Dealing with Criticism About Your Preaching
Every pastor will regularly deal with the inevitable consequence of preaching—other people’s opinions of it. Constructive criticism and discussion helps a pastor hone the craft of preaching. Yet, at some point we must clearly understand the difference between the critique that helps, and that which hurts, lest it adversely affect the preacher and the message.
Does the criticism square with God’s Word? If a critic cites opinion that is not in agreement with God’s Word, it must be discarded. Often this kind of criticism is an opportunity to teach through private response and counsel, what God’s Word actually teaches. You will never regret standing on God’s Word if challenged. But answer such a critic with humility. Offer to journey with them through God’s Word and your thinking and preparation which led to your teaching.
Does the teaching hit too close to home? Sometimes a critic lashes out at a topic or teaching that is a difficulty for them personally. It’s often easier to attack the messenger than deal with the message. A wise pastor once said, “The sermon you most enjoy is likely not the one you really need to hear.” Be in prayer for those who criticize you from their own flawed perspective. Ask God to use further reflection to bring them to a point of life-change based on His Word.
Is there an extenuating circumstance? Sometimes a pastor’s message is criticized because a mother had a bad morning, or a man’s boss yelled at him over the phone, or a daughter was disobedient to her parents. None of these have anything to do with the sermon, but outside circumstances influence how people listen and process. Asking a critic questions like, “How can I pray for you/your family?” or “Is there anything this week that was a challenge for you?” can reveal extenuating issues that might affect their acceptance of the teaching.
Is it delivered with an agenda? Not everyone has clear and pure motives. Sometimes a critic desires to push the pastor theologically in a certain direction, or steer the church or individual people through their criticism. Be careful of crafty individuals who pull you aside to “speak privately about a concern”. These are often code words for “you really ought to do this… like I’ve been saying”.
Is it genuinely helpful? Learning to spot unwarranted criticism is difficult, frankly because there is so much of it. Thankfully there are individuals who are genuinely helpful in their critique. They ask questions and seek clarification. They support the pastor and his ministry. They desire to see the church unified, challenged and uplifted by the teaching.
A genuine critique is usually offered with humility and grace. Most importantly, it should come from someone you know well, versus a total stranger. It should come rarely versus often, and it should include encouragement versus a judging tone. When you find these suggestions, thank God for these people and wrap your arms around their words—it will offset the other wave of less-sincere critics who are next in line.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.