Five Types of Critics in the Church

LifeWay Christian Resources


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All pastors and other church leaders have their critics. No leader in the church can escape the sting of criticism. Indeed, dealing with critics is one of the great challenges pastors have in ministry.

Though the pain of criticism cannot be removed, it can be handled constructively. One way to deal with the issue is to make every effort to understand the mindset of the critic. In doing so, church leaders can respond redemptively and pastorally. Take a look at these five types of critics.

1.  The constructive critic. This person really wants what’s best for you and the church. He or she does not have a personal agenda or vendetta. Most have prayed about talking to you or writing you before confronting you. The best response is to listen, discern and, if necessary, make changes. The challenge is that it is often difficult to discern the voice of constructive words in the cacophony of other criticisms

2.  The negligent critic. This person makes an offhand comment and does not think much of it. He does not realize that his words really stung you. He truly was not making the issue a personal matter. In my own leadership position, I have made critical comments that I did not realize were so hurtful. And I would have never known my error unless others had told me. It is likely that if you let these critics know of your hurt, they will be both surprised and remorseful.

3. The hurt critic. Pain is pervasive in our world, and church members are not exempt from it. From their pain, these critics often lash out at pastors in moments of deep frustration and anger. Unfortunately, pastors are often the most visible and convenient targets for the hurt and angry critic. If pastors can discern this mindset of these critics, they should have a twofold response. First, they shouldn’t take the criticism personally. Second, they should make every effort to respond with compassion, concern, and love.

4. The sinful critic. Yes, everyone is a sinner. But there are some church members living in a state of rebellious and unrepentant sin. Their criticisms are attempts at deflection. They refuse to face their own rebellious ways, so they try to make you feel like the guilty party. If a pastor knows about the unrepentant sin in a church member’s life, he should confront him on it. Unfortunately, pastors often do not know these facts at the moments in which they are criticized.

5. The self-serving critic. This critic is having a thinly-disguised temper tantrum because he is not getting his way on some issue in the church. He doesn’t like the music. He doesn’t approve of the budget the church voted on. Somebody changed “his” order of service. So he lashes out at you because you are the leader who either led or accepted these changes. These critics are, in many ways, the most challenging. 

Pastors and other church leaders would serve themselves well to consider two major ways to deal with critics. First, realize that criticism is inevitable. Anyone in a position of leadership will face criticism. Deal with it prayerfully and courageously, but accept it as a part of your leadership that it will never go away.

Second, make every attempt to discern the type of critic with whom you are dealing. In many cases, the criticisms will benefit your life and ministry. In other cases, you may have the opportunity to deal with the critic in a pastoral and redemptive way.

All criticisms sting, at least for most of us. But not all criticisms are bad for us. Indeed, in many cases our leadership and ministry can be more effective if we deal with critics in more redemptive ways. 


Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at [email protected]. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.


Posted on September 29, 2012

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I would add “the Silent Critic.” I have criticisms all the time, but I usually keep them to myself (and my wife). I always hope that someone else will confront one of the pastors about some over-the-top stunt or an unbiblical song…

  • @ Michael R. Jones:
    Instead of labeling people by what type of critic you think they are (which is a quick way to dismiss their criticism), why not instead ask two simple questions:
    1. “What is the context and subcontext for this person’s criticism?”
    2. “Do they have a valid point?”
    If more leaders followed that simple two-step, more churches would be healthy. Problem is, too many leaders never get to step 2, even if they manage to make it through step 1.
    Change is what makes most people complain. And churches are always messing with what has worked for a long time simply because the church across the street changed some aspect of their programming and saw their parking lot fill as a result—at least for now. Leaders who are always jiggering the church programming have a short fuse when questioned why the church is mimicking the one across the street, and rarely do they consider the two questions above when asked about such changes.
    Who gets left out of this? The Holy Spirit. If more changes within a church were truly driven by leaders listening to Him and less to the latest Christian bestseller on how to grow your church, perhaps fewer “laity” would be critical. As it is, watching your church go through another sure-to-fail attempt to read the demographic tea leaves and hip-ify itself breeds critics. Those “people in the seats” then get labeled and their criticism invalidated. When the new programming crashes and burns, too many leaders don’t go back and ask whether the critics had a valid point (which they should have done initially), they just adopt the next trend and further insulate themselves from criticism.
    This is no way to run the Lord’s churches.

  • Jeri Tanner says on

    Thanks for voicing this insight. I believe it to be very true.

  • DLE:
    This is not always the case and not always because the critic is “‘just’ a person in the pew.”
    In an unhealthy church or in churches where all five types or critics are present it is hard sometimes to discern the constructive critic from the other four types.
    Also, just because someone is a constructive critic doesn’t mean the leaders are obligated to accept their criticism. Good people will disagree about many issues, even in church.

  • I’ve learned that some people are going to criticize no matter what you do. That realization was liberating for me because it showed me I should just do what I think is right because they’re going to complain anyway (of course I mean doing things within proper channels and leadership structures).
    If they’re going to criticize anyway, they might as well be criticizing me for something that was good, helpful, and productive.
    This also resulted in my unwittingly lessening their influence. When I began leading this way, it wasn’t long before many people realized the true colors of these critics, who had long camouflaged their criticisms as concern for the church.

  • How sad that the constructive critic is the one most likely to be ignored completely by church leaders, especially if that critic is “just” an average person in the seats.

  • Excellent post. I think another thing that’s important to remember is that in some cases, responding inappropriately to a constructive critic can turn them into a hurt, sinful or self-serving critic. So the question is not just “what type of critic is this” but “why are they this type of critic, and did I have something to do with it?”.

  • Timely post (I found this through We are struggling with some churches in our area (we are “missionaries” in a poor, rural community). I’ve been wondering if I need to approach some of the leaders. I’ve had conversations with some before, but I feel like it needs to continue and to be more specific.
    Your post reminds me to make sure I’m a constructive critic. I don’t need to let my personal desires & feelings get in the way.

  • Jack Wolford says on

    This is probably the only time to point out that pastors – some of whom are officers in the SBC have nasty , horrible , opinions regarding unions and membership in them which they have communicated to me during this election season that could help explain their violent hostility . I have a thick skin but I wonder how the SBC intends to plant churches in these many states that depend on certain trades and other trades like teaching when these sentiments preceed them . I have worked both union and non-unionjobs Some type of instruction for them is necessary to get them out of the “gangster” era with running boards .

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Robert and Pastor S. –
    Thanks for letting me know this article helped you a bit in your ministry.

  • This article may have saved me from doing something really stupid. Thank you.

  • Robert F. Montgomery says on

    Good word. I just wish I had the discernment to know what type of critic I am encountering. I guess I assume most critics are self-serving, so I treat them as if they are. I think I need to do more work on how I respond to critics.

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