by John Meador
Every preacher experiences at one time or another the hard, stinging words of a critic who expresses some unfavorable opinion of a message you worked long and hard to prepare.
If we're not careful, that penetrating criticism can frustrate, embitter, and discourage us. We can become gun-shy in the pulpit and begin to see preaching as something other than the delight it ought to be.
In my opinion, the one group of people who have had the greatest impact on my preaching is that very group: the critics. I learned long ago that those who compliment my preaching have a variety of motives-some pure and some not so pure. There are actually people out there (you know this) who would tell you what a great message it was just to encourage you because it was not, in fact, a good message that day. Others may say it was the greatest message they've ever heard because it touched them in some sincere way. Are we to go away from those encounters thinking we've revolutionized the art of preaching that day? I don't think so.
Neither, however, are we to go away feeling we've failed God and man when someone criticizes our message. All critics have one thing in common. They say something that other people are thinking. And if we take criticism wisely, we may be able to allow the Lord to use those words to do a little surgery on how we preach. I know-it has happened to me.
Each church I've pastored (four in all) has had a progressively more discerning group of people. I have preached to those with little education and I have preached to those who have the greatest of theological educations. In each congregation I've pastored, there have been individuals who sat under my weekly teaching who were nationally known as communicators and scholars of God's Word. If I take all criticism as the work of the enemy, and if I perceive all criticism to be negative, I cease to be teachable.
Allow me to share a few principles of "going under the knife" in our preaching.
1. Remember that God has gifted you in a unique way.
Sometimes criticism comes because we do not measure up to the former pastor, or to some renowned Bible teacher. Don't try to be someone that your critic admires! Be yourself, and let God teach you to speak in the style and personality that He has given you. I've found myself emulating people that I have no business mimicking. Be yourself.
2. Instead of resisting criticism, embrace it.
It is difficult to find fault in a humble, teachable person. Sure, some can still do it, but remember what God said: He gives grace to the humble. Someone once told me that every criticism usually has at least a grain of truth. Find that truth and deal with it honestly. This has served me well.
Some years ago, one of our church members came to me and shared at least five faults he found in my preaching, in general. Instead of getting mad, I set about to evaluate my preaching on the basis of what he shared. It turned out that he was right about some of his points, and within a few years, I received a letter from him telling me how much he appreciated the way I preached. Something changed, and I'm pretty sure it was both of us.
3. If someone points out errors in the way you interpret Scripture, listen to him and check carefully!
In my experience, only those who care deeply about accuracy will make such statements, and since I am accountable to God for the truth, I need others to help me. It is so easy to be sloppy, and takes so much time to be fully accurate. I love it when I know there are those who will catch hermeneutical errors. They are on my side! If you are correct, help them see why you believe that, but if they point out legitimate errors, thank them for their discernment. You will win a friend for life.
I can recall mentioning one day that one particular chapter of the Bible contained 39 examples of faith. A certain Bible teacher came to me afterwards and told me he could only find 38, and would I help him find the 39th one? Whatever else happened, it certainly caused me to be very, very diligent to be correct in my statements.
4. Keep in mind that most of the people whom you preach to already appreciate your ministry.
They are still there, aren't they? The last I checked, church attendance was still a voluntary activity. Don't let the criticism of the few get you down, but let them build you up. Take it as a challenge to be the best you can possibly be.
It may feel like you're going under the knife in surgery, but the surgery isn't radical-simply a nip here and tuck there. It is likely to bring great improvement when you take it the right way.
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.