My three preacher’s kids love a good Nerf gun war.
Sometimes we go out into the yard, heavily armed with our Nerf weaponry of varied size and caliber, and shoot each other mercilessly until all the squishy, foam ammunition has been exhausted, having disappeared into trees and bushes and the neighbor’s driveway. The more we get shot, the harder we laugh. It’s fantastic.
Getting pelted with criticism, however, is no fun at all.
Words of disapproval about the church or the pastor from members of a congregation don’t just bounce-off the body like those Nerf bullets do. They penetrate the heart, burden the mind, and crush the spirit. They can even run a pastor’s family out of a church or a pastor out of ministry altogether.
Fighting discouragement when living a life of ministry is a real war. And winning that war requires a strategy which must include deflecting disparaging comments and derogatory suggestions. Here are some simple tactics for how a pastor’s wife can cope with criticism about the church or pastor fired at herself or her children.
Refuse to serve as an intermediary between critics and the pastor.
This policy is the Golden Rule for surviving criticism. When complainers in the church come to the pastor’s wife wanting her to pass along messages to her husband about how the music is too loud, the air conditioning is too cold, the missions budget is too large, the sermons are too long, etc…a wise pastor’s wife refuses to pass-along those messages. Ever.
First, serving as a go-between is damaging to the pastor’s marriage, which can become strained when congregational criticism slithers its way onto his dinner table or into his bedroom. We certainly do not want our husbands to spend their time with us hearing about every layperson who has a bone-to-pick with them. After all, a busy pastor’s time with his wife is precious and should be pleasant.
Furthermore, the pastor’s wife serving as a go-between is damaging to the pastor’s ministry. A pastor stands in the pulpit as a source of authority and influence. But when “things get done” at the hands of his wife who fields complaints and solves problems, the pastor’s strength is diminished. Allowing disgruntled members of the congregation to use her to accomplish their goals is just like the Philistines using Delilah to cut Samson’s hair (Judges 16).
But perhaps most importantly, a pastor and his wife must have a zero-tolerance policy about criticism being sent through their kids. Preacher’s kids can be seriously wounded or even permanently scarred by that practice. Anyone who tries to send home negative messages through my children about the church or about my husband will find himself in a pretty intense sit-down meeting with my husband and me and a whole posse of deacons.
Teach the congregation how to handle criticism.
Everyone is unhappy about stuff in the church sometimes. Even the pastor’s wife herself! But neither she nor any other layperson should be a burden by funneling all complaints to the pastoral staff. Utilizing the God-ordained leaders of the various entities inside the church will ensure a spiritual engine that runs much smoother.
When my children were toddlers, I taught them to clean-up their toys after they played and to not throw food on the floor. A joyful pastor’s wife must similarly teach her congregation that there are appropriate channels to funnel criticism…and most of those channels have nothing to even do with the pastor. The loudness of the music can be determined by the Music Director or audio-visual team; chilly air conditioning is a facilities issue that can be resolved the Building and Grounds Committee; and the missions budget can be determined by the Missions Team. As for the sermons being too long…well…those sermons have been bestowed by God, so critics will have to take-up that complaint with Him.
Avoid close proximity with critics.
I was once taken hostage for a whole day. True story.
I was placed in the backseat of a late-model blue mini-van and driven an hour away from my home. I was then forced for approximately four hours to walk around while being tortured by my two well-dressed female captors before being driven back to my house. The experience is a terrible memory for me.
Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up, folks.
A joyful pastor’s wife avoids getting “stuck” with chronic critics. She doesn’t sit beside them at fellowship dinners or worship services. She avoids long phone conversation with them. She changes shifts so she doesn’t have nursery duty with them. And she sure doesn’t take day trips to the outlet mall with them. Just as persistent criticism can damage her marriage, her husband’s ministry, and her children, experience teaches the pastor’s wife that criticism can damage her, too.
Don’t let the terrorists win.
Coping with criticism is a more important issue than water bottles and outlet malls. Than the temperature in the sanctuary. Or than getting out of service early enough to find a table at a restaurant on Sunday afternoons.
It’s serious business.
Criticism comes from Satan himself as an attempt to stop the work of God. Weren’t the words spoken by the serpent in the Garden ultimately a criticism of the one, simple rule the Lord had given Adam and Eve?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5 NASB).
In essence, Satan said, Did God really give you that ridiculous rule? Do what I want instead. Get your husband to eat this fruit, Eve… We don’t need to hear what God says.
To the pastor’s wife today, Satan whispers through critics…
Get the worship music played softer, Eve.
