How to Criticize Your Pastor’s Preaching

article_images/12.5.HowToCriticize_400146620.jpg

There are no perfect preachers. We all need iron-sharpening dialogue with hearers about both our content and delivery.

You’ll build a great church, pastor, if you ever learn how to communicate. 

Listening to that sermon was like drinking from a fire hydrant. 

I’m so disappointed! I wanted you to give God all the glory. And you missed it! 

Your preaching is too intellectual. 

Your preaching is too practical. 

You don’t talk enough about social justice. 

You talk about social justice too much. 

Your preaching is over people’s heads. 

Your preaching isn’t deep enough. 

Give us meat, not milk. 

I have heard all these statements, or at least these sentiments, about my preaching.

Some have fallen asleep during my preaching.

One woman shook her head in disagreement as I taught on election, while others have argued with me while I was still in the pulpit.

I’ve had folks corner me after church to debate theology. Secondhand reports have informed me of church members who weren’t getting anything from my preaching. One guy said he felt like he was sitting in class (too many points, I suppose). Others have graciously and gently met with me face-to-face to confess they were not being fed.

Some of these criticisms surprised me. 

Some felt unfair.

Don’t Miss

A few hurt.

Some were well-deserved (especially the “fire hydrant” comment).

Occasionally they roll off, but the fact I remember so many of them proves they stick. Every experienced preacher could add to the list. Personal criticism is one of the job hazards of Christian ministry.

It’s also one of the great benefits.

Preachers need and value feedback. And we need more than just the compliments (though we appreciate those, too).

There are no perfect preachers. We all need iron-sharpening dialogue with hearers about both our content and delivery.

So don’t read this article as a whining complaint from a beleaguered pastor who can’t take it anymore. I don’t want people in my congregation to stop giving critical feedback for fear of bruising my ego.

But both preachers and hearers, those who are critiqued and those who offer critique, can make the dialogue more effective.

So here are some suggestions for each.

Brian Hedges Brian G. Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles, Michigan. He has been married to Holly since 1996 and they have four children. He has contributed articles to Heartcry! A Journal on Revival and Spiritual Awakening, Pastor Connect, and The Banner of Truth magazine.

More from Brian Hedges or visit Brian at http://brianghedges.com

Please Note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, uncivil and off-topic. Read a detailed description of our Comments Policy.
  • Tom

    Good article. Unfortunately most who need to read it won’t see it. With twenty some years of full-time ministry and thirty-some of public speaking and I still get some and probably deserve some critique. However you look at it though, preaching or teaching is like 12 gauge “birdshot”: you may miss what you aim for but your likely to hit a whole bunch of other things. You know as well as the rest of us, that for every critic, we can get enough compliments and backslaps to swell our heads or throw our backs out. Why just this week a guy visited our church and criticized the “manger scene” as graven images and idolatry. Criticism comes with the territory. “Preach the word with all longsuffering and doctrine”. (btw…i have fond memories of 7 yrs of ministry in SW Michigan)

  • Hersh, or is it HARSH

    You offer some very good points. I had just sat down with my Pastor and spoken to him that I believe our group has been well “Head-fed” but was greatly concerned that we weren’t applying it through our hearts very well. “It’s about building up the saints and converting the lost.” We were built up but not reaching out to the lost. Of course it was/is from my perspective/observations. Which he pointed out… criticism should be able to go both ways. Hersh the Pew-polisher

  • Scott Dossett

    I think some of these criticisms might be defused if we:

    1. Remembered and acknowledged from the pulpit that our sermons are our (or our denomination/group’s) interpretation of scripture, not the final revelation of all divine truth. I understand their will be a few non-negotiables, but I wonder how attitudes would be different if our goal was unity and not simply the propagation of our sacred opinions.

    2. Encouraged a culture of open-mindedness in our churches. Not wholesale relativism, but making room for differing opinions.on the substantial gray areas of scripture and faith.

