I wish I could say that I handle it well. Criticism is hard to take and Pastor’s are especially susceptible to turning it into a game of pulpit & pew dodge-ball. Currently I’m reading a book called Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David, Gordon. Believe me when I say it is a difficult read, and a pastor should not pick this book up unless he is ready and willing to be brought very low. The book is brutally honest about the ministers task, and does not fall short of levelling the proud heart. Believe it or not, I am very appreciative of Gordon for his honest appraisal of the current condition of the pulpit. I have much to work on as a preacher, and see afresh, my great need to be a better ambassador of Christ behind the Sacred Desk.
In Gordon’s book he states that in his latest charge, in exchange for a reduced salary, he asked the elders for 2 things: first, more time off to study, and second, be given an objective preaching review once per year. Gordon believes that the best way to improve as a preacher, is to have a review of his main duty. Other professionals are subject to review, so why should this be any different for ministers? (Note: a minister is not a professional. Gordon recognizes this, but believes the principle still applies.) This is the point in the book where most preachers will begin to feel a bit uneasy and perhaps look for a more encouraging read. Thoughts run through one’s mind like, “What would my elders say?”, and “Would I be able to handle it?” The question came loud and clear to my own heart, “How would I handle such criticism”? Scary stuff. This presumes of course, that the eldership knows something about the art and science of what they have governance over. The elder should make a complete study of the “art of prophesying”, and know from whence he speaks. This goes without saying.
The truth is, some criticize because they firmly believe that “The Lord wants you to be humble, and has appointed me to do it”. There is never an encouraging word from this kind of person, who always has a list of things you could do better, different, or like the last minister “Rev. So-n’-So”, who by the way, was near perfect. There are others however, who are genuinely trying to help you become a better preacher, and to do so they need the opportunity. None of us like having our shortcomings exposed let alone hung out for others to scrutinize. We’d rather admit that we don’t have the problem, the criticizer does. But this is not biblical. Solomon says, “A wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.” (Proverbs 13:1) and, “A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise.” (Proverbs 15:12). I remember Dr. Beeke saying once (and I wish I could remember where), “There is always a shred of truth, even in the harshest criticism.”
A wise preacher will examine the criticism he receives although it may be painful to do so. He knows it is dangerous to dismiss such simply because he doesn’t like it. “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy“(Proverbs 29:1). This goes for preachers too. David knew something of this when he said in Psalm 141:5 “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.” This text also says something about the one doing the criticizing doesn’t it?
I think the Lord has set in place the proper mechanism for this kind of review; the local consistory. It is not the place for every armchair preaching expert in the congregation to point out the flaws present in the pulpit; it is the prerogative of the elders (and that, perhaps an appointed one or two). The consistory alone has the oversight of the preaching. Even then, the criticism should be motivated by love. Further, the criticism should be objective in nature, not based on personal preference. When it is objective in nature, it will almost always be helpful. When I was a student minister several years ago, just beginning to preach, I was told by an elder, “I don’t like your preaching. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t like it.” Massively unhelpful. But loving, reinforced, objective criticism from an appointed source can be very helpful. I remember preaching a sermon several years ago in a congregation I had never been in before. After the service was over, I was approached by the kind old minister who said to me, “I liked your sermon very much. There was one flaw however; the Christology could have been stronger.” He then went on to point out at least 2 places where I missed the direct link to Christ. Massively helpful. Further, he did it in such a loving way, I could not help but receive it with gladness.
Bad criticism often points out the flaws but never suggestions for fixing them. What makes matters worse, bad criticism can be so entirely subjective that it has no footing in reality. “Lloyd-Jones preached on this text, and let me tell you, you’re no Lloyd-Jones.” Like that’s some kind of revelation. I think in the case of unhelpful criticism, it is best to turn the conversation to the Scriptures, and humbly demonstrate, from the Word, how what you are doing is approved of God. Move from the subjective to the objective. Ask for scriptural passages that point out the inadequacy. By doing so, the conversation moves away from personal preference toward objective truth. If this cannot be done by the criticizer, don’t take it personally. Anyone else who does the same thing, will receive the same sort of criticism.
In short, preachers should welcome constructive criticism from the right sources (other ministers, elders, wife, etc.) done out of a spirit of genuine love. Further, those doing the criticizing should make their motivation plain: the strengthening of the preacher as the servant of Christ. Also, encouragement in the things done right can often help in the right reception of criticism. May the Lord help ministers, and student ministers to receive criticism with grace, and make it a matter of prayer.
