So you’ve heard a sermon and you’re not happy. You feel the preacher got it badly wrong in either his interpretation, his words, his manner, his length, his whatever.

What now?

Well, I’m not going to tell you exactly what words to use. I’m simply going to give you ten questions to ask that I hope will produce the right words and the right way to say them should you ever have to offer criticism to a preacher.

1. Have I understood him correctly? Give the preacher the benefit of the doubt. Ask yourself, “Am I putting the worst possible construction on this?” Perhaps check with your husband or wife, “Did I hear this correctly…?”

2. Have I given this enough time? It’s rarely wise or helpful to immediately react to what is preached. Your passions will be high, but so will the preacher’s. Not a good recipe.

3. Have I prayed about this? Have you taken time to ask “Lord show me if I’m right here. Show me if this is important enough to take further. Help me to see if this is primary or a secondary matter?”

4. Is this just personal preference or biblical principle? We all have our favorite truths and our favorite preaching styles. Is this about bible doctrines and biblical practice or just my tradition or preference?

5. Have I thought about the best time and way to communicate? Neither Sunday or Monday are good days to approach a pastor about problems with his preaching. On Sunday, his adrenaline is still pumping. On Monday, he’s flat as a pancake. Best not do this in public in front of others but in private. Do it in a calm, gentle, and loving manner. As I’ve learned, do it personally rather than in writing or by email.

6. Am I doing this out of the right motive? Is my love and respect obvious? If it is constructive, designed to serve the pastor, then criticism can be incredibly helpful.

7. Am I focused or just spraying pellets? Never say, “And while we’re at it, that sermon last year….and here’s another thing…”

8. Have I considered the possibility that I may be one of many others doing the same? You may be the straw that breaks the preacher’s back.

9. Am I prepared to listen to his explanation and concede I was wrong? Are you genuinely open to be corrected yourself?

10. Is it in the context of previously expressed appreciation? It’s so much easier to listen to criticism when you know the person has your good at heart and wants you to thrive and prosper. The repeated critic can be much more easily ignored or dismissed.

On the same subject, here’s Thom Rainer with A Note To Those Who Criticize Me.

  • Charles

    One question that I ask is, “Is the issue really worth mentioning.” Practicing your number 2, I have often come to the conclusion that many issues are simply not worth bringing up. Otherwise, I think there can be a tendency to become nit-picky.

  • George R. Krahn

    At our Church (assembly)we have the preaching service first and then we have adult Sunday School where we discuss the sermon. We have done this for 27 years and we find it to be extremely beneficial for the pastor and the entire congregation. Questions get asked that I never even considered while preparing my sermon. It has been a God given blessing in our assembly.

    • Matt

      I like your comment. I too, have a small question, what if during your adult lesson that a person feels a personal attack from you, which the sermon was Spiritually guided to convict that persons sins? As a follower in Christ I have personally been convicted at times thinking the Pastor knew something, and used the pulpit to chastise me. Not realizing it was Jesus convicting my sinful ways. God places you behind the pulpit to be a messenger, do you change the way you handle your sermons when someone feels offended?

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  • Roger Ball

    “Best not do this in public in front of others but in private. Do it in a calm, gentle, and loving manner.”

    “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”

    Would you give this same advise to Jesus and the apostles?

    I agree that the primary character trait of a Christian should be one of gentleness and compassion, but I don’t believe it is the only characteristic. This is where people like you, along with most other evangelicals, take your cue more from the standards of today’s liberalism (or genteel professionalism) than Scripture. You simply have no room for all of the Bible’s teaching. Only that which you prefer. And only that which can secondarily serve to promote yourself.

    • Chris


      The article is discussing how to criticize a preacher properly, not how to rebuke someone persistent in sin. Also, one should be careful when judging the motives of his brother in Christ.

      Grace & Peace in Jesus Christ,


      • Roger Ball


        The Scripture I quoted, 1 Timothy 5:20, is in regard to leadership, not just anybody. The point I’m trying to make is that this qualification is not given in this post. Nor is it in most posts of this nature. Why not? Why is Scripture regularly being ignored in this area?

        I also agree that Christians should exercise caution when judging the motives of others, but I don’t believe we are to pretend we have been given no light at all, or that common sense deductions from ongoing behavioral patterns are to be ignored.

    • David Murray

      Well, I guess that proves my point! The Scripture you quote refers to the end of a process in which persistent sin has not been repented of. It’s the end of the Matthew 18 process which begins with private admonition.

      And for the record, I don’t believe Roger knows me, nor do I know Roger.

      • Roger Ball

        I’m well aware that the process begins with private admonition, that’s really not my point. I’m referring more to your persistent omissions and the implications they carry. This is how I know you.

        And ongoing public sins should be rebuked publicly (e.g. Acts 5:2-4, Galatians 2:11-14, 1 Corinthians 1:11, 2 Timothy 2:17-18, 4:14, 3 John 9-10).

      • Roger Ball

        If you want some examples of what I mean, they can be found within this very post.

        If it is not a repeat offender you have in mind then why does #8 hold out this possibility? And why does #10 say, “. . . The repeated critic can be much more easily ignored or dismissed (?).

        Are you not suggesting that what you have in mind should be the pattern for all time? Where is 1 Tim 5:20?

        • Mbiru

          Calm down Roger. Whatever truth you may have to say, you may be turning people off with what is sounding like an ungracious, accusatory attitude.
          Which I think is partly the point of the article.

