Monday, November 30, 2015

It Is A Sin To Criticize Your Pastor?

This article popped up a while ago and it was one of those headlines that I definitely was going to click, Billy Graham: It's a Sin toCriticize Your Pastor. Oh boy. In response to a question sent to Billy Graham about people who criticize their pastor, this response was posted:
"No pastor is perfect, of course — but if God has called someone to be a pastor and has sent them to serve a particular church, then they should be helped and encouraged in every way possible," Billy Graham responds, quoting 1 Samuel 26:9: "Who can lay a hand on the Lord's anointed and be guiltless?"
Right out of the gate we have a grotesque misapplication of 1 Samuel 26:9. That passage is from David saying why he would not slay Saul when he had the chance. Saul was the King of Israel and as such David refused at that time to slay one who had been anointed by God. He was not a guy hired by a local church to be a pastor. The difference between the two is a vast chasm. Just because a church hires you, that doesn't make you "the Lord's anointed". That is such poor exegesis as to be criminal Scriptural malpractice. I hope it was one of his staffers responding to the question, not Billy Graham himself. As far as the rest of it....

Is it really a sin to be critical of your pastor? I guess that depends on what you mean. Are you talking about a spirit of being critical of someone else or are you talking about weighing and critiquing what someone says? When someone in the Bible speaks in the church gathering it is the responsibility of the church to weigh what they said:
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 1 Cor 14:26-32
There was none of this "Pastor speaks, you all shut up and listen" going on. I don't mind the sermon model of teaching having a place in the church because it can be helpful but when it is the only mode of teaching and when no one is permitted to interact it ceases to be what we see commended and modeled in Scripture. If you are going to speak regarding the oracles of God, you should expect and welcome people asking questions, seeking clarification and even providing some pushback now and then.

There is a difference between critiquing someone and grumbling constantly about someone. If the issue are those who constantly are dissatisfied and grumbling constantly, that is a different issue and it doesn't matter if the one you are being critical of is a pastor or a "layman", there is no place in the church for gossip, slander and backbiting. In fact that sort of divisiveness ought to be grounds for church discipline.

The headline is the one of the real problems here because it doesn't really reflect the article. Outside of the misapplication of Scripture, what it says is more consistent with what is the proper position, namely that there is no place for constant grumbling and in most institutional churches there is a process in place if the pastor goes off the reservation on an issue. The headline was intended to be attention grabbing and in doing so did a disservice to the actual content.

The other major problem is that pastors are elevated to such a high pedestal that to criticize them or even to give some gentle pushback is considered out of bounds. I have met and been in the church of one pastor in particular who seemed to take any question, no matter how graciously and humbly presented, as a direct challenged to his "authority". I have shared this before but on one occasion a friend and I were with this pastor at a festival where everyone was having a great time and my friend asked if he could ask the pastor a question. The pastor immediately crossed his arms and got a stern look on his face, it was obvious that he wasn't interested in answering even a clarifying question. I think that attitude, not to that extreme but still the same attitude, is common among some pastors.

In addition, because pastors are employees of the church members rather than a leader among them, criticism is almost inevitable. If I pay someone to fix my car and they do a crappy job of it, I am going to express my disappointment. When I was a manager I had to provide negative feedback on a regular basis. It comes with the employer-employee relationship. I think a lot of laity feel that since they pay the pastor, they can be critical of the performance he is paid to perform. So a lot of the problems with grumbling about pastors is directly tied to the model of church "leadership" that we have adopted.

What we need more of in the church are Christians edifying and encouraging other Christians, regardless of what title they do or do not have. This issue of being critical about pastors would disappear if everyone in the church were more focused on equipping, exhorting, edifying and encouraging one another instead of letting that entire process be dumped on one guy who tries to cram it into a 45 minute monologue. Let the church live and breathe as the church and a lot of these kinds of issues would largely go away.

1 comment:

Aussie John said...


With the proviso that the criticism is explained to the pastor first, what it is, whether his person or his teaching, etc., then, no it is not a sin!

Criticism done behind the pastor's back will be understood as an attempt to sabotage, for an unexplained reason. This is so common as to be accepted as normal in my sixty years experience, almost half as a pastor.