Criticizing the Leader: It’s a Family Tradition

“We’re being silly, aren’t we, Grandpa?”

Abby was about 6 years old and if not the joy of my life, definitely one of them. We were enjoying the swing in her front yard where I tried to spend time practically every day with Abby and her twin Erin and their brother Grant.

She and I had been doing what little girls and their grandpas do best–laughing, making up goofy songs, telling stories.

“Yes, we are,” I said to her. “Why do we like to be so silly?”

She said, “It’s a family tradition.”

I fell on the grass I was laughing so hard at that. Out of the mouths of babes!

No pastor or other minister of church leader enjoys being the butt of criticism. No one likes personal attacks, no one is blessed by the murmuring of the masses that undercuts faith, saps energies, and douses enthusiasm.

No leader in any realm–political, academic, religious, commercial–feels affirmed and encouraged by the constant bickering of those he/she is supposed to be leading.


It’s what people do. It’s a human trait. And in the church, pastors, it’s a family tradition.

To bear this out, I suggest you take a quick gander at the constant carping and harassment to which Moses was subject.

Scriptures tells of at least nine incidents where the Israelis tried Moses’ soul with their bellyaching.

The trip from Egypt to Canaan–much like the journey of your congregation–was no Sunday afternoon drive. No walk in the park. The newly-freed people of God subjected Moses to a constant diet of harassment.

1) “Pharaoh’s soldiers will kill us!” (Exodus 14:11-12)

As a result, God divided the Red Sea.

2) “We need water!” (Exodus 15:24)

As a result, God sweetened the bitter waters of Marah to make it fit to drink.

3) “We need food!” (Exodus 16:3)

As a result, God sent manna from Heaven.

4) “We need water again!” (Exodus 17:3)

As a result, God gave them water from a rock.

5) “We’d like some meat!” (Numbers 11:4)

As a result, God sent them quail.

6) “We’ll never be able to conquer Canaan!” (Numbers 14:3)

As a result, the Lord spares them, but sentences them to wander in the wilderness until the older generation dies off.

7) “Moses is acting like God.” (Numbers 16:3,13)

As a result, God executes the complainers. (That got their attention.)

8) “There’s no water!” (Numbers 20:5)

As a result, He provided water from a rock again.

9) “There’s neither food or water, and we are sick to death of this manna!” (Numbers 21:5)

As a result, God sent fiery serpents among them. Many died. Then He gave the remedy of a bronze serpent on a pole, a precursor to the Lord Jesus on the cross (see John 3:14).

Here then are the conclusions we may draw from this:

1. Criticism is standard fare for any leader.

Several cliches are in order here….

“It’s why they pay you the big bucks, leader.” (This statement is always accompanied by a smile, otherwise, it’s an insult.)

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” (This one–attributed to Harry Truman–is meant as a rebuke for the whining of leaders.)

“Unless you are the lead dog, the view never changes.” (I’m not sure how it fits, but maybe it does.)

2. The pastor/church leader is no better than Moses or Jesus Himself.

Moses was subjected to this treatment, so we may assume the rest of us will be also.

Jesus said, “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house ‘Beelzebub,’ how much more they call them of his household” (Matthew 10:25).

3. A wise leader never goes into any forward-thinking project without anticipating criticism.

The team has not thrown you a curve, pastor, when they begin the murmuring. It’s what they do. It’s standard fare. Criticism is not just “par for the course;” it IS the course.

So, anticipate it. Expect it. Prepare for it. What will be your answer when they raise this objection? That one?

Before proceeding on a project, a wise leader will brainstorm with his team on objections which may be raised from the congregation. Ideally, he will answer them in his initial presentation so they will not have to be voiced. Either way, he is ready.

4. The wise leader never takes criticism personally.

The Lord said to Samuel, “It’s not you they’re rejecting, but me” (I Samuel 8:7).

Even if the critic makes it personal–and those who excel at opposing are gifted in this skill–do not take it that way and your constituents will rush to your side to defend you. If, however, you receive all negative comments and all questions as personal attacks and respond defensively, your supporters will lose confidence in you and desert your project in droves.

In preparation, role playing with your closest team members works. One raises objections to your plan, another intensifies it, and you respond. Then, everyone in the room analyzes your answer in order to find the best response possible. In this way, you benefit from preparation, anticipation, and several minds instead of one.

5. God can and often does use criticism to build His leaders.

When you want to build a muscle, you put stress on it. When God decides to mature and strengthen His leaders, He allows them to undergo stress. James wrote, “The trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas. 1:3). It does that. But it also produces a hundred other positive qualities in the man or woman of God whom the Father allows to receive attacks.

