noun: criticism; plural noun: criticisms
- the expression of disapproval of someone based on perceived faults or mistakes.
- the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.
Jesus said, "It is far better to give than to receive." Unfortunately, many people apply this to the practice of criticism, as defined in #1 above. Some Christians even seem to think that it is a spiritual gift, and they want to exercise their gift!
But there is a necessary kind of criticism. The kind described in definition #2. It is the kind of criticism Charles Haddon Spurgeon talks about in a lecture entitled "The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear," found in Lectures to My Students:
A sensible friend who will unsparingly criticize you from week to week will be a far greater blessing to you than a thousand undiscriminating admirers if you have sense enough to bear his treatment, and grace enough to be thankful for it.
When I was preaching at the Surrey Gardens, an unknown censor of great ability used to send me a weekly list of my mispronunciations and other slips of speech. He never signed his name, and that was my only cause of complaint against him, for he left me in a debt which I could not acknowledge. I take this opporutnity of confessing my obligations to him, for with genial temper, and an evident desire to benefit me, he marked down most relentlessly everything which he supposed me to have said incorrectly. Concerning some of these corrections he was in error himself, but for the most part he was right, and his remarks enabled me to perceive and avoid many mistakes. I looked for his weekly memoranda with much interest, and I trust I am all the better for them.
If I had repeated a sentence two or three Sundays before, he would say, "See same expression in such a sermon," mentioning number and page. He remarked on one occasion that I too often quoted the line, "Nothing in my hands I bring," and then he added, "We are sufficiently informed of the vacuity of your hands." He demanded my authority for calling a man covetous; and so on.
Possibly some young men might have been discouraged, if not irritated, by such severe criticisms, but they would have been very foolish, for in resenting such correction they would have been throwing away a valuable aid to progress. No money can purchase outspoken, honest judgment, and when we can get it for nothing let us utilize it to the fullest extent. The worst of it is that of those who offer their judgement few are qualified to form them, and we shall be pestered with foolish, impertinent remarks, unless we turn to them all the blind eye and the deaf ear.
What Spurgeon helps me see is that I don't need to be afraid of criticism, that it is something God will use to break away rough edges and help me grow. So what I'd like to do is help you criticize your pastor/preacher, so that he might mature. What would helpful, substantive, thoughtful criticism sound like as you look toward this coming Sunday, and participate in and then walk away from the service?
David Murray gives us ten things to think about when criticizing the preacher.
Let the reader understand.
So you’ve heard a sermon and you’re not happy. You feel the preacher got it badly wrong in either his interpretation, his words, his manner, his length, his whatever.
Well, I’m not going to tell you exactly what words to use. I’m simply going to give you ten questions to ask that I hope will produce the right words and the right way to say them should you ever have to offer criticism to a preacher.
1. Have I understood him correctly? Give the preacher the benefit of the doubt. Ask yourself, “Am I putting the worst possible construction on this?” Perhaps check with your husband or wife, “Did I hear this correctly…?”
2. Have I given this enough time? It’s rarely wise or helpful to immediately react to what is preached. Your passions will be high, but so will the preacher’s. Not a good recipe.
3. Have I prayed about this? Have you taken time to ask the following? - “Lord show me if I’m right here. Show me if this is important enough to take further. Help me to see if this is primary or a secondary matter."
4. Is this just personal preference or biblical principle? We all have our favorite truths and our favorite preaching styles. Is this about bible doctrines and biblical practice or just my tradition or preference?
5. Have I thought about the best time and way to communicate? Neither Sunday or Monday are good days to approach a pastor about problems with his preaching. On Sunday, his adrenaline is still pumping. On Monday, he’s flat as a pancake. Best not do this in public in front of others but in private. Do it in a calm, gentle, and loving manner. As I’ve learned, do it personally rather than in writing or by email.
6. Am I doing this out of the right motive? Is my love and respect obvious? If it is constructive, designed to serve the pastor, then criticism can be incredibly helpful.
7. Am I focused or just spraying pellets? Never say, “And while we’re at it, that sermon last year….and here’s another thing…”
8. Have I considered the possibility that I may be one of many others doing the same? You may be the straw that breaks the preacher’s back.
9. Am I prepared to listen to his explanation and concede I was wrong? Are you genuinely open to be corrected yourself?
10. Is it in the context of previously expressed appreciation? It’s so much easier to listen to criticism when you know the person has your good at heart and wants you to thrive and prosper. The repeated critic can be much more easily ignored or dismissed.