When the criticism is subjective and unhelpful, do not defend yourself. Simply thank the person for their words, and tell them that you will lay it prayerfully before the Lord. Then do just that. If Beeke is right, that even in the most unloving criticism there is a shred of truth, then we must take it before the throne of grace.
And if, by chance, the criticism is unfair, let me leave you with the words of Peter, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Pet. 2:19-24).
A possible helpful link, 7 Ways to Deal With Haters.
This is an interesting post from Dr. David Murray .
I’d like to introduce you to four members of the Legalism family that I’ve frequently run into in pastoral ministry. They are among the most miserable people that you can possibly meet.
Mrs Try-Harder is trying to reach heaven by her good works. You’ll know her if you meet her, because she talks so much about herself that you’ll hardly get a word in. You certainly won’t be asked any questions about your own life and interests. If you manage to speak about the Gospel of grace, and “Whiter than snow” salvation, she may go quiet for a while and smile in a sort of condescending way. But she soon manages to change the subject from God’s Works to her own again.
Mr Addition knows the law so well that he’s decided to add quite a few of his own. He is often motivated by a desire to see Christians live more godly lives and feels sorry that God left so many gaps and grey areas in matters of personal conduct. So, to help everyone else he has scoured past tradition to fill in the gaps and eliminate the grey areas. There are two things Mr Addition hates. He hates being asked, “Where does the Bible actually forbid this or require this?” And he hates people pointing out his own failures in areas the Bible is crystal clear on. He’s much happier talking about his own laws rather than God’s.
Mr Contract has had quite a sad upbringing. He was raised in a family that believed in grace, but which conducted relationships on the basis of law. If a sister did something for a brother, the brother knew that he would have to return the favor soon, or else he would be reminded of his debt (usually in the middle of an unrelated argument). No one seemed to do anything for anyone else out of sheer love, without expecting repayment. Long records were kept of how much each had done for, or given to, the other. And woe betide anyone who failed to repay in kind before the next argument. Unfortunately this quid pro quo, like for like, commercial contract spirit is often carried into adult relationships and even into their relationship with God. For example, Mr Contract finds it difficult to receive grace from God or gifts from others without thinking immediately about how to quickly repay and equalize the accounts. Don’t ask him to do anything for you, unless you are willing to do something in return, usually with a bit of interest. And never ask him to go above and beyond the call of duty. He knows his rights! Having grasped and enjoyed little of grace himself, he is not going to show it easily to others.
Mr Pleaser is a pastor. Yes, pastors can be legalists too. Sometimes they look awfully like Mrs Try-harder. Regrettably, they are sometimes influenced too much by Mr Addition, who always seems to have the loudest voice in the fellowship. And too often they do their work out of a sense of contractual duty, rather than out of love for Christ and His people. But most often, Mr Pleaser’s day is dictated by the expectations of others, a legalism as miserable as all the others. Instead of being motivated to serve God’s people by his own experience of divine grace and love, Mr Pleaser ends up being pushed and pulled by the desire to avoid criticism or receive praise. His daily agenda and schedule is determined not by love for the Lord but by trying to live up to other people’s demands. Instead of serving the Lord whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, Mr Pleaser puts himself under the cruel, relentless, insatiable yoke of other people’s expectations.
I am sure that you will have frequent opportunity to meet these sad and sorry members of the Legalism family. (Sometimes, you only need to look in a mirror). If you do, I hope you will take them to the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I hope you will introduce them to Jesus who calls these weary and burdened souls to find perfect rest in Him. I hope you will show them how, through the cross, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us.
May God use us to break up this needy family, and to build up the happy family of His free grace.
I am asking why hymns may not be sung in church. There are also beautiful hymns. February 24, 1944
I have lumped these two questions together because they are obviously related, and are also in succession in the book. Here is Kersten’s answer:
The fact that there are a few hymns in the book of hymns which are actually good, makes the book all the more dangerous. Those few good stanzas are used to justify the use of the entire book of Arminian songs. Truly, that book, considered in its entirety, is liable to lull the congregation to sleep and to lead them away from the firm foundation of the truth. If the church accepts the book of hymns, it is in danger of being shattered to pieces on the reefs of all kinds of heresies. Cast out those hymns. The church must keep itself to the decisions made by the Synod of Dort in 1619.
