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When is it right to criticize my pastor?

pastor criticism

Pastors have been called by God to preach the Word, to emulate Christ, and to serve their congregations. It is a high calling: “If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position” (1 Timothy 3:1, NLT). This doesn’t mean that pastors are immune from criticism; in fact, it usually means they are targeted for criticism.

Laying some groundwork in preparation to criticize your pastor, we should consider the biblical requirements for pastors. According to 1 Timothy 3:2–7, a pastor should:

• be above reproach
• be faithful to his wife
• be temperate
• be self-controlled
• be respectable
• be hospitable
• be able to teach
• not be given to drunkenness
• not be violent but gentle
• not be quarrelsome
• not be a lover of money
• manage his own family well
• not be a recent convert
• have a good reputation with outsiders
• preach the Word (Galatians 1:6–9; 2 Timothy 4:2)

Given the above description, here are some valid reasons you could criticize your pastor:

• he is scandal-ridden and involved in cover-ups
• he is cheating on his wife
• his behavior and speech are extreme
• he cannot control himself
• he acts in shamefully appalling ways
• he is inhospitable and rude
• he can’t teach and doesn’t know how to
• he is a drunkard
• he is physically or verbally violent
• he is always quarreling
• he is greedy
• he doesn’t meet the needs of his family
• he is a new believer
• his reputation in the community is dreadful
• he is not preaching the Bible, or he perverts the gospel

Really, these are the only reasons to criticize your pastor. Notice what is not on this list: you do not have the right to criticize your pastor for matters of personal preference, for his style of ministry, for his hobbies, for his clothing choices, for his sense of humor, or for a thousand other things that people can (and do) think of.

When and if your pastor is violating 1 Timothy 4 or Titus 1—that is, he is engaging in sinful behavior or is consistently eroding the reputation of Christ and the church—then your criticism is warranted. What’s important at that juncture is how you engage in the act of criticism. As you approach your pastor with a criticism, please keep in mind what type of person you should be:

• be private; keep the matter between the two of you, until further witnesses are necessary (Matthew 18:15)
• be respectful (1 Timothy 5:17)
• be gentle (Galatians 6:1)
• be humble (Philippians 2:3)
• be gracious (Colossians 4:6)

Some churchgoers seem to think their mission in the church is to keep the pastor in check, to play devil’s advocate, to be permission-givers for his ideas, or to ensure the pastor’s actions do not crimp their style. But, no matter how many times you re-read the New Testament, you’ll never find criticism listed as a spiritual gift. Crankiness is not a fruit of the Spirit.

To be sure, there are times when pastors need to be confronted. But as long as your pastor is faithfully preaching the gospel and conforming to the standards of 1 Timothy 4 and Titus 1, you should refrain from criticizing him. Even more, you should refrain from gossiping about him to others.

So your pastor irritates you sometimes, or his sermons are not as interesting as the guy’s on TV, or he’s not extroverted, or he made what you think is a dumb decision. Is he sinning? Or does this come down to your personal preference? Rather than criticizing your pastor, consider your responsibility to him and the church:

• provide for him and “share all good things” with him (Matthew 10:10; Galatians 6:6)
• pray for him and his family (1 Thessalonians 5:25; 1 Timothy 2:1–2)
• be willing to follow his lead (Hebrews 13:17)
• commit to the ministry of your church and be willing to serve (Romans 12:5; 15:2)
• actively pursue peace in the church (Romans 14:19; Psalm 133:1)

The pastoral ministry is not easy. The pastor has a heavy responsibility to his church and their spiritual growth. But church members also have a responsibility to their pastor, and they, too, must give an account some day for how receptive they were to spiritual guidance. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022