We should expect better advice coming from a guy like Rainer, but maybe he was just having a few bad days there. Afterall, Rainer's first article on criticism posted on January 18, 2011, exactly one day AFTER North Carolina pastor Tim Rogers criticized Thom Rainer himself. Rogers points to the possible nepotism in Rainer's three sons - one of whom is barely out of college - all being author's published by Lifeway, the SBC agency that Thom Rainer heads. Good article, Tim "The Naysayer" Rogers.
Here's the advice:
Pastors, get ready for criticism when you go to pastor a church.
Criticism is a fact of life. In every profession, you have people who will think they know how to do your job better than you. If you get frustrated about the critics in your church, ask your members about what criticism they face at their jobs, and they will tell you that you likely have it pretty good. Most people in your congregation view you as "God's man" and will love you no matter what, with your good and bad.
But what if you have someone who is a "naysayer", as Rainer suggests. What should you do?
Some helpful, practical suggestions:
1. Don't do as Rainer suggests and view critics in your church as unregenerate. Oh, they might be. But so might you. So might the guy who is patting you on the back and is your greatest supporter. Sometimes God will put a cantankerous, cranky church member in your church that will call you every Monday to teach you something like humility and perseverance.
2. Whatever you do, do NOT do what Rainer suggests and wait for, or encourage, the "diaconate" (as in "deacons"?) in your church to take care of a naysayer through a discipline process or God-forbid some "informal" church process. That is exactly what NOT to do. That is not even a Christian response. You are supposed to love your critic. If you really think they are not a true Christian as Rainer says they must not be if they are a harsh critic, then shouldn't that be a person to focus on and show true Christian love to?
3. Reject the notion that you may have learned in seminary or picked up from the hot-shot mega church pastors preaching in seminary chapel that you are God's gift to your church, have a special anointing, or that you are the vision caster and people need to get on board with your vision. Reject the notion that you are some sort of special agent sent from God to save the people in their church from their ignorance. You are a pastor, an undershepherd. Practicing servant leadership starts in viewing yourself as a servant, not a special agent from God. Your critics might be special agents sent to you to help save you from some of the ignorance you picked up in seminary. Really.
4. Do not view ignoring critics as a goal to be achieved. Rainer says:
"But the reality is that we humans have difficulty ignoring critics whom we see every week, critics whose faces are ever before us. Ignoring critics is a good idea in theory, but only a few pastors are really able to accomplish such a feat."
Wow. It would not be so sad to read this if Rainer weren't a prominent speaker and author on leadership. This is exactly the opposite of what you should do. Ask any of your church members who are in education, or in business or any other vocation, and they will tell you how important it is to listen to negative feedback. You should seek ways to allow people to give you feedback, even anonymously. You should seek ways to be more transparent and welcoming of questions and criticism, not less.
5. Don't view yourself as a victim. Rainer characterizes criticism from even what he calls "insignificant matters" as being "attacks" and "beating you up." He refers to critics as "dragons" - and we all know what we do to dragons. That is a victim mentality you should reject. And what is insignificant to you might not be to someone you are called to love and pastor.
6. Realize you really aren't that important. Criticism of you and your "ministry" does not equate to a hindrance of the Great Commission. Your sermons aren't God's gift to humanity. Sorry, but while you view your profession as a "calling", it is still a profession and there are lots of people with your skill set who can and will pastor your church. This might help keep you a bit more humble. Oh, and read about the trials of Les Puryear who left his position as pastor at his church and had to enter the work force. Not too much demand in the workforce for guys with Masters of Divinity (that almost looks frightening, when spelled out; a Master of DIVINITY?), or PhD's in preaching.
There you go, pastors. Hope that helps.
Oh, I almost forgot. Three last pieces of advice:
7. Don't pass "Deacon's Resolutions" condemning unjust criticism in your church. One church tried that, and it didn't work out too well.
8. Avoid issuing trespass papers to the wife of a critic.
9. Don't call your critics "sociopaths", or "mentally unstable" to the local news media.
Now go pastor your flock.