          • Roger Ball


            What I have said here may come off a little strong, especially to a liberal audience, but it was supposed to. And I really don’t have a problem with David (per se); I find him to be a very likeable, caring, and theologically disciplined man, but this garbage is everywhere and it is sickening. Most are no longer even aware that they happily participate in this idolatry.

            For example, you yourself find nothing wrong with creating a false dilemma between being ungracious and accusatory. Where did you learn this from? Was Jesus likewise ungracious?

            You also don’t seem too concerned with whether what I’ve said is true; instead, you seem more concerned with the emotional response that you think others might have. Although it is possible to be positionally right yet dispositionally wrong, why does your measuring rod for value appear so misplaced?

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  • MarieP

    A great list of questions! On hearing correctly, I’ve found that it’s helpful to relisten to all or part of the sermon if it’s available online. Also, it can be helpful to look at several commentaries- you may find to your surprise that others have said the same thing! It’s also good to think about the sermon in context of the preacher’s other sermons. If it’s your pastor, remember that he is not just a preacher but a shepherd of souls, and that there may be something going on in the congregation that could explain the recent focus of his. Also, distinguish between Biblical exegesis and systematics. Of course they are related, but don’t find fault because the sermon about repenting and believing the Gospel doesn’t include a passage from Berkhof.

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  • Jenny

    Good thoughts, but I’d take issue with #2. Yes, it’s better if you’ve given yourself time to cool off and think about what the preacher said with a clear mind. However, confronting him as soon as possible avoids one or both of you forgetting the pertinent details about what was said and how it was said. Preachers often suffer from selective memory and short-term memory like the rest of us, and aren’t above denying something a few days later.

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  • Ken

    David, thanks for this post. As pastors, we should also be reminded that as hard as criticism is to hear (especially when it comes with a tone similar to that of Roger’s above), there is usually always a nugget of truth in it. At the end of the day, we need criticism as one of the tools God uses to slay our pride and keep us diligent in our study of the Scriptures. I know the point of your article is addressing the process and motives of those who are doing the criticizing, but my immediate desire to want to mass e-mail this post to everyone in my church (or to a select few), gives me cause to consider how much my flesh is displayed in pride and self-defense.

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  • Dwight Gingrich

    Good thoughts! This advice, by the way, is also helpful for those of us who comment on blogs. :-)

  • M. Quinn

    Thank you for this. I am glad to have a list of tips on how to bring something up in a spirit of not just truth, but also of love, as the gospel asks us to. (Eph 4:14-16)

    I will add this scripture as it is on the topic:
    Eph 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

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  • HealedHeart

    Don’t do it. There is no right way. They are some of the most sensitive creatures on earth.

    • St. John’s

      Give your pastor some credit, they do have a thick skin if you treat them with respect and not just “tossing a grenade – your sermon sucked” at them.

      Actually I invite criticism. If nothing else it means the person was listening to what I preached – at least enough to be critical. But called out in the Sanctuary or in public is not the way to treat anyone.

      Timing and civility are everything. Most of the time, when people criticize me (not just critique) we will sit with scripture, pray, and discuss the issue. But to not criticize is unhelpful because it leaves a breeding ground for animosity.

  • Donnie E. Chapman

    When I am being criticized I look first to see if the person doing the criticizing is credible. If they are an habitual critic, I’m pretty fast to dismiss it. I perk up and pay more attention to people that I know are walking with Jesus and have a life of integrity themselves. If you’re preaching to a congregation full of worldly people, you are going to have critics. Let’s face it, the Bible will rub you wrong if you do not want to obey the Lord Jesus Christ.

    • David Murray

      Donnie, thanks for your thoughts.

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  • Josh

    I was an assistant pastor for 7 years under a man that received massive amounts of criticism. I don’t think people knew how much. I would hear him respond softly to some of the most cruel people. I say just as a reminder that you may not be the only one to try and help and the 10 other people before you did it wrong. He may be hurt battling sinful emotions and needs you to first build him up with the Scriptures before you try and improve his weaknesses.

    • David Murray

      Josh, thanks for your insight.

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  • Laurie Duffy

    I agree with pretty much everything here. I just wonder though why there is supposedly so much “adrenaline” that Sundays and Mondays are off limits. Some people only have exposure to their pastor on Sundays. Other careers (College professors and doctors come to mind) require tons of mental effort and emotional expense. Why are these people not “off limits”? These questions are coming from someone who almost never even speaks to my pastor and when I do it’s usually to encourage. I always feel I am interrupting or bothering. I have known other pastors that just radiate friendliness and availability. Perhaps that is a personality trait vs. training.

    • David Murray

      Good points Laurie. It’s not so much that this is “off-limits” – it’s more about trying to find the time and circumstances that maximize the hope of our criticism being received and acted upon.

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  • Bobette Crittenden

    Just big thank you shout out for this post. When our leaders say something which we personally feel is wrong, it can hurt a lot, especially when they don’t have all the facts of esp. one’s life and that’s when you know it’s probably not the Holy Spirit, but someone in the church whispering in the Pastor’s ears whom he or she respects. Yet though I have been hurt very deeply at times (simply by wearing jewelry for example or too bright a color or hair too short), I have seen pastors grow and change, I’ve seen their lives enriched and their preaching bring healing to (my) wounded soul(s). So let’s continue to pray for our leaders and try to be flexible with each other – extend an olive branch – blessings!