The trying of your faith builds reliance on God rather than other people. The trying of your faith lessens your dependence on the vote and support of those who put you into office (or the pulpit) in the first place. The trying of your faith drives you to your knees in prayer. It sends you to the Scriptures looking for guidance for difficult situations.

The day will come when you will look back and give thanks for the awful experience. Nothing about it was fun; everything about it brought good in your personal life.

6. Leave the naysayers to the Lord to deal with as He pleases.

Vengeance is mine; I will repay (Romans 12:19).

The time may actually come when you decide that some of the critics were instruments of the Father Himself, sent to do a job, but in the most unconventional of ways.

As I write, I’m smarting from a thorough reaming-out I received through a series of emails this week from some brother previously unknown to me who took it upon himself to hammer me about my cartoons. At my website ( there are any number of these, including a series on Galatians from a study Southern Baptists were doing a couple of years back.

The writer accused me of poking fun at the holy Word of God. I was taken aback by this. If he was correct, it was a serious charge.

I went back and reviewed all the cartoons. None jested about God’s Word. All of them attempted to illustrate truth in the Word.

So, I asked the fellow to please get specific. Which ones did he find objectional?

He responded that I was missing the point. “All are out of order,” he said. “You are making light of the serious Word of the living God.” He even ended with a warning to those who trifle with God.

I said something to the effect that he must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, to have decided to attack a faithful brother in Christ. I ended with, “Okay, I’m done here.”

My wife has made me promise to delete any further communications from this fellow, because she knows they have a depressing effect on my spirit.

Was he wrong in his criticism? I’m convinced he was. Friends who have gone to the blog and reviewed the cartoons affirm me in this.

However, he has done me one huge favor. I will pay close attention to every cartoon I do from now on, to make certain none are playing loose with God’s Word or toying with the holy commands of Scripture in order to make a joke.

In fact–this is off the subject but let me make this point–anyone who looks at my drawings will conclude that my intention is almost never to get a laugh but to provoke the viewer to think about a matter.

As for the critic, we will leave him with the Lord. Which is where I want to be left also.

7. In time, we end up thanking God for criticism.

You meant it for ill, but the Lord meant it for God, is how Joseph put it to his brothers (Genesis 50:20).

I think of criticism the way my dad used to think of his six children. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any of them. I wouldn’t give you a dime for another!”

So, faithful warrior for Christ Jesus, go forward. Do not demand as a condition of service that you will stay out front so long as no one criticizes. They will criticize. It’s what some of them do best. It’s the only way they know to react.

God will deal with them, if necessary, and will use this in your life and ministry.

Welcome the criticism. Anticipate it and prepare for it. And, assume one thing more: You cannot possibly anticipate and prepare for every attack, every negative comment, every criticism. Sometimes it will blindside you and catch you off guard. Only your maturity in Christ will get you through that.

Keep your perspective, child of God.

Also, a little sense of humor wouldn’t hurt.

4 thoughts on “Criticizing the Leader: It’s a Family Tradition

  1. Pogo said “We have met the enemy and it is us!” or something close to that. People like that are legalistic minded. They look at the same things/pictures etc., that we do and see THEIR OWN intent as if they were the author/artist. anyone reading one story from your blog would know the intent.

    Another thought: Why do they keep looking at more of your cartoons? One look and out if they disagree. I have heard people talk about “heavenly sandpaper”. Hogwash! Examine the criticism before you give it and if that criticism is not Biblical, then it is just a human opinion that should be kept to themselves.

    Some people think that it is ok to speak what’s on their mind about the pastor’s clothes, tie, sermon delivery, length of service, etc., and all the way home and all Sunday afternoon they have “pastor roast”. We give not get.

  2. Some of the harshest criticism I receive is from those who love me the most. That is what hurts the most because they know me best and know my faults. And I already know my weaknesses and I can’t stand them. But, if I can get over my own hurt feelings and then take it to heart, it is usually the best medicine for me. That is just being accountable to those who want what is best for you.

    And, I think you can learn something, even from those who don’t like you. But, most of us hate to be criticized and will usually not man-up (popular term-but has a good thought behind it)and listen to determine if it is ‘constructive’ criticism that can make us more like Christ. Usually, being able to recognize someone’s faults means the criticizer has them, too. What was that Christ said about the measure that you find fault in others?

    But, if you just don’t like going to church, not likng the pastor or he didn’t shake my hand or I don’t like the way he preaches or there is too much music are as good excuses as any.

  3. Criticism is matter of the heart:

    Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

    Proverbs 27:5-7

  4. Great article! I loved the insight and advice given. Also, your article writing style is very pleasing to read. If you have enough time kindly check out my brand new website and let me know what you think.

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