Get the air conditioning turned-down, Eve.
Get the missions budget reduced, Eve.
Get the sermons shortened, Eve…We don’t need to hear what God says.
Most critics don’t realize they’re being used by the enemy to do evil. They actually think they’re helping. Making things better. Speaking for the masses. They come to us because pastors’ wives are often sweet-spirited, patient, and approachable. But listening to their criticism leads to distraction, to discouragement, and eventually to destruction.
Perhaps criticism will never bounce-off a pastor’s wife like a Nerf bullet can. Perhaps she will never laugh with pleasure when faultfinders barrage her and her children with their spiteful ammunition. But she can win the war. She can cope with criticism. And she can be joyful.
After thirty-one years of serving the same church, I can assure you that as a pastor, you will receive criticism. Understanding this is part of reality will help see you through the grim times.
I know many pastors, and each one has undergone criticism. Criticism is inescapable in the life of a pastor. Few things challenge a pastor more than criticism.
There have been times when criticism has absolutely devastated me. It is especially difficult to receive criticism when given by someone you respect deeply or by someone who has completely misunderstood a situation.
Criticism can sideline or paralyze you, or it can help you be better in the future. I have personally experienced each of these situations.
Unquestionably, many times criticism is unfair; at other times, it is right on, with 100% accuracy! So, when you receive criticism as a pastor, what should you do? How should you respond?
1. Accept criticism.
When someone criticizes you as a pastor, accept it. Accept it with grace. I know this can be difficult at times, but do not let your body language demonstrate defensiveness or disapproval. Assure the person criticizing you that you will receive what they say, consider it, pray about it, and determine the direction God wants you to go in the future.
2. Learn from criticism.
Criticism can be a great teacher. We should always be teachable, even through criticism. We are not perfect. We are not sinless. We make mistakes. We need to own them. We need to confess them as sin. If we have wronged someone, we need to make it right with them.
Those who are spiritually mature are able to learn from criticism. Pastors, always take the high road; you will never face a traffic jam there.
3. Outlive criticism.
If a person criticizes you unfairly, outlive it! Through the course of time, a life of integrity and honesty can overcome the criticism of others. Sooner or later, their criticism of you will fall on deaf ears.
Nothing is more powerful than a pastor who lives a consistent and Christ-centered life. Through time and the grace of God, you can outlive your greatest critic and the most unfair criticism. Therefore, outlive your criticism!
Since retiring from the active pastorate on July 31st, 2012, I have been preaching in many different and varied places. It has been a real joy to be able to be among the people of God in various churches. It is truly a blessing to be able to minister to people by preaching God’s Word to them. I have been impressed by how many good, Godly people are members of our churches, especially the smaller ones.
I am encouraged by the great Christian people I have met, I am also concerned by what I see and hear in many churches. While I hate to say it, I think that based on what takes place in the vast majority of our churches, Christianity is being weakened and its churches are in trouble. I know that the church will survive until the coming of Jesus but I am afraid that it is growing weaker by the day. It is not in trouble based on its beliefs and doctrines. They are sound and secure even though the world is trying to alter these as well. But, the church is in trouble because she is basically doing nothing based on my observations as I travel around and preach. This is not a new revelation to me, but it has been confirmed as I have been exposed to different congregations. I have often said that I do not understand why the people keep coming back each Sunday with no more enthusiasm and energy than is being experienced in our churches. To put it bluntly; they are dead, dead, dead. There is no excitement and energy about being in God’s House on His day. When the preacher takes the pulpit to bring God’s Word, he has to generate any energy that is in the room in order to be able to preach with enthusiasm and power. It should not be left up to the preacher to generate the energy in the worship service. He should find the people energized and expectant to hear what the Lord has to say. In addition, Sunday School is not functional because of a lack of organization and teachers who are unprepared to teach the lesson. Discussions tend to be centered on topics which have nothing to do with the purpose for coming to church. So, how can we expect the people to be committed to Sunday School if the main topic, the Bible lesson, is not given proper consideration while football, hunting, fishing, family and professional careers are fully discussed? As I was waiting to preach in one church, I happened to look down and observed a folder laying on the front pew. It was rosy pink in color and written on the front of it in bold Marks-A-Lot print were the words: “Sunday School Stuff.” I think that explains why many don’t want to come to Bible Study. If it has no more priority than being referred to as “stuff” then there is a serious problem.
