In the early days of my pastoral ministry, I became discouraged. Someone in the congregation disagreed with the direction the church was taking and criticized me personally. I grumbled to a friend about it. “You know, John,” he observed, “worse things have been said about better men.”
Criticism is an occupational hazard of leadership. It is never comfortable, but it is also not unusual. Church leaders sometimes have difficulty finding a middle ground between dwelling too much on criticism or ignoring it altogether.
Paul was not discouraged by complaints of some in the Corinthian church who preferred other teachers. His warning? Be careful when you judge. Our assessment of others is often based on insufficient information. The same is true of the justifications we offer for our actions. We do not have enough perspective even to judge ourselves. In the church, this can lead to two extremes. On one end, we can be hypercritical of the church’s leaders. The other extreme makes us undiscerning in our devotion to them. Paul offers a better approach in verse 6: “Do not go beyond what is written.” This saying was apparently familiar to the Corinthians. Paul reminds the church of the need to let Scripture shape our thinking. We must base our assessment of church’s leaders on biblical standards rather than personal preference.
The criticism leveled against Paul was unwarranted. He had proven his integrity in the way he had faithfully served the church at large (vv. 9–13). The Corinthians had experienced that ministry first-hand (vv. 14–16). Paul urged the church to cast aside its hypercritical spirit and accept him both as an apostle and a role model.
>> If you’re disappointed with your church’s leaders (even with legitimate grounds) do not let your differences lead to an attitude of contempt. When this happens, you have crossed the line from discernment to sinful arrogance. As you pray for them, ask God to soften your heart as well.
Lord God, convict us of arrogance toward our leaders. Grant us Spirit-led discernment and teach us how to love church leaders with grace and understanding. Guide our leaders in wisdom when they receive criticism.