How to Disagree with Your Pastor


My disposition has been noted on more than one occasion by others and by me.

I love pastors. I respect pastors. I honor pastors.

In the course of a week, someone will note the occasional outlier. They will point out the negatives of pastors. They don’t take care of the members. They are in it for the money. They are dictators and bullies. They don’t lead. And on and on and on.

Of course, anytime you look at nearly 400,000 people, you can certainly find the bad apples in the batch. It seems like some church members make it the goal of their lives to focus on the negatives of pastors. We have a few of those who show up on this blog.

But this one thing I know: most pastors are godly and honorable leaders. They love their church members. They love their communities. They love their families. They love the God they serve.

Are pastors infallible? Of course not. You know as well as I that no pastor is perfect. They will make mistakes. They will have a bad day. They will get frustrated.

Should you, then, disagree with your pastor? Should you confront these leaders with something they have done wrong? Should you point out their omissions? Let me respond by offering ten guidelines for you to consider.

  1. Pray first. Okay, this one is obvious. In the heat of the moment, this one can be obviously forgotten too.
  2. Understand the frequency of the criticism issue. Look at this example. If your church’s average worship attendance is 100, you likely have around 200 active members (“active” defined loosely). If every church member took the liberty to disagree or criticize the pastor once a year, your pastor would be dealing with a critic two of every three days.
  3. Understand the negative magnification issue. If you are disagreeing with or criticizing your pastor, you obviously understand the humanity of pastors. They aren’t perfect people. And though they would hope otherwise, most of them will obsess over your criticism. For many of them, one criticism has a ten times greater impact than one praise or compliment.
  4. Make sure it is absolutely necessary. If this issue is one of preference or not getting something your way, drop it. Your criticism will likely do a lot more harm than good.
  5. Don’t begin with, “I love you pastor, but . . . “ Most pastors will only hear everything after the “but.” The prefatory phrase will typically be perceived as insincere.
  6. Don’t say, “People are saying . . . “ Speak for yourself, not the cowards in anonymity. Any leader should discount or ignore “people are saying” criticisms.
  7. Don’t express your disagreement on a Sunday. Don’t criticize pastors right before or after they preach. In fact, hold off all disagreements for a day other than Sunday. If you wait a day or two, the urgency to criticize may go away.
  8. Make clear you want to hear the pastor’s perspective. Too many disagreements are pet peeves or personal preferences. If you have a sincere and serious disagreement, you will want to hear the pastor’s perspective. Listen as much as speaking, if not more.
  9. Seek to be a part of the solution. Criticizing and stating negatives are easy. Most of us are adept in finding problems. If you really care about your church and your pastor, you will be willing to offer a solution and to be part of the solution.
  10. Pray again. If you have made the move toward disagreeing with your pastor, pray after the fact. Pray for your pastor. Pray for yourself. Pray for you words to be received well. Pray for your church.

I was in conversation with a pastor called to ministry from the business world. His call was genuine I am sure, but he admitted he was a frequent critic of his pastors before he became one. “I often knew a better way, and I wasn’t hesitant to let my pastors know,” he said. “Now that I am on the other side, I can’t believe how insensitive and even ungodly I was. The life of a pastor is so stressful. If I only knew then . . .”


Posted on July 29, 2019

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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  • 11. When it indeed is time to share a valid concern in a constructive way with a pastor (senior or otherwise), share it directly with him–not with his wife, to be passed along to him. My wife was blindsided a few times–including while on the sidewalk outside the building and simply trying to get the children out of their car seats and into the building for a glorious time of Sunday morning Bible study 🙁

    One of my senior pastor predecessors told me years after the fact that he left from the church parsonage with his family on the same Saturday evening he received a telephone call from a church member (allegedly) reporting to him that he (the caller) was able to view him there via the scope of his (the caller’s) rifle. He left his letter of resignation upon exiting the parsonage, I suppose–but he didn’t go back.

    If you are upset with a pastor about something concerning your also-employed-by-the-church spouse, share that concern on a non-Sunday, too–even if you have to skip a couple of Sundays in order to be in a better frame mind to do so on a weekday.

    Please know that some pastors were saved from fairly tough backgrounds and still know how to rumble 🙂 (Can think of at least one Texas evangelist who was a former professional wrestler)

    • If a church member member called me and said something about being able to see me with the scope of his rifle, I would call the law.