In addition to the things discussed above, I believe that the main problem in many our churches is related to the Pastor. The people in the pew know very little doctrine and are spiritually immature because they are not being equipped to live a dynamic Christian life much less to be a part of a church which functions properly. The primary work of the ministry is to be found in the preaching of the Word. Churches will properly function in direct proportion to the level of Biblical preaching they experience. A pastor must spend the proper amount of time studying and preparing to preach. His primary function is not to be found in counseling. It is not in visiting the sick. It is not in eating crumpets with the little ladies and having coffee with the boys. His primary function is to be found in preaching. If he is not willing to spend the proper time to prepare a sermon which is informative, inspiring, interesting and edifying, then he should find himself something else to do. I believe that if God calls a man to preach then that should be his focus. Visiting the sick and other pastoral duties must also be done but they should not be an excuse for not having enough time to prepare to preach. The people in the vast majority of our churches are being cheated out of a deeper and more dynamic relationship to the Lord because the sermons they are hearing are “sermonetts for Christianetts.” They are empty, vapid, insipid. They are not the “meat” Paul speaks about but they are nothing more than the “foam” on a latte. When God calls one to a particular task then He equips the person to perform that task. Everyone has talents to a different extent but everyone called to preach should give it his best so that God can speak through him and edify His Saints.
I recently asked two different churches if they knew the definition of expository preaching. Only one man in one of the churches raised his hand. Two congregations, gathered for Sunday morning worship, could not tell me what expositional preaching is. They said that as far as they knew, they had never heard an expository sermon. They did not know what it is suppose to seek to accomplish. They were ignorant of the term, expository preaching. Most of these people have been in church for thirty years or more. These people knew very little doctrine but they absorbed it like a sponge. Suddenly the Bible became clear to them. They loved to learn the deeper truths contained in a passage. Expository preaching is work. It does not come easily as one has to do extensive word studies and research. It is the work of the ministry that God has for everyone He has called to be a preacher. Teaching the people the doctrines of the Bible will solve most of their problems. The more they learn the more peace and prosperity they will experience. The little problems that trouble most churches will vanish as the people learn the doctrines which apply to various situations. Expository, doctrinal preaching cannot be replaced and should be the focus of the pastor. We are In Trouble in our churches today primarily because the people have not been taught the Bible from the pulpit as they should have been. In addition to this, the majority of preachers today are afraid to tell the people many things they need to know in order to keep them properly informed. They are too afraid of the ACLU, the IRS and People United for the Separation of Church and State. Preachers today have been “muffled” very effectively because of the threat of law suits or the loss of the church’s tax exempt status. Political correctness has silenced the one person in society which should be warning the people about things they are dealing with. The only place in our society which does not have total freedom of speech is the one place that should be totally free and that is the pulpit. Preachers are being held hostage at the price of the tax monies they fear they might lose if they speak on certain issues. Obedience is being extorted from them under the threat of losing their tax exempt status. If the preachers knew the law and understood the freedoms they actually possess then they would discover that they can do and say much more than they have, so far, been willing to do. In essence, God’s spokesmen are being cowered into a corner for the sake of a little tax money. This should not be.
So, I observe that the reason for so many weak churches is to be found in the failure of the pulpit to preach the Word to the best of the preacher’s ability and the failure to lead their people with enthusiasm and energy. People will do far more than they are being asked to do. My philosophy is that we should ask them to do things. The only thing they can say is “no” and if they do give a negative answer then the pastor is no worse off. Plus, he can’t be accused of not trying to lead his people. Most churches today are doing nothing. The people have to be either very, very dedicated or totally habited to keep showing up every Sunday. My observation is that most are totally habited. They are going through the motions in order to do what they think is right before God. They are good people who want to please God but they are accomplishing very little and reaching almost no one with the gospel.
Sadly, most of our churches are not doing much more than existing. They possess very little that would make a person decide that they would like to be a member. It doesn’t take hype, loud secular sounding music, popular little choruses and modern innovation to make a person decide they would like to identify with a particular church. It takes solid Biblical preaching, serious study of the Word, a functioning outreach program, good well-grounded music which is presented in a sincere and well performed manner. The music should not sound like “a dying calf in a hailstorm.” If a church would do these things well, then the Lord will be able to bless them and grow them as He desires.
Many of the churches I have seen are within only a few years of closing their doors unless something is done to revitalize them. Most are filled with members who are in their last decade of life. A lot of these churches have only thirty people or so. Within five to ten years they will cease to exist. Our Southern Baptist Convention is loaded with the kind of churches I have described in this piece. It is sad. We are In Trouble.