Yes, there are beautiful hymns, some by Van Lodestin, the songs by Luther, etc. But also there are very many which harm the reformed doctrine. The Synod of Dort has appointed the Psalms and a few select hymns to be sung in church. Let us keep ourselves thereto and not accept a collection of Syrenian hymns into the Church (p.50).
Kersten stands on favorable ground by referring back to the Synod of Dort as the historical president for not singing man made songs in corporate worship. I concur wholeheartedly. I do believe however that Kersten does not dig deep enough for the answer to these two questions. If tradition alone is our answer to such an important query, we are not letting Scripture govern our actions, but man. The firmest foundation for any practice pertaining to the worship of God must be grounded in the Word of God, for He alone knows how to be worshiped. The historic reformed and puritan reason for the singing of Psalms, and not man made hymns in the public worship of God, is built upon an ancient scriptural principle of worship, nicknamed the Regulative Principle. Both the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Shorter Catechism appeal to this old path as the sole reason for our current practice.
Observe these two formidable documents:
Question 96. What does God require in the second commandment?Answer: That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word.
Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.
Q. 52. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.
So then if I may further Kersten’s thought, the foundational rule governing the acceptable worship of God corporately, is the Word of God itself, not the whims of the fleeting heart of man. Further, if man made hymns were to be permitted in the corporate worship of God, then why not choruses, and contemporary praise songs as well? We would then be embarking on the new path of “will worship” (Col 2:21-23), and adding to what the Lord has commanded.
The old paths are the safe paths, built upon the Word of God.
Never be absent from God’s house on Sundays, without good reason, – never to miss the Lord’s Supper when administered in our own congregation, – never to let our place be empty when means of grace are going on, this is one way to be a growing and prosperous Christian. The very sermon that we needlessly miss, may contain a precious word in season for our souls. The very assembly for prayer and praise from which we stay away, may be the very gathering that would have cheered, and stablished, and quickened our hearts.
Let us see, in this simple fact, the importance of diligence in the use of means of grace. Let us never neglect the house of God–never forsake the assembling of ourselves with God’s people.
[Note: This post is born out of the ministry in general. It is not a reflection of my personal struggle directly. Only indirectly as a father of 8 wonderful children.-JL]
We’ve all heard the stories of pastor’s children walking away from the faith. I remember reading a true story many years ago of a pastor sitting in his car, weeping for his 17-year-old son. This man was the pastor of a very large Baptist congregation in the mid-west. The congregation had grown from 120 souls to over 1100 in just under a decade. The congregation has just moved into a multi-million dollar facility, and as a gift, they gave the minister the new parsonage, title and all, as a thank you gift. The pastor himself was a charismatic personality, who’s excitement for the gospel often spilled over into the congregation. They had new programs, many church leaders, and a passion for the lost that few churches possessed. Outwardly speaking, this pastor had every reason to rejoice. But there he sat, weeping for his wayward son. He later confessed, “I would trade every trapping of my success for an opportunity to live my life over again. I would have spend more time with my children.” His children were now all grown, and almost all of them had left the God of their father. This story could be told countless times over in other towns and cities all over North America.
We all know that Pastor’s Kids (PK’s) are sinners like everybody else. We know as well that the child that leaves the faith, while surprising us, does not surprise God. Yet we cannot minimize the fact that there are often human elements that can be pointed to that, from our lateral perspective, have contributed to this sad event. As a father of 8, two of them now teenagers, I often stare at them, wondering what I can do to minimize the potential of this ever happening to us. First I can pray for them, pleading the promises of the gospel. I can be faithful in family worship, teaching their hearts and minds about sin, repentance and faith. But is there more that can be done? What contributes to some defections in PK’s. Here are my thoughts.
On a Pedestal
The truth is, when others sin, they are often forgiven of those sins. But when a PK sins, that sin may be forgiven, but seldom forgotten. PK’s live in a glass house with their parents. Everything that is said or done in that home becomes the talk of the church. Expectations are very high for PK’s because their father is the spiritual leader of the congregation. Many people even subconsciously view PK’s as an extension of the pastor himself, and therefore must be an example for all the congregation. This places incredible pressure on the PK. In many cases they are denied the right to be normal. So the reaction of the PK is often to resent the “perfection mentality”, and rebel against it in many outward ways. This is especially true for sons. The desire to be distinct from the identity of the father often propels the PK in the wrong direction.
