It’s easy to criticize the pastor and I know that for two reasons. One is I was a preaching pastor for almost 40 years in two churches; and the other is that on many Sundays the last 20 months I have been listening as a worshiper in a variety of congregations. That means I have been criticized, and I have also criticized.

The reality is that like all positions of leadership and being up front pastors will be criticized. As has often been said: “it comes with the territory.” Pastors should not be surprised by criticism. And the criticism, of course, is not limited to their preaching. In my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters I have a chapter entitled “Troublesome Letters” in which I include a variety of critical letters I received. To be fair I received many more letters of gratitude and appreciation than I did criticism, but the “Troublesome Letters” chapter is important.

Why do people criticize pastors? For many reasons. Charles Stone, who has written a lot about pastors, suggests seven reasons church people criticize pastors: they lack spiritual maturity, they feel they are losing the church they once knew, they don’t feel they have a voice, they don’t deal with change very well, they need to find something or someone toward which to vent their hurt caused by other life issues, they are truly malevolent people committed to your demise, and they have a point. Reasons two, three, and four in Stone’s list are all pretty much the same and do account for a lot of criticism. I have no personal experience with regard to reason six. I think reasons one, five, and seven are worth greater consideration.

We could probably attribute most criticism of pastors to a lack of spiritual maturity (Stone’s first reason), but not all of it. And if we look beneath the surface we will see a lot of venting of unrelated hurt (reason five) in people’s criticism of pastors. That’s a good thought for criticized pastors to keep in mind. But the reason I am most interested in is number seven: they have a point.

Pastors are not above or beyond criticism. No one is. In the introduction to A Pastor and the People I suggest “Perhaps the bottom line in receiving criticism is to ask if it is valid.” That requires a measure of humility, but the uncomfortable truth is that the critic may be right. In the opening to the chapter on “Troublesome Letters” I acknowledge “Not all of these letters are troublesome because they are critical. Several of them are troublesome because they are true” (p. 79). Pastors need to admit it when they are wrong without thinking the admission will diminish their status. It many cases it will enhance it.

To both pastors and those who criticize them I would encourage making a real effort to understand the other. Keep in mind that although it is not a spiritual gift, there is a place for constructive criticism. None of us is perfect. Criticism is rarely pleasant, but it is sometimes needed. As Pastor Jason Byassee notes, “it is comforting that God only has, and has ever had, sinners [imperfect people] to work with.”

Please share these thoughts with others and consider leaving a reply below.

If you would like to read Chapter 8 (“Troublesome Letters”) in my book send me an email at and I will send you a copy of that chapter. Or if you would like to check out the book or order it click on the picture below.

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Since I stepped down after 44 years of ministry 13 months ago Jan and I have visited numerous churches and listened to a variety of preachers. I’m guest preaching again this Sunday and am working on what I will say. Putting these two together, I’ve been thinking about this matter of preaching.

From the beginning of our church plant in Moreno Valley I had a commitment to significant Bible teaching. And to use the word significant suggests at least three things. One is that the teaching would be significant in terms of time allocation. Through the years I determined that while some preachers took more time, I would limit my Sunday messages to 30-35 minutes. A second aspect of significant Bible teaching for me is that we interpret the Bible in terms of its original intent and meaning. I never was a preacher who read a verse or passage from the Bible and then left it to say whatever I wanted to say. Bible teaching means teaching what the Bible says. Finally, the third aspect of significant Bible teaching is application. To teach the Bible in a Christian context is not only to consider its content, but also to apply it to life today.  Simply stated in the words of one author, “Interpretation is sterile without application.” Some of the messages I gave were more oriented to Bible content and its original meaning, and some were more focused on application for today, but every message had both.

Significant Bible teaching for me did not mean I could only preach straight through a book of the Bible or only preach what are called “expository sermons.” An expository sermon is teaching from one passage in the Bible and basically staying with that passage and going through it. In addition to expository sermons I often also preached what are called “topical sermons.” A topical teaching does not deal with only one passage of Scripture, but refers to and draws from a variety of passages that deal with the topic. In my mind to suggest the only kind of real preaching is expository preaching is to needlessly limit the preacher from dealing with many topics that should be addressed from throughout the Bible. 

In II Timothy 4:2 the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” What a powerful challenge then as well as today!  Teaching the Bible is to include correction, rebuke, and encouragement, and it is to be done with patience and care. Some preachers go overboard with correction and rebuke with little encouragement while others are heavy on encouragement with little rebuke or correction. Some are lacking in patience and some are not careful enough in preparing and presenting biblical instruction. No two preachers do it exactly the same, but this verse gives all those who regularly teach the Bible some important guidelines.

What do you look for in preaching? Let us know below.

(This article is adapted from chapter 6 of my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters.)

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