  • Ivan Solero says on

    Thank you for the article. Here’s my perspective.
    1. Pastors are not necessarily leaders. They have been appointed by whatever criteria was set i; some in seminary (I know, as a graduate of one) and very easily hide behind that distinction.
    2. As long as churches run as a corporate model pastors will be considered as CEOs. The church paradigm needs to change.
    3. Pastors who lean towards cultural relevance instead of what scripture says, is now the norm. There’s a trend that cultural understanding is relative to understanding Grace and its simply not true or biblical.
    4. Pastors disagreement should be encouraged and examined, as believers we are required to hold up scriptural truth to what a pastor says.
    5. A pastor should not think of it as a job, period. Its not, don’t pretend it is.
    6. Pastors who refuse to challenge societal trends, are not worth the pulpit they preach on. Do I need to say more.
    7. Pastors who preach to fill pews are not in the right position. Anytime a pastor tries to please everyone, he will eventually disappoint everyone.
    8. Pastors who do not address church ills directly with transparency i.e. sexual abuse, homosexuality, etc. are not worth visiting or listening too.
    9. Pastors need to defend the gospel and the wholeness of scripture. Most are not, unfortunately.
    10. Any church who idolizes a pastor, run away. These are churches that have taken the pastor and replaced Jesus with him. Run away fast. i.e. megachurches.

    I know it sounds negative, but really read it. It should be an encouragement to all.

    • Good thoughts. The 20th (now 21st) Century “church” model in America is cultural not necessarily scriptural. There is a lot of selfishness and filthy lucre in pastorates. I wonder where is sincerity and truth, where someone will honestly consider the texts of scripture instead of what they think the text says?

  • In our church we handle all of this according to Matthew 18. I have been in ministry for 37 years, and have enough back biting and disagreements to fill a volume. The worst way to handle t is exactly as you have pointed out. The best way is to make an appointment, and sit down with the pastor one and one and talk to him like a brother and sister in Christ. Always following the model of Matthew 18.
    When that model has been followed I find that more often than not we can come to an agreement and everyone is OK, and no one is devastated, marginalized, or shut out.
    A few years ago I took a call to another church and the new pastors was right there. Within months I started getting phone calls, as he did not follow your examples and tried to ram everything through and even started ex-communication procedures for those who disagreed with him. It was a disaster and the Ecclesiastical supervisors had to get involved and it did not end well for the pastor.

    • Michael A Copeland says on

      Many people abuse Matthew 18 by being the first to say, “I have prayed about it and you need to change.” The “winner” is the first one who says this. That passage concerns a brother sinning against you. Too many people use it to argue and if you don’t come around to their side of the issue they then get others to join this when it doesn’t happen. This passage was never meant to be used as a club to make sure somebody agrees with you. I have been “Matthew 18ed” almost to death.

      • Yes, the sanctification of an opinion about what path to take in a decision is a common failing for church members. “You aren’t holy if you disagree with me about the….” issue which has nothing to do with sin but is simply an organizational issue or a simple decoration, or a way forward. This phrase is the essence of selfishness.

  • There’s definitely a feedback loop that builds around this. Pastors tend to be extremely guarded. They don’t make many close friends in church, especially among new members. When you accept that a pastor isn’t there to be your friend, it brings much peace. I’ve never asked a pastor to see me in the hospital or come lay hands on me or anything like that. I figure they have busy lives.

    As for giving a pastor any sort of negative input in person, I’ve never attempted it. They don’t need to hear it from a random person in the crowd. I figure they have a circle of friends who are responsible for holding them accountable.

    • Pastor Bob says on

      Kylin, you are a blessing to your church and pastor.

    • Kylin, thank you for your thoughts. One bit of feedback – speaking for myself I enjoy making calls out of the office to the hospital or in homes. While it takes away from the office work most pastors would say they aren’t office workers. It may be helpful for you and your pastor to have a conversation when not in extremis about their druthers for visiting out of the office.

      Also, criticism, or probably better better critique, should be welcome. If something doesn’t appear to be working smoothly or consistently it can be helpful to have someone outside the circle (fresh eyes) to comment. But I ask, when there’s criticism/critique that the bearer of the news also brings some ideas about addressing the situation or the commitment to be part of the solution.

      • Hello Les! Thanks for the comments. I checked out your church, and believe it or not you are just a few miles from me.

        After growing up as a preacher’s kid, I’ve seen the trenches from every angle. Years ago I realized it was best to not depend on any human too much. I support my fellow Christians, but I grow my own food (so to speak) and I developed my own prayer support team that can’t be undone by a fight in a church. If a pastor would like to come and visit me, that’s great, but I likely would never ask for it.