    3. Admonished people (including ourselves) to put *less* emphasis on *our* sermons. Corporate worship can and should be so much more than a Sunday morning lecture series sandwiched between sing-alongs. At its root, corporate worship is a celebration of God and our common faith and hope in Christ, not a weekly speaking engagement on “7 Steps to a More Successful Spiritual Life.”

    Of course, people will always criticize. But maybe if we shifted the emphasis of the worship service away from ourselves, unnecessary criticism might go with it.

    • http://www.drhodges.org/ Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Hodges

      To other Pastors, Ministers & People of God

      Do worry about “being open-minded to cultural differing opinions”… this is a trick
      of the devil and lie from the pits of hell!

      As pastors you are not there to please the crowd and in the “gray areas of
      scripture and faith” as some would leave to believe. Preach the Word only in love of course, but in truth. The Holy Spirit will do the rest, if you do your job first.

      The Christian walk is not easy at times but always rewarding. Don’t be fooled by the others who try to use their reasoning’s of compromise to put in guilt trip on you for standing up for what is right in the sight of God. Please God not man.

      There are very few gray areas of scripture and certainly none when it comes to what
      many writers in Church Leaders have attempted to feed down mouths the weak in
      the Word of God as compromise in what God has already well settled in His Word.

      You would expect something different from these folks and not sound like to world
      to be politically correct in an incorrect world.

      BE VERY CAREFUL of wolves of in sheep clothing and those in ministry who will try to lead you astray with THEIR reasons and brand of ministry inconsistent with the Word of God…you are responsible for yourself in front of the Judgment Seat.
      Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Hodges

      • Scott Dossett

        Reverend Dr. Hodges, based on the title of which you seem so proud , you will recognize that there have been 2000 years worth of sermons, books and doctrines by sincere and devoted Christian leaders that have preceded our current place in history (not to mention the obvious contemporary differences among denominations themselves). Even without knowing your official doctrinal stance, I can state with confidence that numerous of them would have labeled even *you* a heretic.

        Unless you are arrogant enough to dismiss that great cloud of witnesses who have built on the foundation of Christ before you, you are forced to acknowledge that there is a great deal of room for discussion in the Christian faith and scripture. If, on the other hand, you are convinced that in this singular moment of time you (and those of like opinion) have laid hold of some magical hermeneutical key, discovered all the answers and solved all the mysteries that have been poised throughout Christian history, then – in light of 1 Timothy 3:6 – I would recommend a little humility. It seems that pride is the defining characteristic of the Ruler of the “pits of hell” with which you have so kindly associated me.

    • Ellis

      In all humility, I would ask, with reference to the first point, how does your or “your group’s interpretation of scripture” jibe with what 2 Pet 1: 20 & 21 says? I can understand the tendancy that each of us has to emphasize certain elements of what scripture says and to put it in a context that is readily applicable/understandable for our hearers. And I am aware that historical, cultural and other factors may amplify our understanding of it. But are you claiming that scripture is subject to multiple interpretations subject to our own finite comprehension? I acknowledge that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, Jn 16: 13, but I strongly believe that one of the fundamental failings of the modern church is to teach or even suggest that the bulk of scripture is subject to multiple meanings, thereby devaluing it. There are more than a “few non-negotiables”. Throughout scripture we are reminded by Him how seriously He takes His Word. Deut 4: 2 and Ps 138: 2 come to mind. It is our primary responsibility to disseminate, to speak truth, not offer opinion. God says what He means and means what He says.

      • Scott Dossett

        First of all, 2 Peter 1:20-21 refers explicitly to prophecy, not all of scripture. Secondly, the “interpretation” spoken of in that passage has to do with the prophet’s interpretation, not our interpretation. In other words, no recorded prophecy (that is: legitimate, tested prophecy) was ever just made up by someone, but had to have come from God. Thus the point: the speaking of God about Jesus’ sonship in the disciples’ presence is legitimate proof of their message about him.

        On the other hand, our particular interpretations of scripture are not divinely assured. This becomes abundantly clear when one takes honestly and seriously the varying interpretations of scripture across the denominations and across the history of Christianity. And when one honestly acknowledges the distance (time and culture-wise) that separates us from the original historical setting of the New Testament.