PK’s need to be given the freedom to be kids. We cannot ever excuse sin in our children, but PK’s need the same range of grace that all other children enjoy. Some would say we need to lower out expectations. I rather think we need to have realistic expectations.
1.Never place higher expectations on a PK than you do for your own children. This is a good rule of thumb.
2.Go out of your way to communicate these realistic expectations to the PK’s. It will lessen the inherent pressure of being a pastor’s kid.
3.Don’t ask a PK son if he is going to be a preacher like his father, or a daughter if she is going to marry a preacher. You might not like the answer.
No Ear, No Time
Pastors are men who preach, and listen. Yet often while spending large amounts of time listening to others they do not listen very well at home. The bitter feeling often arises that “I am unimportant to my dad.” Or, “These people dominate so much of my father’s time he has no time for us.” The resentment is often directed at the church, not at the father. Again, resentment grows in the PK because there is no distinction between church and family, “our time” with dad, and “the church’s time” with pastor. Often, almost invariably, family time is stolen by the needs of the congregation and the family is expected to pick up the slack.
1.Pastors should have one day set aside exclusively for his family, the only exceptions being real emergencies (i.e., hospitalization or death).
2.A pastor should take at least 3 weeks off a year and NOT preach elsewhere. He should be with his family in the pew, going fishing, hiking, and spending time just being dad.
3.Elders should monitor this closely, and make every effort to protect the pastor’s time with the family.
My Dad is Stressed
Nothing discourages the PK more about the church than the toll problems can take on the father. Kids see this almost as clearly as the mother, and far clearer than the congregation. “If this is what a church is, then I don’t want to be a part of one”, is often the mentality. More children have been turned off from church because of incidentals that have dominated his time. The pastor has enough on his plate caring for the spiritual wellbeing of the church. He does not need to be brought into silly debates like the speed of the organ or how loud it is, how the offering is taken, or which kids are running around after the service. It is amazing how many times people think that the pastor is the complaint department of the congregation. This, in part are what ruling elders are for.
1.Only come to the pastor with spiritual problems. Never go to him thinking he is the umpire for every problem in the church. This adds to his stress level and has an adverse effect on the children.
Note to Pastor’s
Our family is a flock within a flock. Our first calling is to be the priest of our home, and care for the souls given to us. Congregations come and go, but our families will remain. 1 Timothy 3:4,5 says that one mark of an elder (also pastor) is that he “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?).”
Take the same care for the souls of your children as you do for your larger flock. Parents are often the instrument by which a child is brought to saving faith in Christ. Listen to your children, take time for them. And when you see that your time is being dominated inordinately by outside things, speak to your elders and cut back. We can not save our children, but we can certainly reduce the number of outside influences that may impact our children’s view of the Church.
Above all, pray for your children, as I know you do. But more than this, show them that you also are a sinner in need of grace, imperfect, looking to Christ as the author and finisher of your own faith.
September 9, 1943
What are we to think about the multiformity of the church?
* Note: multiformity is in contrast to uniformity. Uniformity being an undivided church (denomination), and multiformity meaning many churches (denominations).
This is a question that give us significant insight into Kersten’s view of “other” denominations. Kersten begins with a reflection on Dordrecht, insisting that they were “one in confession, but not in form” (19). In other words, there were different flavors of reformed nationalities present, along with slightly different forms of ecclesiastical apparati, but this “multiformity did not prevent the united rejection of the Remonstants’ case and the preservation of God’s Word”(19). He goes on to say that, “it becomes somewhat different when they begin speaking about the multiformity of the church in one country. There, the church ought to be one, also in her revelation” (19). Kersten goes on to argue that the presence of many different denominations in one country is the result of sin. Does this mean that Kersten held to some form of the Establishment Principle (one country, one Church?). Interesting.
“Some say that their church is the only true church. But this is the vain exclamation, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the the LORD, are these.’ Multiformity has now come into this world. Nevertheless, we must condemn it and grieve over it because of the sin that caused its existence” (20). I could not agree more with Kersten’s concluding words, ” May the Lord arise, as in the days of old, and reunite His church on the firm foundations of the time-honoured confession, according to His Word.”
As a good friend of mine often prays, “Lord, wilt Thou bring together those that belong together, and heal the breaches in the walls of the Church.” May it be so.
