It will happen to most pastors. They will wake up one morning to texts or emails. The wording will say something like, “Pastor, you need to see what Mike Smith wrote about you on Facebook.” The pastor’s day is already messed up. Most pastors will feel the need to read the post. Many will feel sick to their stomach.
But this article is not as much about the pastors who get criticized; it’s about church members who see such negative posts. How should they respond? While my list is not exhaustive, I suggest the following ten action items.
1. Immediately begin praying for your pastor. They are under spiritual attack. No godly person would bring a complaint to a forum like Facebook or some other social media channel. The enemy is at work.
2. Don’t assume any or all of the post is true. In fact, it is usually the opposite. But the venomous critics can sometimes use half-truths, innuendo, and false piety to sound convincing.
3. Most of the time it is best to ignore the post and move on. The more attention you give it, the longer the issue will remain open for argumentation, fighting, and more innuendos.
4. On occasion, you may need to write a word of defense and support for your pastor on social media. Critics hurt pastors. But those in the church who are too weak and fearful to stand up to bullying critics are sources of deeper pain.
5. Send your pastor a note of encouragement. It could be something brief like, “Don’t let Mike Smith bother you. We know you are a person of honor. We’ve got your back.”
6. If other church members contact you about the post, let them know that you support the pastor, and they should as well. It only takes one or two strong and supportive church members to bring the discussion to a needed ending.
7. Find a way to show support in a setting in the church. I am familiar with one church member who stood up in a prayer meeting and asked everyone there to support and pray for their pastor. That church member is still a hero to the pastor who was criticized.
8. On occasion, you might be the person who needs to confront the critic. There are no clear guidelines for who should confront a critic on social media, but you may sense your call to this task. Don’t take the confrontation to social media, though. Call or meet with the antagonist.
9. Find ways to encourage the pastor’s family. It’s not unusual for the pastor’s spouse and children to be aware of the attack. They hurt too. Communicate to them your love for both the pastor and them.
10. It might be best to block the critic on the social media account. Again, there are no clear rules for blocking a critic, but it would send a clear message if enough people blocked him or her.
So, what if the pastor is really in the wrong and the critic is right? Well, I know the critic is wrong in a big way for the way he or she vocalized the issue. Social media is not the place to address these issues.
I would love to hear your perspectives on this matter. What are some experiences you’ve had as the pastor who received criticism or the church member who read the criticism online?
Posted on February 6, 2023
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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This post comes across as unbalanced. Unless I’ve missed it—forgive me if so—you’ve not specified the criticism is from a member/attendee of that pastor’s church. (Even then there may be power-dynamics at work which are not considered by a man-made absolute prohibition of public critique.) Are you saying pastors should be blanket-protected from public criticism? Can I not, for example, express my criticism of McArthur’s refusal to address harm done to his congregants?
Sure you can. But I would learn to spell his name first.
THANK YOU, Thom!
I find this a particularly relevant subject, especially over what we through over the past three Covid years. We never shut our church down despite the initial fear from the virus and governmental threats in our state (Michigan). Initially, we flew under the radar, but after the third week, the yoghurt hit the fan. We were bombarded with negative reviews on SM. Our FB rating went from 4.9 out of 5 to negative 3. All the major Detroit news stations ran hit pieces, as well as radio and newspapers. It was brutal. For the most part, our people and our team supported us, but not all did, and many of our internal dissidents joined the negative chorus. It culminated in a major article that appeared in the Atlantic magazine (yes, THAT Atlantic). I bless God for the redemptive power of Jesus, as He turned the negative into a positive.
One time, my son got into some trouble at school. I was criticized on social media for not disciplining my son. I put an end to that delusion, gracefully, but with force. Then, I actually got an apology from the kid’s mom a few days later. I accepted the apology and had a good conversation about jumping to conclusions. Sometimes I think we need to be more bold in confronting our critics. Christ never said anything about being a doormat.
You also have to have someone who is social media savvy and who knows where to look, be it on Facebook, or another messaging board. Periodically I recommend you google search your congregation and see what is out there.
One question I would hope my church members and friends would do if I am accused in social media is to get my side of the story if there is one. Do I know the person? Have I had any interaction with the person? Can I shed light on the incident in question?
Each church should have someone who has access to the pastor and to the congregation. That way, if “person in the pew” hears something or sees something, they don’t have to confront the pastor directly (lots of reasons for that – the mistaken belief that a person cannot disagree with their pastor being one). In our church I have an administrator who has fielded a few questions/observations over my 12+ years. He has either forwarded them to me directly or had the person raising the issue come to me directly. In our denomination, there is a person who has the title Senior Warden, the head lay person in the Church who is responsible for the function of the church in the absence of the Pastor. The Senior Warden has the ear of the Pastor (or should have the ear of the Pastor), and can bring issues to my attention.
The adage, perception is reality, is true. A person may believe something happened or was said, when it wasn’t, but it is what they heard. (How many preachers have had someone say, “I love the way you said ‘X’ in the sermon.” when you didn’t say that exactly?)
Why is it that it is predominately these articles are in defense of the pastor? There are SOME pastors who are failing at their jobs as leaders. Can we also see articles which address legitimate concerns members face or have about their failing pastors?
I like balance. Bless you
We have several articles. Check out some of my latest here: https://churchanswers.com/blog/author/samrainer/
While this presumes you know the critic, there may be more times where you don’t. The response could have come from a bot or an outside group who does not like any pastor anywhere. Also, the critical comment may be for the lay leadership who are less public facing than the pastor. I would hope that the lay leadership is not setting up the pastor to take the fall for their actions, but it could be the case. I know this is not good Christian behaviour, but it has happened. Now, if the comment is warranted but said in the wrong place, the whole leadership should stop and think if they make people available to meet with congregants. Some people feel they have no choice but to use social media to bring something to leadership’s attention.
Social media is not the place to bring a complaint against a pastor. I had a former church member claim on Facebook that her late mother-in-law stop attending worship at my church because I had made some “political comments.” When I responded by saying let’s get together and address this in person I heard nothing back. The irony in all of this is that the day in question happened over a decade ago. I was preaching a sermon about life and at the time President Obama was going after the Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups because they were trying to get these groups to support abortion through their medical coverage that they had at the time. I said this wrong. While greeting people at the door after church, this elderly woman told me that anyone who disagreed with President Obama was a racist. To this day and I have been in pastoral ministry for 21 years, that is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard. I did not say that to the her and I continued to minister to her throughout the remaining years of her life.