Last month, one of the books I read is Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in Ministry by Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson. This book ministered to me personally, encouraging me to remember the biblical pattern of criticism, reminding me of times when I responded properly, and convicted me about times when I have not responded in childlike faith and humility. It also gives sound recommendations to leaders that help to cultivate a culture where people sense it is safe to offer constructive criticism.
In the coming week I hope to share some of the main points of the book, which counsel us to learn and grow through times of criticism. Today, I will simply list some quotes, sentences that I underlined in Part One: Biblical Foundations for Coping with Criticism, placing them under three headlined principles.
Criticism Is an Expected Cost of Leadership
While not every pastor experiences serious criticism from his people in the first months of his ministry, every pastor will meet with it sooner or later. As an old Dutch saying goes, “He who stands in the front will soon be kicked in the rear.” (p. 14)
Criticism Is Not New, God was the First Target
The chatter by which [Satan] seduced our first parents was in the form of criticism. And though spoken to man, this criticism was directed squarely at God Himself. The serpent’s temptation came in the form of a lie about God, attacking “both God’s generosity and his integrity.” (p. 20)
When we suffer from the false accusations and character disfiguring words of others, our minds should be quick to return to this grim garden conspiracy wherein our Creator was vilified by the serpent. It is one thing for a creature to be criticized unjustly by another creature, but it is the atrocity of atrocities for the Creator of all things to be verbally assassinated by a mere creature. The first person ever criticized was the only One who has nothing in Him worthy of criticism. (p. 21)
As you face unjust criticism in the ministry, it is imperative for you to understand that your suffering is not a personal, isolated experience, but a part of the great redemptive-historical drama whose chief antagonist is the devil (literally “the slanderer”). (p. 22)
[Speaking of Korah’s slander in Numbers 16] Such verbal abuse typically warps some form of truth. Scripture may be wrested or handled deceitfully to make it appear that God is on the side of the critic. As leaders of God’s people, we must exercise great wisdom to discern whether “biblical” criticism is truly biblical….What led Korah to distort the truth and wrongly oppose his spiritual leader? He was jealous of Aaron’s position…. “It is not those at the bottom of the heap who rebel against God’s order,” comments Iain Duguid, “but those who are close to the top and who think they ought themselves to be at the top.”…Korah was hankering after that which was not his, hungry for more power and jealous of those whom God had placed over him. (p. 24)
Leaders must be skilled in getting to issues of the heart, as Moses was, helping opponents to see that in their deceit, they are actually siding with the Serpent and against God (see Num. 16:11). Before responding to his critics, however, it is notable that in both instances Moses first went to God. (p. 26)
There are situations when it is a waste of time to defend yourself before men. The best defense is to appeal to God and keep on working. If people have sincere and significant questions about a project, then by all means answer them honestly and courteously, but if they are only out to slander and obstruct, don’t let them slow you down. Don’t be distracted. Keep your eyes on the Lord and your hands busy in His work. (p. 34)
In the midst of fierce criticism, it strengthens us to remember that if we do not grow weary in well-doing, we will reap a harvest in due time (see Gal. 6:9). We might feel we are hacking our way through a forest of thorns one step at a time, but by our weary arm and many wounds we are blazing a trail for others to follow. Who knows how God might use that trail in the future? (p. 35)
Looking to Christ and the Criticism He Endured Gives Strength to Press On
No one exercised more self-control and steadfastness under hostile fire than Jesus. Christ is a model for us of how to respond in the best way to criticism of the worst kind. He set the highest example to be found in human history of showing meekness toward one’s critics. Christ’s response to criticism recorded in the gospel accounts ought to shape our minds, affections, and wills as we undergo verbal flak in the gospel ministry. (p. 39)
Christ did not endure the cross to exempt us from our crosses, but to demonstrate for us how to be more than conquerors as we share in His sufferings. Like Him, we overcome when we evidence that doing God’s will and fulfilling our calling is more important to us than life itself (see Acts 20:24). (p. 41)
When we face malicious criticism from powerful opponents, we can do so in the strength of knowing who Christ is and who we are in Christ. Though the world may demonize us as wrong-doers or devalue us as persons, our Lord is the great I AM, and we are members of His body, the church. No one can harm us, not even with their words, unless it is the will of our loving Savior. (p. 46)
Though we must quietly bear with hateful slander against our own persons, we must boldly bear witness to Christ before the world. We must assert the supreme Lordship of Jesus Christ even in the times of our greatest weakness, as He did in His. (v. 49)
*Pastors and other ministry leaders will benefit from reading Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in Ministry.