At the beginning of this series I wrote that personal criticism is part of our sanctification process, a tool that God uses to reveal idols and accelerate the pastor’s growth in humility. This has been my emphasis for most of the series. However, this emphasis runs the risk of being misunderstood, and I would not want a pastor reading this series to conclude that every criticism he receives is accurate or warrants his time and attention. In fact, sometimes it is wise and appropriate for a pastor to simply ignore criticism.
Because a pastor’s role is a public one, it is inevitable that he will more frequently be the object of criticism (an assumption underlying 1 Timothy 5:19). Some of the criticism will be constructive and some of it will be, well, less constructive. In fact, occasionally criticism will come from someone with a hidden personal agenda, someone who is simply blind to his own sinful motives. The critic may even feel he has a divine mandate to bring correction to a pastor or his church. And he might express these unfounded accusations, not personally to the pastor, but instead to others in the church through gossip and slander. Or just as likely, he may express them online. As we have already discovered in this series, criticism of this nature long predates the Internet, but the anonymity of the Internet makes it easy for someone to make a baseless accusation or spread hearsay without personal accountability.
So how does a pastor respond to this type of criticism? It may surprise you, but Michael Hyatt, the chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, says to simply ignore it. That is his conclusion in his article “Friends, Critics, and Trolls.” In the article Hyatt provides counsel on how to distinguish among three types of criticism.
First, some criticism will come from true friends:
Not all criticism is bad. God forbid that we should turn a deaf ear to everyone who disagrees with us. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Some people are in our lives to save us from ourselves. As a leader, the trick is to create an environment that is safe for dissension, so these people can speak up.
Second, some criticism will come from honest critics:
Some people decide that they disagree with you and go public. They aren’t malicious. They aren’t out to destroy you. They simply disagree with you. That’s okay. We need to allow for a diversity of opinion. Besides, we might learn something from it. It enriches the conversation. We need to engage these people and refrain from making it personal. Not everyone has to agree with us.
Third, some criticism will come from people he calls “unhealthy trolls”:
These people have an agenda. They are out to hurt you—or at least use you for their own ends. They want to lure you into a fight. I have had three this week. They taunt and mock you. They are unreasonable. If you engage them, they will only distract you and deplete your resources. The best thing you can do is ignore them.…You will never satisfy them. Just keep doing what you know you are called to do.
Most constructive criticism will come from true friends or honest critics. But sadly, “unhealthy trolls” exist. These are critics who are unreasonable, and in my experience these are critics that, unless you completely agree with them, will not be satisfied. In these rare cases I have found Mr. Hyatt’s counsel to be wise.*
I believe a more biblical term for the troll is the quarrelsome person. The book of Proverbs frequently mentions quarrels and quarrelsome people (see for example Proverbs 17:14, 20:3, 22:10, 26:20–21). In his study on the topic Kevin DeYoung defines the quarrelsome person as one who stirs up unnecessary arguments, arguments that are not the product of loving rebuke or principled convictions. The quarrelsome person, he writes, “loves to pour gasoline on every tiny spark of conflict.” And sadly, too often the quarrelsome person is a professing Christian within the church.
I’m grateful there are—relatively speaking—few quarrelsome people. But they are out there. In reality, most people will be true friends or honest critics. Don’t ignore the criticism from your true friends. Don’t ignore the criticism from your honest critics. But do ignore unreasonable criticism from those who are quarrelsome trolls.
Don’t Ignore Your Heart
You may ignore unhealthy trolls—but never ignore your own heart.
Especially when you are the object of false criticism or accusation, pay particular attention to what’s going on in your heart. Here’s why. Often there is a temptation involved, a temptation explained well by Tim Keller, a pastor who is familiar with trolls.
He addresses the pastor’s heart when he writes,
If the criticism comes from someone who doesn't know you at all (and often this is the case on the internet) it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often pilloried not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views (and motives) that I do not hold at all. When that happens it is even easier to fall into a smugness and perhaps be tempted to laugh at how mistaken your critics are. "Pathetic..." you may be tempted to say.
Don't do it.
Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, you should not mock them in your thoughts. First, remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past, times in which you really got something wrong. Second, pray for the critic, that he or she grows in grace.
Yes, ignore those who merely accuse, taunt, and mock. Pray for them. Check your own heart. And then keep doing what you know you are called to do.
* Here I need to make one qualification. There might be an occasion when it is wise and appropriate for a pastor to address a false accusation publicly, especially in cases when it is unsubstantiated, is sowing suspicion through the church, or is adversely influencing a large percentage of the congregation. In this case it would be very appropriate for a pastor to address the accusation publicly. But in my experience this situation is quite rare.
July 1, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Preaching | Proverbs
As the book of Song of Solomon is a unique gift for married couples, the book of Proverbs is a unique gift for parents and children. For preachers looking to use the summer months to preach this unique book, here are a few tools that may be useful.
Preaching Proverbs in Calvary’s Shadow
It can be difficult to balance the call to obedience with the cross-centered life. Yet that is what William Arnot accomplishes in the final chapter of his old commentary on Proverbs, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth (published in 1873). The final chapter, “Faith and Obedience—Work and Rest,” models this balance well and I commend it to you.
You can read or download the entire commentary for free online. But you can download the isolated chapter I mention as a PDF here (0.9MB).
Of importance to the preacher of Proverbs is getting a handle on a few recurring themes and character developments featured in the book (i.e. wisdom, folly, discernment, understanding, knowledge). Derek Kidner’s excellent commentary will certainly help here.
I also recommend a newer commentary on Proverbs by John A. Kitchen (Mentor, 2006). In the appendix of his commentary, Kitchen has written a very useful systemization and summary of the path of the righteous and the path of the fool (pp. 727–736). Kitchen uses three graphics to distinguish the two paths and the several steps along the way.
The explanations behind these charts are developed in the commentary appendix. And the editors of Christian Focus have granted us permission to post the entire appendix here as a downloadable PDF (2.4MB).
Summer Series Outline
Due to its structure, the book of Proverbs is difficult to preach expositionally from beginning to end. The book lends itself to topical exposition, a feature that makes it a suitable text for preaching during the summer months.
Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, Virginia, is using the summer to preach a ten-week series on Proverbs. The pastors have divided the first nine chapters by topic (I was honored to participate in the series by preaching the second message).
FEAR GOD (1:1-7)
HEAR (8:1, 32)
The church printed full-color bookmarks to outline the series and, as you will see, to capture the series as an opportunity to encourage and equip the church to interpret the book of Proverbs for themselves. Here is the graphic they used for the series:
So these are a few tools of note as you preach Proverbs, or as you consider a future series in the book. I hope you find them helpful.