        Whether scripture is ever subject to multiple meanings is not the issue. You or I have no way to know objectively for certain – in the presence of multiple possible legitimate interpretations – which is the correct one. That is NOT to say that we can never have any certainty (I don’t believe that at all), but there are more difficult cases than some people want to admit. So a lot of humility and grace are absolutely necessary if we’re going pursue any kind of Christian unity in love.

        • Ellis

          Scott, with reference to the 2 Pet 1 passage, I believe Thayer defines “propheteia”, as, “a discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events.” I do not know how narrowly you connote or define that word, but in keeping with the spirit of 2 Tim 3:16 KJV:

          All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
          doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness

          Ergo, scripture being God-breathed, inspired, qualifies under the terms of 2 Pet as being of no “private interpretation”. You would have people believe that the term “interpretation” has to do with that of the prophet. I would beg to differ. It is my contention that the interpretation is that of God, given to His intended hearers by the Holy Spirit and because He is true and consistent, Ja 1: 17b, it will not be at variance with the body of scripture. I will agree that often people, whether elders or laity may find it difficult to understand passages. That is why they study and in seeking are guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. again John 16:13. A good example would be the apostles in Acts 6: 4, though they, as leaders were compelled to study for purposes of dissemination. Furthur, I understand that there are insights which may be gained in study of the varied historical and cultural melieux and the utilization of the various study helps that have been developed over the ages. And that can add room for debate. But by and large the best device for any exegetical exercise is scripture itself, for the reasons given above. Finally, I would submit that any effort/activity whose primary purpose, in Christ, is primarily to build “unity” without being firmly founded on the Word and teaching/preaching it, is an abomination to God. How does Jesus define himself in Jn 14:6? The way, the TRUTH and the life. He is introduced in the epistle as the WORD. As I said earlier God has repeatedly communicated how seriously he takes scripture. I would add the closing words of John in Rev 22:19. If God’s word were imprecise and unintelligible, of what value would it be? What power would it have? Check 1 Thess 2: 13. Yes, there is room for discussion and debate. We are encouraged to do so, Prov 27: 17. But I strongly believe that in the name of building concensus, being inoffensive, or creating a “seeker-friendly” environment in the church, that we promote confusion where there should be understanding…of scripture, so that it can work in us. Basically, the bible is often more easily understood than we make it to be. Perhaps, that is why Paul preached one thing, “Jesus Christ and him crucified”, though his approach was scholarly by any standard. I pray that Jesus will bless you, bro. I just can’t help but reiterate how important I feel that teaching the word is, whether for salvation or sanctification, Jn 17: 17, and while I know that it is for every believer to settle what it means in his heart and work out his own salvation..with fear and trembling, those who teach have an awesome responsibility, Ja 3: 1.

  • ellie marshall

    People just need to hear Grace brother thats all, that is what i had longed to hear all my 36years as a Christian from the sermon and that is what the church and the world need to hear, Jesus has done a finished work on the cross, not just once but for all time, and to then live loved and then live in the overflow of His Love, it is what He has done not what we do, we are human beings not human doings, i had to leave the ” church ” this year because I couldn’t come home fed-up anymore in listening to a mixed message of Works and Grace, Jesus blood is enough, let us rejoice in the Good News, and lets hear it being shared from the pulpit

    • Drummie

      That would depend on one’s interpretation. . I realize this will start a firestorm probably, but I must say it, James 2:14 seems to say differently:
      Jas 2:14 (NAB)
      What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? 17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 Indeed someone may
      say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without
      works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

  • DaveEkstrom

    Excellent article. I’ve often thought about, but never followed through, on a teaching series called, “How to Gripe.” We get the few cranks who let you know every week what they don’t like. Even from them there’s often a lot of good material but it’s so discouraging it’s nearly impossible to receive it. Those who would give you good feedback seldom are frank enough. But those emails or calls I’ve received that were appropriate have been gold to me. People want loving feedback. Anyone who wants to do a good job wants to be told the truth in love. The art is sharing that info in an encouraging and loving way. Your article was excellent.

