In the course of family visitation, elders will sometimes hear
criticism of their pastor’s preaching. Should they tell the pastor?
Here are some questions to ask to help you decide how to handle the

1. Who is making the criticism?

If it is a godly and faithful Christian, then you will pay much more
attention to it than to someone who is not professing to be a
Christian. If a particular Christian has an imbalanced theology or
some particular “theological hobby horses” then this too should be
taken into account when weighing the criticism’s validity.

2. Have they ever said anything positive about the pastor?

If not, then the criticism may be motivated by personal enmity and
malice? It would be unusual if a pastor had never said or done
anything positive.

3. How many times have you heard this criticism?

A ruling elder should not pass on to the preacher every criticism he
hears. If the criticism only comes from one source, then you are far
less likely to pass it on than if you heard the same thing from a
number of sources (1 Tim. 5:19).

4. Is the criticism fair and objective?

If not, then the elder should defend the pastor. He should not just
sit there absorbing the criticisms like a sponge. That only encourages
the critic to go on and on. And critics in the church get to know the
elders that are “soft” and who will do their “dirty work” by passing
on their criticism. Some people’s criticisms simply reflect their
personal preferences for a particular type of preaching. That too must
be weighed.

5. Does the criticism extend beyond one sermon?

Every pastor preaches a dud from time to time. He probably knows it
better than anyone. Maybe he did not have much time to prepare that
week. Perhaps he never slept on Saturday night. Possibly someone in
the back row was sleeping or laughing. There are many different
reasons for a pastor preaching a poor sermon now and again. It’s
terribly unfair for someone to ignore the vast majority of a
preacher’s sermons to focus on one here or one there that fell short
of his usual standards.

6. Might there be a special reason for that sermon?

Sometimes a pastor may have a reason to preach on something, or a
reason to preach in a particular way that he cannot explain publicly.
Maybe he’s preaching to a special problem that only he knows about.
Perhaps he’s trying to reach the children in the congregation.
Possibly he’s preaching in this style because he knows someone is
bringing along a skeptical scientist to the service. Maybe a college
student has asked him to answer an question raised by one of her
lecturers. Sometimes even the pastor himself does not fully know the
reason why a particular text, sermon, or preaching style has been laid
upon him by the Lord for that time.

7. Has the critic spoken to the pastor?

It’s amazing how much criticism would be reduced in churches if
critics knew that elders will not take their criticisms seriously
until they have tried speaking to the pastor themselves. “Have you
spoken to the pastor yourself?” would slow the vast majority of
criticisms to a trickle. There may be special circumstances where this
is not possible or wise, but if the criticism is serious enough for
the pastor to hear, he should usually hear it from the critic first
hand. And if the critic is not wiling to do this, then it cannot be as
serious to him as he makes out. Sadly, some critics are not only good
at making the bullets, but at finding the elder most willing to fire
them too.

8. Is this the right time to speak to the pastor?

Let’s assume then that the critic has spoken to the pastor, or that
there are a number of legitimate concerns coming from different
reputable sources. The elder now has to decide when to raise the
subject. This is all-important if the aim really is to bring about
necessary and beneficial change in the pastor’s preaching. Here are
some guidelines:

(i) Do it privately and not in front of other elders to begin with.

(ii) Don’t do it immediately after or before a service. And never do
it on a Monday, when the Pastor is often spent from Sunday’s

(iii) Find out how the Pastor is doing – spiritually, mentally,
physically, relationally, etc. Try and find out if he is already
carrying large burdens or major worries. You don’t want to be the
straw that breaks the camel’s back.

(iv) Preface your remarks with any encouraging comments you have
gathered in family visitation.

9. Have you prayed?

Last but not least!

  • Andy

    David,Thank you for this post – I’ve never commented before, but have been reading your blog for about six months and appreciate the quality of thought that you put into your posts.I am a new elder and recently found myself in the position of hearing some disparaging remarks of our pastor. It took me completely by surprise (although I think I handled it well) and made me think about how I should handle it in the future. 7, 8 & 9 were especially helpful.

  • David Murray

    Thanks for your response Andy, and for your kind remarks. Glad you found this helpful.