March 10, 1938
“What are the significance and authority of church symbols?”
Kersten Answer: Church forms of unity are symbols. By means of these symbols the church officially expresses herself concerning the doctrine og God’s Word. Therefore, symbols are more than private writings, such as the confessional writings of Agustine, which are not numbered with the symbols of the Churches. As far as the Reformed Churches are concerned, the following are included: the Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Cannons of Dort.
These symbols have authority. Those who assert that the symbols of the Reformed Churches of old are merely the work of man are not only mistaken, but reject what God has given His Church through the ages to confirm God’s Word. These are more than mere writings of man, although they are fully subordinate to God’s Word. They may not be compared with the Holy Scriptures as to authority, worthiness and immutability. Article 7 of the Confessions of Faith states emphatically that we may not consider of equal value with hose divine Scriptures any writings of men, however holy these men may have been. Nevertheless, those symbols have authority, because they are fully based on God’s Word. Whoever doesn’t agree with this or scornfully rejects these writings, does not belong in a church of true Reformed persuasion. It is to be feared that he (no matter how pious he appears to be in appealing to God’s Word alone) holds to errors that are uncovered by the symbols.
Whoever rejects the symbols, robs the church. What would he do without these symbols?Would she have to resume the fight with Rome, the Remonstrants, the Anabaptists, etc? Let us be on our guard that the false doctrine of our day doesn’t get the upper hand. Pious talk cannot stand up against that lie, but will be dashed in pieces on the symbols that are based upon God’s Word. I seriously advise you to read and study these writings. Our young people, in particular, must read them and hold fast to them.
Kersten is correct. In a day and age that seems to diminish the importance of church symbols (Creeds and Confessions), it is a good succinct reminder to us all. I would only add that the creeds are also symbols.
March 24th 1938
Kersten begins this section on the Church by insisting that the Church is the visible congregation of God’s elect sustained by the Spirit and the Word (4). He then becomes more precise, “The elect alone belong to her; the reprobates never counted as her members” (4). This comes in under the heading of church “Essence”, and Kersten no doubt, is defining the Church in her spiritual and true self. Yet Kersten does not maintain a pure Church alone in her earthly manifestation. “It is beyond our scope to deal with the church in a broader sense. We only add that many live along with this outward revelation without truly belonging to the Church”(4). We in the Free Reformed Churches would not disagree with this statement, though we might word it differently. In the FRC, the visible Church, which is the manifestation of the visible Covenant of Grace is made with believers and their children. We reject, with Kersten, that the unregenerate are in the essence of the covenant by baptism, yet would quickly add that even the reprobate in the congregation are recipients of outward, but not saving blessings. We would also insist that the promises of the covenant are the grounds upon which we plead for the salvation of our children. Yet the FRC maintains that the marrow or essence of the covenant is only realized by regeneration and conversion in our children. Here is perhaps the first point of disjunction between the NRC and the FRC; Kersten begins with election, and we begin with the covenant. I’m sure we will elaborate on this doctrine (Covenant & Election) in more detail in another post. Having said that, we would wholeheartedly agree with Kersten when he states, “Therefore we many never consider all who belong to the visible Church to be living members” (8). Kersten rightly rejects John De Labadi’s notion of a “pure church” on earth by stating, “The Church is to be considered as being internal and external”, and, “There is no visible Church without chaff” (13).
Kersten says that there are 2 kinds of marks of the Church, each with 3 sub identifiers:
- Institutional or outward marks (faithful preaching, right administration of the sacraments, and proper church discipline) (13,14),
- Inner being: (upright faith, true communion, and holy walk) (14).
I’m not so sure the “inner being” he is suggesting properly belongs to the subject of the marks of the true church, especially since our forefathers were speaking about her outward and objective manifestation. But I like Kersten’s emphasis on the need for vital godliness within the visible church.
Kersten correctly defines Reformed church government in 4 points:
- The Church is governed locally (consistory comprised of Pastors, Elders, Deacons).
- Broader accountability in the classical form (classis and synod).
- Local membership.
- Church and State side by side, not one subservient to the other.
It is interesting to note that Kersten, being the “old pather” that he is, speaks of the Papal Church as the anti-Christ no less that 5 times in the first 13 pages (3,5,12,15,18).
I found myself in agreement with most of what Kersten has said regarding the Church of Christ. Thoughts?