Wednesday, May 06, 2015

On Pastoral Criticism--Part 2

We are continuing this brief series on pastors and dealing with the fact that a pastor will have to deal with criticism on a fairly regular basis.  In the last post, I dealt with what criticism does to a pastor and the ways that he can let it work productively for him.  By no means am I insinuating that criticism does not have a mark that it leaves on a man who generally is working to do his best to help people to grow in their spiritual walk.  Over the years, I have had multiple conversations with pastors who were enduring some form of criticism for decisions they had made concerning the churches they pastored.  What I have found to be true is that the size of the church really does not matter.  It can be a small church or a mid-sized one, or a large church and all of these men of God found themselves having to contend with the critics they were attempting to lead.

The post that I write now has to do with the critic and what potentially can take place in their own soul.  Most critics allow such self-absorption with the particular windmill they are choosing to charge to take a precedence in their mind that they cannot even began to fathom the fallout of what they are getting involved in.  I have recently been preaching through the Psalms at various points over the last year in our church.  I have managed to preach Psalm 1-16, 27, 42, and 63 and there are some very strong lessons concerning the tongue and gossip that have come through all of these messages.  (NOTE:  The sermon notes are here.)  When I got to Psalm 15 on “The Portrait of a True Worshipper,” a chapter that deals with what real holiness is all about, I wrote these words into my sermon notes:

-David reminds us that the tongue of the worshipper is different from the tongue of the pretender.  It is again hammered home to us how important the tongue and speech is all the way through the Psalms.  It does matter what I do with my words. 

·        We cannot afford for our tongue to be a scourge—Job 5:21
·        We do not want our tongue to be sinful—Job 6:30
·        We do not want our tongue to be filled with cursing, deceit, fraud, mischief and vanity—Psalm 10:7
·        We do not want our tongue to be filled with flattery and pride—Psalm 12:3
·        We do not want to slander with our tongue—Psalm 15:3
·        We do not want our tongue to speak evil and guile (crafty, wily, treacherous)—Psalm 34:18

-One of the chief sins of the church today is gossiping about and harming others with our tongues.  Gossip, criticism, and slander have probably done more damage to the church than any other single sin. 

Matthew Poole—Pity your brethren; let it suffice that Godly ministers and Christians are loaded with reproaches by wicked men—there is no need for you to combine with them in their diabolical work. 

-I have a choice, as you have a choice, and I want my words to count.  The godly should desire for our words to:

·        Be filled with singing and praise—Psalm 126:2
·        To be just—Prov. 10:20
·        To be wise—Prov. 12:18
·        One that uses knowledge—Prov. 15:2
·        Filled with wholesome words—Prov. 15:4

-When truth stirs in our heart, our words are going to be affected by the presence of the Lord.  The Lord wants obedient truth-speaking servants to dwell in His tabernacle and His holy hill.      

A critics’ main weapon is an unsanctified (unholy) tongue.  He will have to use it in such a way that gains him a following.  But the greater concern of this matter is a great question:  What is going on in the soul of a person who sits in the role as a loud, vocal critic? 

First, criticism is a snare of the devil to use a sense of spiritual erosion that will work toward removing this person from the church.  The worship that the critic once found to be joyful and faith-building no longer holds that power for him.  Worship is no longer God-focused but rather it has become man-centered.  Criticism causes a loss of fellowship with God and the local church body which is whom they really need to be connected to.  Criticism of the pastor and the church leaders causes everything to suddenly be about them.  It causes a divided heart and they spend great energy in wasting strength on the unnecessary.  This is where the snare of the enemy is set up for them.  It is hard to have spiritual maturity and spiritual progress when you are sitting in the seat of the scornful. 

Secondly, the critic removes the power and the authority of a God-called and necessary shepherd to help them.  A critic is a wandering sheep that will be at a great liability to be devoured by the devil.  Over the years, I have observed the critics as they have come and gone through the doors of the church that I grew up in and now have the privilege of pastoring.  I can remember thinking as a young rookie preacher that things were not going to go well for some of the critical people who for various reasons found themselves being an authority on matters that were frankly far out of their spiritual expertise and maturity.  As the clock has continued to tick and the calendar pages have continued to roll, I have come to witness that many of them are no longer even in the race and those who are have been side-lined and have literally become spiritual pygmies who never reached the potential that the Lord had in mind for them. 

One of the passages in the Bible that points to the responsibilities of a shepherd is found in 1st Peter 5:1-3.  A shepherd will know his sheep and at any given moment, I dare say, that all pastors have a response if you were to mention the names of the people whom they serve as a pastor.  It is an internal response that needs to stay private but that reaction is present in the soul of that pastor.  It is one that is either met with great joy or it is one that is followed by deep despair.  I generally find myself in the category of wondering what I might do better to encourage spiritual growth in their lives.  However, a critic separates himself from the influence of a shepherd and soon that shepherd is looking for a remedy to recover from the sheep bites that he is having to endure.  A critic removes himself from the community, exposure, contact, and blessing that comes from the presence of being in a flock under a shepherd. 

Thirdly, the critic puts himself in a place that he will potentially become the leader of a faction in the church.  Before going further, we need to make the determination that battling against a false teacher, immorality, sins that would disqualify a shepherd, and extreme spiritual abuse are necessary battles that a discerning believer and church needs to move against.  Those are not the areas that I am writing of when I am speaking of criticism.  I am speaking of the criticism that comes when a pastor refuses to cover the sins of prominent members of a church, sinful practices in a person’s life, calls for doctrinal distinctions, calling for a higher life of holiness, and the general aspects as to how the church is run.

When a critic starts gaining ground and he develops a following, he places himself in the cross-hairs of God’s judgment and as prey for the devil.  We rarely talk about the judgment and wrath of God these days but over the years there has been ample evidence that I have observed that people who worked these angles of criticism had a host of difficulties to visit their lives.  There are some who would say that we do not have the right to say that this is the direct judgment of God and I would perhaps agree, to a point.  However, we can say that the choices they made created some consequences had to be endured and some of them were not the most pleasant in the world.  Furthermore, the judgment of God visits all of us who do not walk in the correct path of righteousness when we should do so. 

To conclude, I would like to point out that the majority of pastors who have been open with me about the pain of criticism are not men who wanted to be rejected and disliked by their critics.  Only odd people like that kind of treatment.  But when criticism continues to come and it is not dealt with by the pastor or the elders/leaders in that church, the courage of that pastor slowly starts to leak out of his soul.  A constant barrage of criticism will never be helpful for that local church because unconsciously that pastor will soon began to shy away from what he has been truly called to do.  He will avoid issues, certain doctrines, and relationships for fear of setting off more criticism.  When a church moves into that category, the glory of the Lord will soon leave that place and it will have “Ichabod” stamped on it.  That is why the critics have to be dealt with lovingly, gently, but very firmly and without equivocation. 

We are at a point in history where the dividing line between the church and the world is getting smaller.  Every critic better take into great consideration what they are doing when they play into this snare of the devil whose whole goal is to destroy the church however he can.  I challenge those critics who could be reading this to give yourself to great self-examination as to the motives by which you have taken up your cause.  You also might want to look at those whom are your closest associates because that will also give you great insight as to what kind of person that you have become.  

More later. . .


Thanks for reading. . . 

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