What We Believe
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Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry, by Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson. Phillipsburg, NJ: 2020, 177 pages, paper, $15.99.

Few people enjoy receiving criticism, and most avoid critical people. Yet regular criticism, whether well-intended or not, is a standard fixture of the Christian ministry. To be fair, this is endemic to any public position, especially those speaking publicly like pastors, politicians, and teachers. Receiving criticism is unavoidable in Christian ministry, it is an inevitable reason why many leave the pastorate, and it is indispensable for humble growth in Christ. Joel Beeke, with the help of Nick Thompson, provides pastors with biblical wisdom and sanctified common sense for addressing criticism in the Christian life. This book is not only for pastors, but for everyone, since malicious critics need repentance and friendly critics need encouragement and instruction in how to help build up their ministers.

Building on biblical Christ-centered foundations, most of this work expounds both destructive and constructive criticism. By lifting our gaze to the fact that the pages of Scripture record a plethora of criticisms against God and Christ, the authors place enduring criticism on an unshakable foundation. Believers endure criticism best, especially when marked by ill intent, when they keep their eyes on Christ and fellowship with him in his afflictions. Even destructive criticism can have positive effects in our lives. This hinges on whether we learn to respond to criticism in a mature biblical manner and do not merely dismiss criticism because of its source. Some criticism is simply rude, vindictive, and personal. Unfortunately, our “enemies” may be more willing to confront us with our faults than our friends will be to risk hurting our feelings. Beeke and Thompson give us the tools we need, replete with examples, to retain what is good and reject what is bad when this happens. Perhaps even better, and more off the beaten path, they encourage people and elders how to give pastors constructive criticism well and regularly, and elders how to give constructive criticism to congregations at least once a year. The advantage of both practices, if done well, is that it precludes allowing criticism to devolve into destructive criticism alone. Proactive criticism among loving friends is better than reactive criticism by upset people, whether valid or not. An appendix concludes the book by helping seminary students build godly habits that will enable them to receive criticism well in the ministry by developing godly interpersonal relationships now.

There is one elephant in the room worth noting in passing. Joel Beeke is a seasoned minister who has endured lots of criticism, while Nick Thompson is a recent seminary graduate. Why co-author a book requiring years of pastoral experience with someone who has almost none? Without detracting from the valuable content of the book, this combination of authorship will doubtless strike most readers as strange. The end product, however, is no less outstanding.

Pastors and their Critics is solid, wise, and necessary. Criticism is good for the soul, but only if that soul learns to respond to it humbly and wisely. We will never lose by taking criticism seriously, even when it is mostly wrong, if we are secure in Christ and learn not to despair. This is an uncommon and pleasant book on a common and painful aspect of the ministry. Whether you are a pastor or you have criticized one, which should cover most of us, this book is for you.

Ryan M. McGraw is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving as a  professor of systematic theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. Ordained Servant Online, June 2021.

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Ordained Servant: June 2021

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