We all make mistakes. Leaders of our Church—at every level—make mistakes too.
That’s why I decided to write this helpful, step-by-step guide on how to criticise your pastor when he or she does the wrong thing and doesn’t seem to hear God clearly. We need to be able to constructively criticise. So here are my simple steps. Ready? Strap yourselves in.
Step 1: Try to find the root problem. What is it that is really bothering you? Take some time to identify the exact issue. It’s easy to be distracted by a whole bunch of things but sometimes we forget what upset us in the first place. This is dangerous. It leaves your argument pretty thin.
Step 2: Check your reality. Have you ever been in a toxic relationship or workplace or group of friends? Everything is talked about in negative terms. It shapes the way you think. Are you discerning things accurately or are you seeing things only through the lens that you or the people around you have adopted?
Step 3: Look at your motivation. This goes back to the first two points. If you haven’t been able to identify what made you upset in the first place or informed your emotions, then maybe the wrong spirit is driving you. Are you driven by sacrificial love? Or is it pride? Are you seeking to provide encouragement and build up the Church? (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Or remain comfortable?
Step 4: Understand you are not the only one in the church. Before you criticise, realise that the pastor has plenty of people to mentor, equip, counsel and lead. It’s not all about you. Decide if this is really something that needs the pastor’s attention. If there is a lack, deficit, issue in the church, is it the pastor’s problem or something you can fix? We don’t always understand the burdens other people carry.
Step 5: Try to see the problem from a different perspective. I think back to Jesus’ metaphor of the speck in another’s eye and the log in our own. Sometimes our view isn’t clear because of obstructions in our lives—the attitudes and outlooks that we cling to. Try changing the perspective. Maybe you’ll see that speck differently, once you move around the log that obstructs your view.
Step 6: Change yourself before changing others. Come to think of it, this is a useful point for life in general—marriage, family situations, the workplace . . . sometimes people become so used to the way others treat them, they have a default reaction. The only way to change their reaction is to change the approach.
Confession: I’m speaking from experience. I recently sent a hasty email to my pastor when I was upset. Here’s the thing: I realised many of my critical thoughts (or my lack of critical thought) that fed into the email came from unwholesome places of self-centredness, jealousy, negativity, pride. They say hindsight is always 20/20. I had not gone through this process of analysis and I had not been filled with the fruit of the Spirit. This list could have saved myself and my pastor a lot of pain. Instead, I told myself I knew best; I was only trying to provide accountability.
Lesson learnt: always wait overnight before sending an angry email (or don’t send it). I’ve been on the other end of hasty emails in my job and I can tell you: NO FUN.
Step 7: God expects us to reconcile. No matter what the issue, how big or even whether we’ve put our foot in it (like I did), God wants us to be a people who live in peace with one another, who don’t hold on to grudges but love and forgive, swallow their pride and, with His help, heal, restore and encourage one another. Approach all problems with this outcome in mind.
Now you’ve been through this checklist, is there still an issue? If there is, approach your pastor personally and privately and have a conversation. But my hunch is that many problems we create start with ourselves.
Our pastors are human beings, with thoughts and feelings, trying their best to work for God and the Church. We need to be willing to be equipped and led by our pastors. More than that we need to be “active” church members—allies not opponents—of our pastors.
October is Clergy Appreciation Month. Take some time in the next few weeks to show your pastor how much you appreciate them.