Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in Ministry | Written by Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson (P&R, 2020, 177 Pages).
Earlier this year I received some withering criticism that left me reeling. It kept me awake at night and played on my mind constantly. Strong criticism is hard to process. Yet it comes with the territory of ministry. If we go into church leadership and public ministry we had better expect criticism. There will inevitably be people who don’t like our preaching, disagree with our approach to pastoral care, dislike some of our leadership decisions, question our motives, feel that in certain situations we have been unfair, unkind, unwise, unloving, or maybe they just dislike our personality. For most of us, when such criticism is voiced, we ache inside.
Many of us are, if we are honest, people-pleasers and its cuts deeply to know we have greatly displeased someone. Most of us dislike conflict and struggle to handle it well. Few of us intentionally try to upset or fail other people, so it sometimes comes as a bombshell to hear that is what they think we’ve done. We are left agonising: How should I respond? Do I defend myself? Is there some truth to it? Why has God even allowed this?
I have never read a book before that approaches exactly this issue in such a helpful and heart-penetrating way. Joel Beeke addresses this, drawing on his long and rich pastoral experience which has included much criticism, a wealth of biblical insight, and the wisdom gleaned from his Reformed and Puritan scholarship. The first couple of chapters explore the theme of criticism in the Old Testament and in Christ’s life. Then from chapter three onwards, Beeke presents principles for coping with criticism. He takes it as read that minister will be criticised and urges us to see that much of what is said to us we need to hear. We are sinners and we will always be deficient in some areas. He therefore begins by talking about receiving criticism realistically. From there he moves to issues as diverse as evaluating the source of the criticism, handling criticism with true humility, learning to listen well, searching our own hearts, praying both for ourselves and our critics, seeking wider counsel, and responding graciously. Line after line is loaded with insight and wisdom. Later chapters also explore how to give criticism and how to build a church that is open to constructive criticism.
Throughout his treatment of this topic, Beeke keeps our focus on God and the gospel, with the encouragement that “criticism cannot be so heavy that God’s grace cannot sustain you under its weight and enable you to profit from its pain.” Personally I have found this short book very helpful and will need to go back to it a few times yet to grow in this difficult area.