  • revmom2

    A friendly criticism from a colleague. In future articles please use gender inclusive language when referring to the pastor. In this article was male based. Blessings.

    • revmom2

      Oops, The last line should read: This article was male based.

  • DaveEkstrom

    Not only does the pastor minister to the congregation but the elders of the church minister to the pastor as well. A pastor ought to feel secure enough in his person to receive criticism. The primary responsibility for this of course is his own but church boards and critics can be notorious at pulling out the rug from under a pastor’s feet. Pastors are often grossly underpaid which is a statement that the church does not value their work. While with their lips they use honorific titles, unhealthy churches, in fact, are misers who regret every penny and benefit their “employee” costs them. They don’t understand how hard pastors work because they don’t understand the nature of a pastor’s job. They assume the pastor is lazy. Because they are businessmen and salesmen, they use that criteria to judge a pastor’s job performance. That would be like an accountant judging the job performance of a psychologist. This is in direct contradiction to the biblical calling of pastor-teacher (Eph. 4:11; Acts 6) No wonder our churches are so worldly when the leadership expects them to led by CEOs or salesmen instead of shepherds.

  • Ryan

    Having been downloading and listening to sermons from various churches lately I do have a couple general criticisms.

    (1) I find some sermons more of a discouragement than an encouragement. To be dragged through the feces and urine of my shortcomings by placing before me some high unreachable perfect Christ standard that I couldn’t possibly keep, even for a day making me feel like a heal and completely unworthy isn’t getting me to become more Christ-like, faster. I’ve thrown my hands up and given up before the sermon is even done. Life with Christ is a long journey and I feel like some pastors expect people should be able to be at the finish line right now. If pastors would encourage people to continue with where they are at, giving advice, insite and direction, that will go a lot farther with people… me even.

    (2) Enough with the strict obedience to rules thing. This makes God out to be comparable to Allah. From the latest sermon I listened to… “You are commanded to be thankful! It is a command of God!” Please! It’s not about the rules. It’s about the heart because that is what God is paying attention to. Be thankfull every day if you want but God will know if your being honest about it or not. It’s always about the heart. Encourage people to do the right thing from the heart. If people’s hearts are right, their tendencey will be to do the right things with very little prodding. Like it says in Hebrews, “let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” The idea is to have people be doing the right things for the right reason. Will obedience be acceptible to God if it comes from guilt, fear or duty?

    Some may critisize Dr. Charles Stanley, but of all pastors who I’ve listened to, he most closely preaches the way God speaks to me out of His word. There is still that humanity that come across in his sermons so that he’s no Jesus Christ but he is very insiteful. I have this wonder if his marriage break-up had a little something to do with that he loved God more than his wife and it showed. Makes me wonder what my wife thinks when I get up and leave her to go down to my reading room to read my bible and talk to God for a while. I guess I should ask. Can’t have number 1 feeling like a number 2 because Number 1 is number 1 when number 1 is at home.

  • Ian

    Much more can be said about criticism. We as pastors are easy to share our view of sinful people from the pulpit and without realizing it, we do a lot of criticising. The best part, people actually gobble it up. I really believe, reading some of the comments below that we have difficulty accepting criticism because we are the pastors, the learned, etc. We must always have an answer and we have forgotten what it means to listen, learn and internalize. Pastors we are the people in serious need of help because we enjoy giving but have difficulty receiving criticism.

  • David Kumar

    criticism makes many believers to hurt and many believers to make angry…. it is not a correct way to preach…in the holy bible we never see any where like this preachers of lord Jesus…. even a sinner, or even a rich and proud also never hurt about his preacher…now a days criticism become a fashion and giving stuff to dirty preachers and wasting spiritual growthing time of church and delaying to strengthen of believers..

article_images/See_105307154.jpg

WATCH: God, Show Me What I Have to Be Thankful For

A powerful video on gratitude and thanksgiving from Igniter Media.