The #1 Reason “Fair Criticism” Fails

It is not unusual for ministry leaders and pastors to tilt the scales when it comes to criticism.  Anyone involved in ministry or leading a ministry well understands that!

Simply using the word “criticism” or “discord” is a subtle argument against whatever is being called out. The “argument” that one is “sowing discord” or upsetting the “unity of the church” is almost sufficient to discredit any critics and/or quiet any further discussion of this-or-that decision or action.

There are some biblical truths that are typically called up defensively. Indeed, those truths are important in the church’s operation and our lives as believers! Unity, peace, gossip, slander, backbiting, the use of the tongue, and other such concepts are biblical concerns. Who hasn’t heard a message on any one of these areas and not felt guilty at times.

Nevertheless, such biblical concepts can be hijacked and used to defend and insulate ministry leaders and pastors from legitimate criticism. Yes — there is legitimate criticism! That is where the difficulty arises. What is legitimate criticism? How far from the “center of an action and decision” does one go to address it? After talking to the central person, can one talk to other leaders or church members? Who should I talk to? Can I talk to anyone outside of leadership? What if no action is taken? Can I talk to others if nothing is done about my concerns?

Those questions, and others, maybe best examined in the light of what has taken place across the “evangelical” spectrum of wrong-doing — Ravi Z, James Mc Donald, John Piper & BBC&S, Matt Chandler, Paige Patterson, Jerry Falwell Jr., et al. How different the end result might have been were these subtle words and arguments not effectively used to silence “fair criticism.”

Yes, there is fair or legitimate criticism! 

The dynamics that operate in ministries and local churches easily and overwhelming silence all criticism, and yes, even legitimate criticism. That is why ministries and local churches ultimately find themselves in terrible situations.  That is when people finally speak up and ask . . . .

  • “Why did no one speak up about it when it was happening?”
  • “How was this allowed to get to this stage before it was addressed?”
  • “Where was the “board” when all this was taking place?”
  • “How come nobody knew about this?”

Someone probably did speak up and try to alert the leaders and/or members, but it was silenced. That problem is uniquely, intrinsically, and consistently operative with ministry and local churches. Few, if any, other institutions are able to efficiently and effectively silence criticism as ministry leaders and pastors.

Just say the word “gossip,” and that is the end of much, if not all, discussion about a policy decision, action, choice, outcome, response, et al. Ministries and local church leaders have an extraordinary ability to shut down discussion. 

Questioning decisions and actions, “calling-out” wrong-doing, asking the second-third-fourth-twentieth question, and/or engaging in a challenging discussion is already a quieting proposition. Fair criticism not only fails, but it is quickly and naturally avoided by the biblically minded. There is a great deal of “self-avoidance that is part of the dynamic which is operating.  AND — ministry leaders and pastors know that! [1]

And if “they” are not self-admonished, “they” will be reminded of that by leadership!  It is not the leadership’s decisions, actions, and/or wrong-doing that have rightfully caused the response.  The critic must be reminded of such biblical admonitions, words, or phrases.  This is the typical RVO of “DARVO.” [2]

The expression of disagreement, dissent, and/or opposition is, at best, a faint voice when it comes to ministry and local churches. That proof is easily demonstrated and well-known to ministry employees and church members.

1. That is why some ministry leaders and pastors will pursue an open ballot.  They realize that God’s people are reluctant to speak out and/or speak up publicly, even if they have previously expressed their concerns to leadership/pastors.  That is also one reason that some leaders and pastors even leave out the voting  option of “abstain” — The legitimate procedure for business meetings are — “Yea, Nay, and Abstain.”

In fact, God’s people have come to realize that an “anonymous letter” is the path of the wise.  While some ministry leaders have taught that approach by their actions and responses to disagreement, leaders and pastors have yet another weapon at their disposal — charges of being unchristian, less than above board, dishonest, or unfair. “You should have been Christian, honest, and/or fair enough to come to me and talk personally!”

2. “DARVO” – Deflect, Attack, Reverse Victim Order

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