        I would probably offer a critique if I was asked. I do a lot of situational analysis, but I keep it to myself. Mostly it’s a protective move to keep my loved ones away from danger. As far as suggested solutions, that’s tricky. I’ve watched from afar as naive young pastors were set up to fail. There isn’t often much of a solution to offer. I would answer if asked, but I don’t enjoy trying to poke that bubble.

        Our enemy works tirelessly to drive talented people away from ministry positions.

      • Thank you for your feedback Kylin. One thing I find when it comes to pastors and parishioners is where they come from. Upbringing and previous life experience (for the pastor) make a huge difference. Another thing is the boundaries that may be established by the denominational structure (Episcopal in my case).

        I’m glad you have a profound sense of self and of extended family (by blood and by association).

        Thanks for checking our church out too.

  • Amen, brother!

    All of the above.

  • William Alan Secrest says on

    I don’t know how many times I have been approached by people on a Sunday morning who feel the need to gripe and complain. I went to my deacon board and asked that they communicate to others that this is unacceptable. As a pastor, we hear the complaint and we are so busy that we really cannot address it at that moment. Number eight really spoke to me as well. One of my greatest hurts as a pastor is not being heard and my point of view understood. I often wonder how much anger and stress could be relieved and removed if we were heard for a change.

  • Make sure your disagreement is actually with the pastor and not the leadership. Sometimes the pastor is merely the messenger for the leadership and also had no input. Don’t shoot the messenger.

  • Christopher says on

    Most of my criticism as a pastor was based on who I’m not rather than who I am.

    Church members expect the pastor to have a certain personality. If you don’t than everything you do is wrong, or at least suspect. I could be criticized for a proposal and someone else be praised by the same person for the same proposal.

    This refusal to accept pastors for who they are is a big reason I’m no longer a pastor.

  • How do you handle a matriarch of the congregation that feels at liberty to voice her objection (from the pew during a service) to a proposal that is being presented to the church? Her husband pastored the church for over 40 years. This is a dear lady who is convinced that the Lord is leading the church in a particular direction, she knows which direction that is and she refuses to even consider that it’s not the direction in her head – regardless of what the Pastor (and other leadership) communicates. It has caused (and is causing) division within our small congregation. I am the Pastor (interim) and she is a dear friend of mine and my family’s. I literally grew up in this church so she’s kind of a second mother to me. What complicates things is that several of her adult children attend. While they are not necessarily in agreement with her statements/comments she is still “momma”.

    • Guy in the pew says on

      Lay leaders in the church should intervene. Of course the chances of that happening are probably slim to none.

      • Judith Gotwald says on

        Pastors, please remember lay people often feel they have little voice within the wider church and are often talked ABOUT and not TO by pastors (outside of the pulpit). It might help to actually make sure there is a forum for criticism so those who have grievances know when it is OK to use their voice. Such forums happen only once a year in many churches—the annual congregational meeting. I’ve seen pastors invite regional body representatives (regional body guards) to annual meetings when they sensed trouble brewing. Not only does this intimidation attempt muffle the voice of the congregation but it creates gossip about the congregation that can resound for years in clergy circles with NO input from church members. Bottom line: rather than protect pastors from criticism, create a culture that nurtures regular examination from varying viewpoints in the congregation. Then it might not seem so personal. We are all partners in ministry.

      • Marguerite Colson says on

        Judith –

        I anticipated you would comment on this article. You are for certain one of the outspoken anti-pastor voices. Your comment was both deflective and passive aggressive. Thom’s post was on disagreeing with pastors. You changed the topic subtly to tell pastors how they should receive criticism. You really have a problem with pastors.

      • Guy in the pew says on

        On point!

      • Pastor Bob says on

        Marguerite, loved what you said and how you said it. I suppose some people were just born with a critical spirit. Or perhaps they learn it from their family.

      • Perhaps Judith and others like her want to be the pastor or leader so while trying to look balanced it is a backhanded attack disguised as constructive criticism and they are the voice of the people that must say what needs said.

        While a matriarch must be respected for her age, she still needs to be admonished if she is out of line. Indeed, if a pastor can be challenged in a righteous way than then there is a righteous way for the challenger to act.

        Matthew 18 should be imposed. Interim go to her first as she may not be aware that what is doing is out of line. Then take one or two leaders with you. If that does not make it work, then it needs to go before the church. If that causes the family to leave then so be it however sad that may be.

        You do not want to come across as the insecure pastor that must always talk about not going against God’s man or the “touch not my anointed” sermon but neither can you be weak and allow a Jannes and Jambres or a Diotrephes situation to continue no matter how sweet the face.

