The Compound Effects of Criticism to and about the Pastor

I know pastors make mistakes. I know they don’t get it right all the time. I know leadership means dealing with criticisms.

But . . .

If your church has an attendance of 125, you probably have 300 members and guests who attend at least once a quarter.

If each of the 300 persons “only” complains to or about the pastor once a quarter, that is 1,200 complaints a year.

Those 1,200 complaints a year translate to over three criticisms every day of the year.

Pray for your pastor.


Posted on August 22, 2022

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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  • Thank you for sharing this very applicable and impactful issue. It is my prayer that all who read will simply think before they critique and remember that your pastor is a person too. I am ashamed to say that I have missed the mark on this in the past. Your pastor is made in the same image and likeness of God as you and dedicated his life to serving others. It is easy to critique, but more difficult to love and support. I truly wish we could all seek to be as introspective as we are critical of others. I read somewhere about the dealing with plank in our own eyes first. Thank you again.

    In Christ,


  • Mr. Rainer and others,
    I find this to be a good conversation to have
    I’m not a pastor just a lay person In the years I’ve been a believer I know pastors get a lot of complaints and they are harsh at times. I’ve noticed though that some weaknesses in me seems to draw me into relationships that would be considered emotionally abusive. Im a people pleaser and some co dependency may be in me.
    I am striving in Christ to find healing in this.
    One way I’ve learned to cope with this is when those harsh things are said,(this isn’t easy) I try searching my own heart and sometimes I do find legitimate things and at times I don’t. This has helped me with being more empathetic toward others and forgiving. This also helps me communicate clearer, and clean up things I say at times. One thing that hasn’t come up in the conversation is about spiritual abuse in leaders.
    I feel that’s what the gentleman may be alluding to but im not sure. This is a serious issue and it’s often hard to see. If you have been a victim of abuse, sometimes you are able to see the signs of it better. There is at times unfortunately abusive leaders and what Steve was saying about the leaders sowing this is real at times.
    Like other abusive things the abuser has a lot of problems with admitting it. And it compounds the problems and dysfunction.
    That isn’t always the case but in mind this was a good conversation to have. Thanks

  • Thom,
    You need to further develop this topic.
    I know pastors who are getting worn down…., really worn down by constant barrage of criticism. People need to know this and displace their criticisms with recognition of the many, many things they do right.

  • Peter Maxwell says on

    A pastor of a church carries so much responsibility and burdens. If you have a good pastor, a churchgoer must really protect him and really thank him for his efforts. Like ours here in , Keion Henderson is truly a blessed man and we love him very much for the work he puts into his ministry and his sacrifice to lead us to the path of the Lord!

  • I feel for the pastors who hear the complaints that should be directed to the lay leadership of the congregation. Some lay leaders do a good job of ducking the issues and let the pastor handle them all. Not all comments are complaints and there will typically be an outsized number from a few members.

  • Am I to assume that now infants,
    toddlers, and young children are all joining in on complaining about the pastoral leadership? To say that all 300 might potentially complain seems a very inflated number…but I digress. I have pastored for the past 21 years and have been blessed to lead some very supportive people, with the exception of a few, which “we have always with us”. I complain more about my own leadership than then congregation I lead does. I have heard of some hair raising stories of disgruntled congregations, and my heart goes out to those leaders who must lead through those situations.

    I’m just questions the idea of all 300 attendees complaining. Let’s not over-inflate the numbers to prove a point that is valid without doing so.

    • Another Phil says on

      Are you serious? You are nitpicking an illustration? Okay, let’s just pretend that he said 300 adults. Do you feel better? Inflated number? Good grief.

    • Joey Rowell says on

      One thing we understand in the Word of God is this…most things are literal, while some things are figurative, and some things are symbolic. We must have discernment when stories are being shared.

    • Phil, your comment proved the entire point of this article. You are criticizing the author of an article about how we shouldn’t criticize so much. I am laughing so hard. You made my day. This proves, sadly, that for much of the Christian community, a critical spirit seems to be endemic.

  • G1 about criticism, Thom, a keeper; thank you. BTW, I thoroughly enjoyed talking with Matt McCraw yesterday. Sharp, congenial, and totally on board with your mission.

  • Malcom Ranger says on

    Thom –

    I am disappointed that your team approved the posts by Steve Moran. He obviously is trolling and trying to get free publicity for his “wonderful” company with a reach of 35,000. You have said in the past you would not approve such blatant self-promotion under the guise of an informed comment. Please be consistent with your policy.

    • I am frankly baffled at the personal attacks toward me and my response. I gave my website to give credibility to who I am and what I do. It seems unlikely that man of the readers of this post fit my target audience. So you make accusations about me that have zero foundation.

      Whether employees, media consumers or church members the way they behave toward their leaders is largely a reflection of the way the leader leads an point I made in earlier comments.

      Is it possible those complaints are like pieces of gold to be mined, that will make leaders lead better and help more people see Jesus?

      Why are you attacking me personally? Why don’t you actually address my comments? I am open to seeing a different perspective, but you Laurie and Ken have attacked me very personally and have not addressed my comments.

      In the grip of grace.

      • Malcom Ranger says on

        I could care less about your opinions. I didn’t address you anyway; I just talked about you. Your hubris and self-promotion are what rub me the wrong way. You gave your website to give credibility to what you do and who you are? Really? This is a blog. You don’t have to give your resume to post comments. The only reason I care is that Thom is usually good about keeping trolls and promoters off this site. I am disappointed in him.

