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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  • Pastor G says on

    I believe it is best to prayerfully open God’s Word to discern the reason/reality for/of a criticism. Criticism can be a huge open door to evangelism… which as often as not is what is really needed.

  • Dear All,
    I consider the “I-am-criticizing-for-God” critic, sometimes known as “the devil’s advocate’ the most dangerous. Whether they are true to themselves or not, or they really do think God has mandated them to; their hurting words seemed to gather a following of its own. Their followers then think they are biblical and semi-authoritative. Woe to the pastors who try to reason Scriptures with them.

  • Thank you, Dr. Rainer.

  • isaiah Hinkon says on

    Critics are mostly seen as threats. But a person criticised needs to look at his dark side and accept as building blocks for his future endeavours. I count critics as my helpers who direct me to not do things before thinking through but do the reverse. O! my critics you are welcome. I need more from you to cushion myself.

  • My favorite is the immature critic. It is not really a sub-set of 1 because it is not constructive and not really the others because the immature critic means well. The advantage of the immature critic is that by speaking up he presents an opportunity for a teaching moment. Be nice to him.
    My least favorite is the votes with his feet critic. This is a sub-set of Nick’s silent critic. No one gets a chance to learn from his criticism. Neither the church leadership (if he makes a good point) nor the critic himself (if his criticism is off the mark).

  • Leaders must be intentional and strategic about soliciting and gathering feedback, both positive and negative. Build this feedback mining into your leadership routines and unsolicited criticisms will be far less likely to throw you for a loop. Most criticism will be old news, and the invalid criticism will stand out like a sore thumb against the bank of solicited feedback you have built up.

  • This article offers much to pastors in dealing with criticism and the various forms it takes and motivations behind it. It is always good to look at criticism in context and not isolation.
    A better title and framing of the advice might have been “5 types of criticism a pastor faces.” Using a piece of criticism to make a broad judgement of the person who offers it is not helpful to the pastor or the critic.
    Who among us has not at times fallen into all 5 categories above? I have offered criticism that was variously constructive, negligent, motivated by my own hurt and sin, and criticism that was self-serving.
    I see a danger in a pastor deciding in his heart – “that critic is a sinful critic” rather than “that criticism was sinfully motivated” as it becomes easy to let the judgement colour his view of any further criticism offered.
    A pastor will get to know many of those in his care over several years and interactions, and observing their actions, he will pick up certain patterns and form a picture of the person. This can certainly help him in receiving and weighing criticism – but we need to bear in mind that people change, for better and worse, as they are living by grace or by the flesh.
    I don’t believe the intent of the author was in any way to pigeonhole critics, but he was using a common style seen in many articles today as a framework. I simply submit that this framework – “the (x) types of people” is an unhelpful one. Let’s rather limit the categories for the behaviours or beliefs, rather than the people. Are there people who tend naturally towards criticism or to praise? Certainly. Is the natural critic always wrong, or the natural encourager always right?

  • Mary: While I think that the critical spirit that you talk about it is one to be on watch for, I do disagree with your statement that criticism of any kind is out of place in a Christian environment. I think there is an appropriate place and way of critiquing. In addition when you wrote: “We must be careful that we are not just trying to arrange it to our own satisfaction,” I agreed there, but you miss another valid form of critique, which is when nouveau changes are being introduced into the faith and practices of the church, simply for the sake of change or innovation. I believe that the case for change has to be made whereby the congregation agrees and is persuaded that the change is more holy and more faithful. When that doesn’t happen, you do find quite often that regular members will criticize. We leaders must be open to hearing the case and going back to what is right, and good, and noble, and pure. Thanks.

  • Mary Smith says on

    What is missing here is the identifying of the “critical spirit”. The critical spirit is alive and well in most churches – some worse than others. I have experience in leadership in the church in teaching and in music, etc. I can tell you that the critical spirit is alive and well!! There are basically 2 kinds of church attenders: 1) those who come to drink in God’s Word and praise God through the music; 2) the person who walks through the church door evaluating everything in sight, and turn on their judgement with full intentions of chewing it all up and spitting it out with their form of execution. You see it all the time in most churches. God’s Word says we are not the judges, and we certainly are not the executioners!! Neither is anyone else in the church! Satan is having a “hay day” in our congregations!
    Criticism of any kind is out place in a Christian environment. There is a distinct difference between “criticism” and “suggestions”. If a person has decided to attend this church, he/she has also decided that this church is teaching the fundemental gospel from God’s Word or they wouldn’t be there in the first place. Positive suggestions to the right leadership go a long way to positive changes. We must be careful that we are not just trying to arrange it to our own satisfaction. I say that, if you feel you have to “criticize” instead of “suggest”, you are in the wrong church.

  • Ellen, excellent point. I was think something along those lines myself. Seemed to me that the post was categorizing someone who has objections to the music, the budget, or the church order as automatically self-serving, when in fact, they may very well be a constructive critic. Therefore, their input is rejected out of hand. Discerning *motives* of others ought not be our lot.
    I like DLE’s two point plan:
    1. “What is the context and subcontext for this person’s criticism?”
    2. “Do they have a valid point?”
    Thought-provoking post and great comments as well.

  • This comment is in response to the self-serving critic.
    Generally, church today is different: rock and roll-y, bigger, pastors don’t know the people in the church. Fluffy topics, less substance. There is much to criticize.
    How much has the church changed in last ten years? Is it not understandable that many, especially seniors, are alienated from the pop-star, relevant to youth and postmodern church? And the folks that don’t like it not only need compassion, they also need a place to serve and worship. And we need them to help make real disciples especially since they have the life experience. Why is their voice not valid?
    What’s wrong if the critic doesn’t like the music, order, etc. and then dares to object? I bet that they are most likely letting you know that they don’t know how to properly worship God in your church. I would call this person courageous if they criticize, not self- serving.