Editors Note: We asked Johnny Carson, Pastor of Whitehead Baptist Church, to answer the question: “How Can I Challenge My Pastor without Sounding Critical or Judgemental?” We are very grateful for the time he has taken to provide us with a wonderfully helpful answer to this difficult question. We pray that you, and your Pastor, are blessed by Johnny’s wisdom.
Paul David Tripp has summed up discipleship well when he said that it is: “People in need of change helping people in need of change” (See his book, Instruments in the Redeemers Hands). The fact of the matter is that pastors fall into this category as well; so although their main task is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12), they do so as needy men themselves. Pastors may be shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-5) but they are also sheep in need of the great shepherd. This is easily stated but how this works out in the life of a local church can be quite tricky. These are the two truths we have before us:
- Pastors have the privileged task of leading the local church in the context of a plurality of elders. Because of this; they are due honour, respect and submission from the church (1 Cor 16:15-16; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17)
- Pastors are sometimes in need of correcting themselves and are therefore still to be held to account in light of the qualifications required for the role (1 Tim 3:1-7; 5:19-20; Titus 1:5-9)
Seeing that the latter is the case; how can you challenge your pastor without sounding critical or judgemental? The following are a few biblical and practical guidelines as to how to go about this.
Firstly, stop and consider whether this is something that actually needs raised with your pastor. What is your motive in this? By and large, searching your motives will reveal your criticism to be one of 3 things:
- The issue is a legitimate issue to bring up. Your pastor has sinned in some way, either against you personally or more generally and he needs to be aware of it. In this case it is a Matthew 18:15-20 scenario; something which Paul alludes to and applies to elders in 1 Tim 5:19-20. Has he lied? Does he say one thing but do another? Has he been lording it over the congregation? In short, is his character not matching up to the qualifications laid out in 1 Timothy and Titus? In this case there may be sin and defaults in his character he needs to repent of.
- The issue, when all is said and done, is not a sinful one but one of taste. Are you going to criticize the way he dresses in the pulpit or the way he preaches from the pulpit? Some people find animated preachers engaging; others find them distracting. Some find more reserved preachers to be reverent; others find them boring. In this case, it is a matter of taste and more than likely it is not worth bringing up.
- You may find you illegitimately want to criticise. I heard of a church member who once criticised his pastor once for spending too much time in the sermon exalting Christ. This was a wrong criticism.
Assuming you have considered your motives, how should you go about criticising? How you communicate criticism can determine the way it is received.
Do NOT criticise in written form (i.e. written letter, e-mail, text message). Writing is not only impersonal but is also very difficult to discern tone and thus communication can be clouded. The very medium is cold and emphasises the criticism over and above any good motivation behind the criticism. It is extremely tempting to write an email because most people do not like face to face confrontation of any kind. Paul himself expresses his concern over written criticism and valued face to face conversation (2 Cor 10:9). Indeed, in total he wrote 4 letters to the Corinthians; partly due to the fact that they did not fully understand some of the criticisms and commands being given in written form (1 Cor 5:9ff).
There is also a time and a place. It is very unwise to raise your criticism on Sundays either before or after the service for two main reasons. Firstly, people will always be in ear shot. Secondly, your pastor has A LOT on his mind on Sunday morning. He has a service to lead which may include doing the announcements, leading the intercessory prayer and above all proclaiming God’s word. 1001 things are already rushing through his mind:
- “So and so looked upset; I must speak to them afterward…”
- “I must emphasise this announcement for it is very important”
- “I have to mention Mr ? in my prayer as the family are out and I don’t want to offend by leaving them out”
- “Do I know my notes well enough? I am still not sure about the introduction…”
The last thing he needs is for someone to bring him over for a quiet word and give off about how rude he was to them last week.
Speaking after the service is no different. A preacher is never more vulnerable to attack than after he has preached the word. Instead, pick a time during the week and phone to organise a time where you can meet up and talk.
Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:1-5 He gives guidelines in how to judge. If you see a speck in your brother’s eye, first of all deal with the plank in your own eye before you confront your brother about his speck. As noted in our first point; self-examination is due before confrontation which in turn leads to a humble approach and mannerism when judgement is handed out (Gal 6:1).
Since the gospel is of grace, God’s people should have both humility and confidence when handing out and receiving criticism. Our humility stems from the fact we never forget how needy we are and our confidence stems from the fact that God has promised that he who began a good work in us, will complete it. He is intent in conforming all of us (pastors included) into the image of Christ, the one in whom no fault was found and yet died with all our faults laid upon him.