Criticism: A Pastor’s All-too-Common Companion

John MacArthur

Criticism and suffering are realities in ministry. In fact, they’re essential for those working in one of life’s most stressful jobs; being a useful pastor.  

That’s a synopsis of a recent message John MacArthur delivered to a group of pastors that he titled–Criticism: A Pastor’s All-too-Common Companion.

MacArthur was a good choice to deliver that message. He’s pastored the same church for 50 years and in that time he’s heard plenty of criticism.

He’s heard complaints about doctrine, practice, his sermons, who occupies the pulpit, his notoriety and just about everything in between. Hundreds have left his church over the disagreements, but he happily points out, “most returned.”

In some cases his views were misrepresented only to be documented in a written diatribe that  was handed out to people who came to hear him as a guest speaker at Moody Bible Church.

And that was before the internet. He jokes, ”If I believed what they say about me on the internet, I wouldn’t go to my church.”

But a suffering minister is no joke and he points out, “The worst pain is the pain inflicted by those close to you. That’s the life of pastors.  That’s where we live.”

Being a pastor is one of the most stressful jobs

MacArthur says he finds comfort in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church.

The arrival of false teachers, false apostles, deceivers and those “who masquerade as Satan” had thrown Paul into deep depression.

Their plan was obvious, since there was no Bible yet, they had to destroy the Corinthians’ confidence in Paul.

They accused him of being in ministry for the money, to coerce favors from women, they accused him of hidden shame, falsifying his authority, lying about the blessings and success of his ministry. They even called his speech contemptible and his presence unimpressive.  MacArthur’s translation: they said Paul was “ugly and can’t communicate.” MacArthur calls it a classic example of pastor abuse.

And it was working.

Paul was devastated. He cries out in his pain and suffering.  His only defense against the attacks is the testimony of his conscience. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:12: “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”

Paul has help for pastors dealing with a most stressful job

MacArthur says when you have a clear conscience, you can weather the worst criticism. He draws 4 conclusions from 2 Corinthians regarding pastors and the abuse they face.

God uses suffering to humble us.

Humility is the greatest virtue. MacArthur says some people are too strong to be useful but no one is too weak to be useful. So embrace the suffering. If it humbles you, you are moving in the right direction.

Trials test our faith, hope, reveal what we really love, allow us to help others, and equip us for greater usefulness

God uses suffering to draw us to himself.

In the midst of his suffering, Paul prayed to God three times for it to be removed.

MacArthur says there is “There is something special about being in the presence of God in utter dependence,” adding “For that reason alone we should welcome suffering.”

God uses suffering to display his grace.

In suffering, we experience grace that the gospel writers have described as sufficient, abundant, full, grace upon grace, rich, and manifold.

In suffering, MacArthur reminds us, we get “the grace you don’t get until you need it.”

God uses suffering to perfect us.  

Power is perfected in weakness.  MacArthur tells the pastors, “if they throw you out of the church, be glad they did. He’ll use you somewhere else.”

Be content, for Paul tells us that when we are weak, then we are strong.

MacArthur’s advice, embrace your suffering and difficulties, don’t fight against them. Remember that Paul was depressed in ministry but saw what God was doing through the pain he had to endure.

It may be hard to carry a burden over which you can do nothing but remember that God is in control and working for your good and his glory.

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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