There are two equally dangerous extremes that local congregations may fall into as they relate to criticism. The first is a culture of criticism where nearly everything and everyone is viewed with suspicion and negativity. Self-righteous criticism becomes the defining character trait of the church. The second is an uncritical culture where no one dares ask questions or utter a word of critique, especially toward the leadership. It is not that the people aren’t critical; they are. They just can’t conceive of making their negative judgments known through proper biblical and church channels.
So write Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson in their excellent book Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in Ministry. One of the most helpful chapters in the book bears the title of this blog post and provides five ways church leaders can cultivate a church culture that is open to constructive, not destructive, criticism.
Preach Christ – “A healthy church is one that is shaped by the gospel. Our people need to see the beauty of Christ. Nothing will enable them to lovingly and humbly give and receive constructive critique more than heart-searching, expository gospel preaching. This is our great task and privilege as ministers—to proclaim Christ. And as we do, whether we recognize it or not, we will be promoting a healthy culture of criticism.”
Pray Continuously – “It is the work of the Spirit to create and grow a God-fearing humility and self-forgetting love in the hearts of Christians. Thus, we must devote ourselves to prayer just as fervently as we do to the ministry of the Word. We must be men of ceaseless prayer for our congregation.”
Plead Guilty – “What is needed is a ministry suffused with ‘the godly attitude of a broken man ministering to broken men.’ When a pastor owns his failures, it gives his congregation the freedom to admit their own. There are times when we must plead guilty.”
Provide Platforms or Contexts – “It is also important to provide platforms for our people to voice their concerns. We ought not to have a neutral attitude toward constructive critique, merely taking it if and when it comes. We should be inviting it! …Seek to instill in your elders a holy restlessness. Don’t’ be duped as an eldership into thinking your congregation is beyond the bounds of just critique. When the members of your church see their leadership owning their weaknesses and seeking change, they will be encouraged to do the same in their own lives.”
Plan Big – “If our vision for the church does not leave room for potential failure, then it is too small….If you play it safe as a church leader, you are unknowingly fostering a church culture that is averse to criticism….Our people need to see that we are not afraid of failing in our endeavors for Christ. If we live in fear of failure, it is most likely because we fear criticism.”
*Pastors, elders, deacons and other ministry leaders will benefit from reading Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in Ministry.