I am not referring to the issue of bringing accusations against a pastor. That is dealt with in 1 Timothy 5:17-20. It is not something to be done by one individual; it is to be “before two or three witnesses.” But that is not the subject of this report.
Be a Team Member
For a preacher to receive counsel and godly reproof and “criticism” properly and effectively, he must think of himself as a team member. If he has a Diotrophes mindset, he will not receive “criticism” even from one of the Lord’s apostles (3 John 9-11). And because of the fallen flesh, it is easy to get a Dioptrophes mindset. Both young preachers and old preachers are subject to this error.
A New Testament pastor is a shepherd, not a lord (1 Pe. 5:1-4). He doesn’t own the flock. The flock is God’s heritage, not man’s. The Good Shepherd purchased the flock with His own blood and has instructed each pastor as He instructed Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:16-17). Each pastor will give account to the Good Shepherd.
A New Testament pastor is a leader in the body but he is not the whole body. Ephesians 4 speaks of the ministry of the body. Pastors and preachers and teachers have an essential role in the edifying of the body but theirs is far from the only role (Ep. 4:11-16). Every member of the body is to supply something. The role of pastors and teachers is to build up the members so they can be mature and supply their parts. The members are to come together, not only to be exhorted by the leaders, but also to exhort one another (Hebrews 10:25).
A man who does not want help and counsel and even correction from the church family is not functioning as a New Testament pastor but rather as a lord, and it is impossible that such a church will be what God wants it to be.
A biblical pastor wants to build up the church family so that they are testing everything by God’s Word, and when the people have a testing mindset, he should consider himself successful.
“If the members of a church are obeying scripture by testing all things against the word of God, then it is because they are growing and maturing, becoming able to teach, to discern good and evil, AND they believe their Pastor is willing to receive godly counsel. If that is so, then it is likely because of the success of the Pastor's ministry--that Pastor is producing in the members through his ministry exactly what the Bible says he should be producing--a ‘testing mindset’ among the members. A Pastor who never has anyone Biblically challenge anything he has said, is NOT maturing the body. He is either incompetent, lazy or he is a Hyles, and not to be trusted” (Kelly Whiting).
The preacher must remind himself that suggestions, counsel, even correction, are not rebellion to authority. When the people approach the pastors in such ways, they are not rebelling against God, because God has commanded that they “prove all things” (1 Th. 5:21). No pastor has the authority to demand “unquestioning loyalty.” No preacher’s decisions are infallible. There are no divinely-inspired prophets today. The preacher’s sole authority is the Bible rightly interpreted and applied, and a wise preacher will be open to possible correction.
No one really enjoys criticism, but godly criticism is necessary in this life. (I want to emphasize that I am talking about godly criticism from a right spirit, not false accusations and critical-spirited attacks from a desire to harm a preacher and his ministry.)
The flesh despises “criticism.” The flesh thinks it is always right and becomes puffed up if anyone challenges its wisdom. But James says that godly wisdom is “easy to be intreated” (3:17). When people approached Christ and asked Him things, He didn’t lash out at them or become angry and resentful.
No preacher does everything right or makes every decision wisely. It matters not what I have experienced or how much I have studied, I haven’t learned everything, not by far. Every honest preacher will admit that he makes mistakes, probably quite a few. I don’t think I’ve ever preached a message when I didn’t afterward say to myself, “Why did I say that? It was wrong. I wish I could do that over.”
It has been said, “He who corrects me gives me a gold coin.”
Proverbs teaches that the wise man will receive reproof. One’s attitude toward reproof is evidence of his spiritual condition.
“He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth” (Pr. 10:17).
“Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish” (Pr. 12:1).
“Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured” (Pr. 13:18).
“A fool despiseth his father's instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent” (Pr. 15:5).
“Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die” (Pr. 15:10).
“The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise” (Pr. 15:31).
“He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Pr. 15:32).
“A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool” (Pr. 17:10).
“As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear” (Pr. 25:12).
Remember that it is difficult to challenge a leader; few will do it. Be thankful for those Nathanael’s who speak their mind (Joh. 1:45-47).
Charles Spurgeon said, “A sensible friend who will unsparingly criticize you from week to week will be a far greater blessing to you than a thousand undiscriminating admirers if you have sense enough to bear his treatment, and grace enough to be thankful for it.” He went on to talk about an “unknown censor of great ability” who sent him a weekly list of mispronounced words and other slips of speech. Spurgeon never knew the identity of his anonymous corrector, but he grew to appreciate him.
It is the nature of the flesh to grow cold toward those who try to correct us and who do not agree with us, but that is not Christ-like. God has taught us to love even our enemies, not to speak of our own brethren in Christ, yea, our own church members, who do not agree with us on every point.
“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:16-20).
Listen to Criticism
In receiving criticism be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (Jas. 1:19).
Hear your critic out and think on it before giving an answer.
Don’t be quick to justify yourself.
Don’t be eager to discount the criticism if you find that some of it is wrong; there might still be a lesson for you. One preacher suggested, “Take your critics seriously. Almost every criticism contains a germ of truth. Your job is to find it.”
Also don’t be hasty to make a decision. Don’t be hasty to discount the suggestion or criticism, but also don’t be hasty to admit error and apologize. You should admit error and apologize when you have erred, but don’t be hasty because it is easy to make a mistake in the heat of the moment. First, make sure you have actually erred and exactly how and to what extent and then decide how you need to deal with the matter. Haste can compound a problem.
Weigh the Criticism by God’s Word
Both the preacher and his “critic” must remember that the sole authority for faith and practice is the Bible.
The preacher must be careful that he does not weigh the criticism by his own experience and tradition. In my 44 years of experience as a preacher, it is my observation that the average Independent Baptist pastor is as tradition bound as an orthodox rabbi. He doesn’t judge by God’s Word as much as he judges by his schooling and the thinking of his preacher friends and by what he has seen in other churches and by the example of some prominent leader.
This means that the preacher must be a serious student of the Scriptures and a man who has a Berean mindset (Acts 17:11).
At the same time, the preacher is not to be judged by another person’s thinking, experience, conscience, or tradition. This is the theme of Romans 14. We are not to judge one another on the basis of the Bible’s silence. The example Paul gives is the matter of diet (Ro. 14:2-3). There is no authoritative Christian diet. The New Testament says “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Ti. 4:4-5). Therefore, there is liberty in the matter of diet. That is true of every issue that is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The Bible’s silence is a matter of liberty, not law. For example, the New Testament says nothing about the use of musical instruments in the churches. Some see this as a matter of law, but in reality it is a matter of liberty. Each church has the liberty to use or not use instruments as it sees fit before the Lord (assuming they are used in a sacred rather than a worldly manner).
Be a Leader
In the end, it is the pastor who must make the final decisions.
He must be a leader. He must be wise enough to desire and seek counsel and even to embrace “criticism,” but he must be strong enough to be a leader. He must be ready to stand alone if necessary, even if his own wife and best friends don’t agree with him.
He must know the Lord and His Word well enough to make good decisions and then he must stand by them in the strength and courage of Christ.
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