A preacher encounters four kinds of personal criticisms:
- You don’t do it the way my favorite preacher does it. This is a criticism of personal preaching style or handling of a passage. There’s nothing we can do about our personality. The criticism is essentially correct; we are not like the other preacher. This comparison stings. When given outside the context of friendship, it shows a shallow understanding of calling and gifts. But we can shrug our shoulders and say, “You are right. I’m not like that other person.”
- You could have done better. This is a criticism of clarity or competence with the text and the sermon. Every sermon technically warrants this criticism. j There is always something we could have explained more clearly or illustrated better. This criticism hurts. When given outside the context of friendship, it shows a shallow understanding of what preaching requires and how preachers are limited. But we can shrug our shoulders and say, “You are right. This passage has more to say than I can match.
- Your motives are wrong. This is an accusation of character. It puts the criticizer into the position of knowing the heart. It puts the preacher into an indefensible position. How does one defend when accused of preaching a particular sermon with pride? Do you try to prove your humility? To do so only confirms the suspicions of the accuser.
- You shouldn’t preach at all. This is an accusation of calling. Challenge to ones character and calling perhaps hurt the most . No individual Christian has the authority to determine whether another person is called or not. This authority resides with Christ alone and is demonstrated through the community of believers, not individuals.
Now the reality is the most hearers will not criticize you to your face. Only the most brazen will. But there are those who will. And if you are like me, it takes a process of self-talk to know how to evaluate the criticisms that come. Maybe there four will help you, like they helped me.