I have often been asked what it was like to pastor at Covenant Life Church for 27 years. Here is my immediate response: It was an unspeakable privilege and joy to serve this remarkable church. I’m not sure a single day passed that I did not receive encouragement from a kind member of the church.
And my experience is not unique. To pastor in Sovereign Grace Ministries is to be on the receiving end of encouragement every week and often every day. We have the privilege of serving grateful folks who love us and excel in communicating gratefulness. We simply do not deserve their support and encouragement. They make pastoral ministry a pure joy.
Well, most of them do.
In every church there will be those who are not particularly grateful, who normally communicate with you only in the form of criticism. And to some degree this is the norm for every pastor.
If you are a pastor you will be criticized. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually you will feel the sharp sting of critique.
Those within your church may criticize you, those who leave the church may criticize you, and even complete strangers may criticize you. The criticism will come from enemies and from friends. Some of the criticism will be true, some of it will be false, and some may be outright malicious. But it’s coming—if it hasn’t already arrived.
And there are many reasons why we can expect criticism:
- A pastor can expect criticism because of his own sin, which will inevitably be present in his heart and service, no matter how mature or well meaning he is (James 3:2).
- A pastor can expect criticism because there are limitations to his gifting, meaning there will always be weaknesses in his leadership.
- A pastor can expect criticism because we often preach below-average sermons. (After one sermon, a guy asked me, “So where do you work during the week?” My sermon apparently gave him the impression that preaching wasn’t my vocation.)
- A pastor can expect criticism because people can be proud and ungrateful.
- A pastor can expect criticism because, well, it is a sinful and fallen world.
But we as pastors often forget one more important reason:
A pastor can expect criticism because it is part of God’s sanctification process—a tool that he uses to reveal idols and accelerate the pastor’s growth in humility.
God enlists many to serve us to this end.
Puritan Richard Baxter got this. In his book to pastors, The Reformed Pastor, he wrote,
Because there are many eyes upon you, therefore there will be many observers of your falls. If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you. And you should thankfully consider how great a mercy this is, that you have so many eyes to watch over you, and so many ready to tell you of your faults, and so have greater helps than others, at least for the restraining of your sin. Though they may do it with a malicious mind, yet you have the advantage by it.*
According to Baxter, the critique of many is actually a great advantage to pastors. This is a great mercy—at least I keep telling myself it is. And I have to keep reminding myself because criticism isn’t my personal preference.
I would prefer to mature through less painful means. I would prefer to mature through a flood of sanctified encouragement—that’s what I’m talking about!
But the reality is that I have grown far, far, far, far, far more from criticism and correction than from all the wonderful encouragement I have received over the years.
So God uses correction to mature pastors. That seems to be the norm. And this is God’s great mercy to help me see my own pride and sin. (If you’ve discovered a way to avoid criticism and still grow, please give me a call!)
If you are a pastor, you will be criticized and corrected. It’s coming. We must be prepared for it, and we must see it as God’s means for our sanctification. How we respond to criticism (both from friends and from less-than-friends) is absolutely critical. I regret the many times I haven’t responded humbly to correction. I desire to grow in perceiving correction as a great mercy from God.