      • Christopher says on

        In my experience church people have no problem expressing their displeasure at any time or occasion that suits them. I’d be willing to bet you’re one of those people.

        I can’t think of a worse idea than a regularly scheduled gripe session for attacking the pastor. Kind of like an “airing of grievances” during Festivus.

      • Michael Gray says on

        A “forum” for grievances? I can’t think of anything that should be avoided in the church more than this concept! I would like to meet the pastor who has successfully shielded himself from all criticism. If people are not willing to speak up and offer constructive suggestions, it’s their fault, not the fault of the pastor. Your idea of a “forum” proves that no pastor can escape criticism.

      • Ivan Johnston says on


        Your comments have given me a new reason for thanksgiving. I am grateful you are not a member of my church.

      • Barry R says on

        Amen, Ivan!

      • The adage works well – Praise in public, criticize in private. The only time that is violable is when it’s a matter of life or death or the preventable destruction of real property. It works in a non-church environment, why not in church?

      • I agree with this, Les, as long as it is not taken to mean “criticize behind his back.” I have done this myself at times to others and it is a destructive thing relationally. I have also had it done to me many times and it is very frustrating. In my experience, many in churches struggle with this, and that often includes pastors.

      • Mark – in my world, if you don’t criticize to the person you are being critical of that’s not criticism. It’s gossip.

      • One time when my father was a pastor, the members scheduled a “meeting” alright. He was supposed to be out of town on a certain Sunday. Behind his back, the power group arranged it that Sunday for a certain group of old/former members to visit. The plan was to bend the rules, count them as members, and take a vote on whether to fire my dad. His trip got delayed at the last minute. He showed up that morning, only to find the crowd full of conniving frienenemies who looked like they’d seen a ghost.

        At the center of it was a matriarch. She was put out that we didn’t seem to be impressed by her teaching. Oh gosh, now I’m having flashbacks. She interrupted service once to yell at us over something childish. Give a woman like that an annual forum to list all the things she doesn’t like about a pastor? Even with me not being a pastor, I’d rather have a root canal than to sit in the audience for that.

    • While I’m sure I don’t know enough about the situation, it seems as though God has uniquely positioned you with an opportunity to influence a primary influencer of the church. When I first came to the church I now pastor, I had a similar relationship with a matriarch of the church. I leveraged that healthy, insider relationship as a leadership advantage. It gave me unique opportunity and access to work with a key influencer to get things done. Could you seek ways to have meetings with her before the meeting? As many lunches or coffees or teas as it takes to find common ground 🙂 Good luck!

      • Yes, that is the right way forward with the older influencer. Kindness, and a great deal of engagement.

  • As usual, this is spot on. Thank you for this! Sometimes folks don’t even realize what they are doing. And then there are those who were born in the objective case and the kickative mood.

    • Now that’s funny.

    • Rob, did you go to Mid-America Seminary? My preaching professor there used that phrase a lot (“objective case and kickative mood”). It probably wasn’t original with him, but you’re the first person other than him that I’ve heard use it. 🙂

  • Robert Worthington says on

    Thank you for this perspective. As a pastor I have learned you have to be tender hearted but many times have the skin of a rhino. Most critics mean well but their criticism can be long lasting and hurtful.

      • Brian Wakwman says on

        May I add a number 11?
        Leaders need to
        Learn to receive constructive feedback, weigh its content and motivation and be less defensive and reactionary.

      • Christopher says on

        So in other words if a pastor is hurt by your comments it’s his fault. For a blog designed to encourage pastors it amazes me how there’s always someone who feels it necessary to attack pastors.

      • There are lots of angry people who’ve been burned by the system from all directions. Usually when someone is hurt, the nearest person/object becomes their target. Disappointed members blame the pastor as the most obvious culprit. Disappointed pastors blame sheep who are likely exhausted and confused.

        One reason I keep reading Thom’s blog is because he does try to heal the divide between pulpit and pew. Neither side is really the enemy. A LOT of wounded sheep are roaming around emotionally bleeding as they look for help. And the current church system doesn’t really empower pastors to touch them individually. It is what it is.

      • Well… I for me? I go to a parish when able to, I do work and feel like tithing is right too. Please pray for me and all of mine, I’m catholic and I’ll always be one. I haven’t been to church in years… This past few days and God knows what else now happens? Man… I never want to be a bigot! I ask for forgiveness? I know what it’s like to do drugs and be a druggy… I got to be tough and having rhino skin? I’ve never heard? Well god bless all… Have faith for me.

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