Nobody likes to be criticised, nor to hear that others are offended at them or by them. Yet as preachers we need to become discerning in this issue of offense. As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, let’s look at this from another angle.
Some offense is avoidable and should be avoided. Some is not avoidable and shouldn’t be avoided. Some offense is peripheral. Some offense is central.
If you are criticised for something that was misunderstood, or came across wrongly, or whatever, then apologise. Perhaps a passing humorous remark hurt somebody’s feelings. Hopefully you will have opportunity to apologise to them (unless they remain hidden in the undergrowth and simply spread their critique by the poisonous weed of gossip). Perhaps an illustration came across as arrogant when you meant it entirely differently. Don’t get caught up in thinking that everything you say is of the Lord simply because you prayed about it, or because you are the preacher. Lead the way in humility and readiness to apologise. Be approachable so at least some people will talk to you about these things.
If you are criticised for something that is incidental, consider whether the one criticising is a professional moaner. Some will find anything for their target. They didn’t like that you put your Bible down, or that you put your hand in your pocket during a personal story, or that you flapped a wasp away, or that you wore a tie, or didn’t, or smiled, or didn’t, or whatever, or didn’t. If this person comes to you and they are repeatedly offended, consider whether this is an opportunity to graciously but firmly put a finger on the critical spirit. If this person consistently goes to others about you, then encourage the others to both encourage them to speak to the person they think has sinned instead of gossiping, and perhaps to call them on their attitude.
If you are criticised legitimately, learn.
If you are criticised because the Bible, the gospel, the Christ, the Spirit, has made them uncomfortable, or convicted, or challenged, or whatever . . . then, well, then good. Some people want to come to church as an exercise in religious piety, but without true piety. They want to go through the motions, but don’t want their own emotions to be engaged at all. They want to tick an attendance box, and you preaching the Bible gets in the way of that. Don’t apologise. Keep preaching. Don’t allow a small number of complainants to control you or the church. Our goal must never be to keep everyone happy. You can easily arrest the development of the church for the sake of a handful, while the steady trickle of the spiritually lively out of the back door will spiritually bankrupt the church.
There are many reasons people get offended. We must care. Hard-skinned unapproachability is not becoming of a preacher of God’s Word. But there are numerous ways to respond. May God grant us wisdom and humility and courage to know what to do. (And may God also grant us co-leaders around us who can both discern and act when they hear the critique instead of us!)