Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway (Lifeway is the supply house for the Southern Baptist Convention and has a vested business interest in maintaining the traditional church), posted a few days ago about the Five Types of Critics in the Church. The post appears to be designed to help pastors categorize those who might be critical so they know how to deal with each type of critic. He lists as the five types of critics: The constructive critic, the negligent critic, the hurt critic, the sinful critic and the self-serving critic.Ironically the "self-serving critic" is the one Thom describes as having the temper tantrum if he doesn't get his way but when the pastor demands that he get his way he is just being a leader. Not listed is "The critic who is right" but I digress.
According to Thom, figuring out which category your critic is in helps you to
Pastors and other church leaders would serve themselves well to consider two major ways to deal with critics. First, realize that criticism is inevitable. Anyone in a position of leadership will face criticism. Deal with it prayerfully and courageously, but accept it as a part of your leadership that it will never go away.
Second, make every attempt to discern the type of critic with whom you are dealing. In many cases, the criticisms will benefit your life and ministry. In other cases, you may have the opportunity to deal with the critic in a pastoral and redemptive way.
These labels are nice because it is far easier to dismiss legitimate questions if you are able to just lump someone into the category of "sinful critic" or "self-serving critic".
My concern has more to do with the underlying assumptions in this list. The assumption at work here gets to the core of the malignancy in the church known as the clergy-laity divide. That assumption is that leading in the church means dictating from on high, i.e. I am the pastor and I get to make the decisions because I am anointed/ordained/elected/hired or whatever. You need to get in line or get out of the way. If someone questions or criticizes you, you need to categorize them. Lists like this just perpetuate the lie that some Christians are called to lead from above and the rest are called to follow these men, hoping that those men are also following the shepherd. Speaking from personal experience in owning sheep, when sheep follow sheep they pretty much always go astray.
The church often operates, not surprisingly, like the U.S. political system. We get to elect our leaders but then have no say in how they lead. When I vote for my Congressman, if the guy I voted for wins I expect that he will do certain things but if he doesn't I am stuck sending him letters and then deciding if I want to vote for him again the next time around. In the church we hire pastors and then are expected to follow them without question unless we decide that they are too far out of line and fire them or they get
If leaders in the church lead from among the Body, as the Body, instead of over the Body maybe we would see less of this. Part of the mutual submission, leading from below, humility, etc. that are the hallmarks of true Biblical leadership includes not demanding privilege based on having an ordination certificate on your office wall, or putting the title "pastor" in front of your name or being hired at a local church.
When we divide up the church based on man-made distinctions we shouldn't be surprised when that leads to division and "dissent".