  • This really rubs me the wrong way. You dismiss Andy the CEO comment because he has ultimate authority and that is unfair and unkind. And it means you can’t learn anything from what he wrote.

    Too often pastors are told and therefore feel, like somehow their lives are much worse, much harder that “regular people”. And yet look at what they get to do, every single day; lead people into a new or closer relationship with Jesus Christ and they get paid to do Gods work.

    Can you imagine Paul or any of the other disciples complaining about complaints?

    I run a small thought leadership media organization with a monthly reach of about 35,000. I am 100% dependent on that readership for the success of my organization. I get lots of positive feedback and some complaints. Here is what is so frustrating… most of the time when people complain or are critical, they are attempting to be helpful, to make me into a better leader, to make my content better. They are asking me to think about things differently.

    This is not to say I don’t on occasion get complaints that are mean and ridiculous, but that is rare and so what… It hardly compares what early followers of Christ experienced.

    The best pastors I know, always welcome the complainers because it is how they get better. Maybe instead of whining about complainers you need to be talking about how when pastors are focused on the mission and the people they are leader, the complaints and complainers will land in the proper place.

    In the grip of grace

    Steve Moran

    • Laurie Blacker says on

      Mr. Moran –

      You are way off base. My husband has faithfully served as a pastor for 31 years, and the criticism is wearying, if not debilitating at times, for both of us. We are not alone. We hear it from others in pastoral ministry regularly. The negativity got worse during the pandemic. Neither you nor your organization (which you tout with its website and monthly “reach”) understands our world. Thom and Church Answers understand churches and pastors. You do not. You would do well to spend more time understanding pastors than trolling websites. There is nothing in your words that are in the grip of grace.

      • Laurie

        I am sorry for your and your husband’s pain, but is it possible that those who are critical are trying to be helpful.

        Look at how you responded to my post. Zero reflection on my observations followed by an attack of me. You are doing the exact thing to me that you say you hate in your husband congregation.

        If your congregation is toxic as you seem to imply, who owns the responsibility for that other than the leaders.

    • “This is not to say I don’t on occasion get complaints that are mean and ridiculous, but that is rare and so what…”

      Believe me, such complaints are not rare in the ministry. You have the liberty to disregard such complaints in your line of work, but many pastors do not have that choice.

      “It hardly compares what early followers of Christ experienced.”

      That’s a cop-out. We expect criticism from the world, but shouldn’t we expect a little better from people who claim to be followers of Christ?

    • Laurie Blacker says on

      Mr. Moran –

      Do not try to placate me with your condescending pity in one paragraph and your verbal jabs in the next. Would you mind telling me where you are church member? You seem to think of yourself highly and your ability to understand pastors. I would like to know from what church you get your perspective.

      Also, I never said nor implied that my church was toxic. I said that the steady criticism of 31 years was wearying and, at times, debilitating. It is the cumulative effect of critics from four churches, none of which were toxic. All of the churches have wonderful people in them, but the minority who focus on the negative take its toll.

      I will let you get back to your thought leadership, your reach of 35,000, and your free advertising of your website.

    • Mr. Moran,
      The problem with your illustration is you are the ultimate say in the relationship. The Pastor is not a CEO of a church. As such, there is nothing a Pastor can do except absorb criticism and praise. As the head of an organization like you and the CEO below – you can choose to NOT engage with the critic. A Pastor cannot not engage with a critic, because the Pastor’s job and vocation is to minister to every person who arrives until they depart.

      Likewise, it is unbelievable that every person in an organization has unlimited access to the leader. Even in my previous career in the military, there were multiple layers between the junior enlisted person and the commanding officer. In an Aircraft Carrier with ~5,000 people, there were multiple levels insulating the Commander. Yes, every Sailor could speak with the Commanding Officer but there was a process to do so, even with a complaint – access wasn’t curtailed by content, simply by intermediate leaders.

      A Church isn’t like that. The congregant can have direct access to the Pastor unfettered.

  • Interesting comment on how many possible complaints a pastor might receive from 300 members in his church.
    To hold this in perspective, I used to be responsible for over 1000 people in my division at the company I worked for, and we served over 4 million customers. If each staff member had complained to or about me once a year (and I used to meet each one at least once a year), and if one in every 10000 customers were to have complained to or about me once a year, that would total around 1500 complaints every year.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Interesting comment about how many possible complaints you could have received in the business world.

      To put it in perspective from me, I used to be the CEO of a company with 5,300 employees and millions of customers. But I did not receive the number of criticisms of the pastors of the smaller churches with whom we work. Why? The employees of the company where I was CEO were under my employment authority. And the customers usually complained to a customer service rep or a front-line manager.

      Big difference.

    • Matthew Kimberly says on

      It’s not the same thing.

  • Great post, Thom! Some things to add for perspective:

    Pastors are fellow brothers in the faith called to maintain and shepherd God’s people and point them back to God in faith. There is a great weight in that calling already. Human criticism adds to that weight.

    The wisdom of asking people to pray for their pastor is if we are truly and regularly praying for a person, we are going to be sensitive to and for them and their needs. It will change our disposition from critical to supportive, even if we disagree at points.

    If we keep Jesus’ kingdom and not our own desires in mind, we are going to want to support our pastors and make their ministry easier on them rather than more difficult. If we must offer criticism, make it specific, constructive, and full of love and grace. We should ask ourselves, “How would you feel receiving the critique you are about to offer?”