mill Baptist Church.

The blog, signed and acknowledged by the owner too, was the pioneer for exposing issue concerning deceptive pastors on the internet.

It was the only blog writer that I know who posted his name to everything he posted.

And I know him very well and I know him to be as solid a christian as there is and I know he is not as described by pastors who can not take the heat from others.

As a matter of fact many bloggers that I know are strong Christians and are actually fighting this non sense because they are strong biblical taught Christians!

Anonymous said...

I guess it is also possible that some of the non-criticizing members are lost too. I'm sure that is a larger pool to draw from.

Members who are critical of their pastors will always be with us. Pastors who at times use a bully pulpit will also be with us.

The internet and public forums have changed the rules of criticism. We can now take a matter among a church organization and make it a matter for the whole world to observe.

What I do find somewhat sad is the constant barrage against a pastor who is paid to much. I think, among our baptist churches, the greater number of out of line salaries are from churches who pay their pastor too little. I am not among that group any longer so this is not a personal gripe.

Just a quick glance through the SBC job search list will show you this is a reality.

I wonder what would happen if some pastors got together and stated a blog about the evil churches (listed them by name) who pay too little. Griping about the churches greed (or whatever perception they come up with)...

I'll keep a watch out for this and begin selling rope for the hangings (all proceeds to go to Lottie Moon of course).

Why can't pastors and church members just learn to talk to each other. They don't need to agree on everything but this lobbing stones from a distance is making us all look stupid.

Jon L. Estes

Jonathan S. Jenkins said...

I had the same reaction as most who have already commented and the author. I know that no one really like criticism, whether it be constructive or otherwise, but when did so many become too haughty or selfrighteous to believe that just because God has called and gifted us to a certain ministry position in the church that we are perfect and therefore not subject to criticism?

It is not something that we will always enjoy but we were never promised that life by Christ or any of those who lead before us in ministry. I think the world as a whole have become prone to being crybabies and sadly it has infected our churches and ultimately our pulpits.

Lord have mercy on us all as we strive to do your work to the best of the ability you have given us.

Doug Hibbard said...

Ah, West Helena. They merged that city with Helena, but couldn't agree on a name, so it's now Helena-West Helena. There's now a First Baptist Helena, a First Baptist West Helena, and they're in the same "city."

Good stuff.

Dr. Who--is there a link for a summary of that whole situation? I hear it referenced, but wasn't reading blogs when it happened, so I have no clear understanding of what went down.

Anonymous said...

I chose anonymous to post because I'm one of those folks that has been beat up from the pulpit for adhering to the Baptist Distinctives.

When I first was saved and became a member of an SBC church, I was taught about a "rope of sand" that bound autonomous soul competent Christians together in a local church, local churches together in an association, associations together in state conventions, and all of us together in the national convention.

It seems to me today that rope of sand has become a noose: question nothing or we'll hang you.

Anonymous said...

If you google the pastor and church above you will find plenty of links.

Most pastor and churches, vast majority, deal with criticism and conflict without the kind of stuff you will find in that particular case.


dave hamlin said...

I am a son of a Pastor, and am a minister myself. NO ONE should be above criticism including the pastor.
My father was always open to such at every church he pastored. He always urged his people to search the scriptures for theirselves and be sure of what was being taught. He was a man, and therefore fallible like all men.
He never touched church funds unless specifically authorized to do so by either the finance committee(s) or the church at large--and always made sure that he presented receipts for everything he purchased for the church.
He was very careful that everything the church did was in keeping with its bylaws and with the scriptures.
My father was by no means perfect...he made mistakes like any one will. Yet, when he discovered his mistakes, he was willing to own up to them and make the necessary corrections.
When a conflict arose, he and the leadership always tried to deal with it in a Biblical and loving way. There were even times when he resigned his position in order to prevent harm to the church. He took to heart Paul's admonition of Romans 12, especially vs. 14-21. He often said that one may win a battle, but lose the war. It rarely does a church good, to have its pastor at war with member groups or individuals. Most often such conflicts will do more damage than they resolve.
Like Paul, Dad was willing to warn of sin, but He NEVER used to pulpit to attack or belittle anyone. Dad was not weak for his people always knew where he stood - especially in relation to sin. He was not a saint, but Dad was a man of God and he tried to live a holy, godly private as well as public. I strive to do the same in the evangalistic ministry that I have been called to.
I hesitate to criticize any pastor untill I am sure of the facts, and then I do not willingly discuss it unless there are very strong grounds for me to do so. I will also refuse to do so with anyone I know to be a gossip. God has given us a means to discipline churches, pastors, and members...and I strive to follow them. Yet, if there is no other way to correct a sin, then we are obligated to bring it out in the open to the church at large. But it must be done in love, without anger or with a view to vengence. I urge everyone to consider Romans 12 before doing something that may stir up uneeded strife in the church.

Malaya said...

It seems best that you would weigh your pastor's actions by scripture (be a Berean) and then if you find sin then you would go to him rather than "criticize" him. It would be the same in the other direction. Often our critique is not based on what God tells us from his word but on personal preference. And it seems that when we go to our brother that our emotions and desires have overtaken us so that our heart is no longer about glorifying God but justifying our position. We forget that we are ambassadors of reconciliation. Even to the point that we will try and gather others with us that approve our stance (which may include a blog). I know this happens frequently to me in my own home that my desires are outweighing my desire to love God and that person and then certainly it carries into the church.

David Hamlin said...

To Malaya:
You are right about "criticizing" a pastor ( or anyone else for that matter)in the church or out. It was not my intention to imply that it was right to be critical of someone to others. Please accept my appologies.
If we find someone to be in sin, we are to go to that one in love and gently try to reprove him/her. I would not, however go alone. I would take others with me (whom I could trust to be discrete) so as to be sure nothing could be misconstrued, and the facts made sure.
Taking someone's misconduct to the church at large was to be the last resort. At this point the church would be involved in discipline that person, to the extent of withdrawing fellowship until he/she repents. This is what Jesus commanded in Matthew 18:15-17. Paul instructs the church at Corinth similarly (1Cor. 5:1-5). Yet when that one repents, he/she is to be recieved back into the church with love, forgiveness, and comfort. (2Cor. 2:6-8). If we, as Christians really practiced this, I believe we would see a transformation in our churches. They would become the holy, shining examples of Christ they were intended to be.
We as individuals, and as a church body, must stand against sin. However, there is a proper way to do so according to the Holy Scriptures. It saddens me when I see people hurt because of those who love to gossip. Remember that Jesus warned about taking care of the log in our own eyes before trying to remove the speck in another's.(Matt. 7:1-5) We are to known by our love, not our backbiting or gossip.

David Hamlin said...

I generally do not have a problem with boggers, or blogging. But should we not consider what non-Christians will think of us? I am NOT saying that we must be fearful of others' opinions of ourselves. But what testimony is the world receiving from what we do? Jeus said that we would be known as His diciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35). I've seen some very hateful things said on other blogs by some who claim to be Christians. They were not reasoned opinions, but words literally expressing hate and anger because of where one lives, or what church they attend, or even who they have as a pastor. How does such hate-filled speech glorify God? How can those who need salvation find it from such places? I have NOT seen it from this blog, thankfully.
I wanted to bring up this thought, not to stifle opinion or reason, but in the hope that we will be careful about how we say what we think. The world is watching, and we may find that we have affected someone's eternity by what we have done.