Don’t Shoot the Messenger…

June 4, 2007

I had an ironic experience yesterday. I was preaching on Jeremiah 26, an account of how the prophet faced charges and the prospect of death. In particular, I was focusing on Jeremiah’s underlying conviction that the “Lord sent” him, a belief which sustained and compelled him throughout difficult times. Jeremiah is so convinced of his ‘sent-ness’ that he warns a baying crowd not to kill him lest they put ‘innocent blood’ on their hands and bring down God’s wrath upon their heads (hence my sermon title ‘Don’t Shoot the Messenger’).


I say I had an ironic experience because following my message I received, via a note slipped into my hand, probably the most scathing criticism of my preaching thus far. Without going into details, I think I’d have to give up preaching if I took what was written on it with all seriousness.

What a challenge I faced to practice what I had just preached! What a challenge not to defend myself, yet be willing to love God’s message and love my enemies, even as Jeremiah did.

I wonder how you have handled those times when bullets fly in your direction? Does anyone know of any helpful books or articles on the matter?



  1. I have a CD that I will try and send you about handling acclaim and criticism. It’s of a panel interview from James MacDonald’s Walk in the Word conference featuring MacDonald, John Piper, Joe Stowell and Greg Laurie. I like what Tozer said, ‘The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life.’ Praying that you will continue to know your need of God’s grace and respond to others in accord with that same grace.

  2. Brother, I wish we could say those criticisms were few and far between, but unfortunately that’s not the case. I have always tried to look through the angry language that people use to see what their actual hang-up is and then use that to evaluate the situation. Every once and a while, a person will have a valid point to make, but it’s usually disguised in venom. Be encouraged by Dr. Piper from “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals”: We (pastors/preachers) are “sent by God to save people from hell and make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world,” (3).

    “We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things”(2).

    Pursue and fulfill your calling — God’s grace will overflow in overwhelming abundance, regardless of public opinion.

  3. Criticism for some of us is hard to take. I have preached now over 30 years and I still don’t like being criticized. I handle it better but it still stings. Any preacher these days needs tough skin and a soft heart. Sometimes preaching truth is great and sometimes hard. Preach the Word in season and out.

  4. Wow, that attack is like Kryptonite to Superman. The enemy knows a pastor’s vulnerable spot. The thing that I would run to is Tim Keller’s, David Powlison and Jack Miller and their work on Gospel Centered Living. In a moment like that I would cling to their work and writings about the power of the Gospel.

  5. I just recently found a quote from John MacArthur that has helped me immensely:

    “First of all, I check my life to see if the criticism is valid. If not, I affirm that I am privileged to render my service to the Lord, not men. I have to live in I Cor 4 where Paul said in effect, “It’s a small thing what men say of me…” He also affirmed that he was the chief sinner. I try to follow that patter and say, “It really doesn’t matter what people think, and I’m certainly not worth defending. I may have been accused falsely of something, but there certainly has been sin in my life somewhere that my accusers didn’t even know about.”
    We have to wait and let the Lord judge us. I have to be faithful to the Lord and not worry about reputation, and not take criticism personally- getting my ego involved. I have learned that whenever an unjust criticism comes, I thank the Lord for using it to humble and refine me. I commit myself to the faithful care of my Creator as Jesus committed Himself to His Father. Let God defend me if I’m worthy of defending. I will defend the truth, I will defend Christ, I will defend the Bible, but I am not going to defend John MacArthur. When someone criticizes me, I would rather say, “Pray for me. Thank you for caring enough to share your concern. I want to be all that God wants me to be.” (Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, pg 372.)

  6. Sorry but I find this sad…yet at the same time almost humorous!

    You have just been ordained….and wait for it…someone punches you below the belt with major criticism.

    Now I ask you…what does the devil want you to do?
    Quit, quit, quit , quit and never serve God again…just look what happened when you did your best etc etc ad naseum.

    Similar thing happened to me in my very first endeavour in helping a youth ministry. The first days …resulted in a car accident with one of the kids ( although not my fault). I got lectured on safety, and warnings on how I should have been more careful etc.
    I decided I would quit.

    Went to the evening church service and a godly elderly man met me at the door. he asked me how I was, and I told him the whole story ( except for the quitting bit). he laughed a real hearty laugh, and said ” the devil’s busy – he will stop at nothing to get you to quit serving the Lord”. I sat down, determined to continue…and I did, and am now in full time service.

    I am sorry to hear of your hurt…but PRAISE THE LORD!!! – it is a true commendation from the Lord that you are in in HIS service doing HIS will….or else the devil would not be troubling you!

  7. Sorry forgot…

    Do not repay evil with evil.
    Book recommendation – Love in Hard places – Carson

  8. My very first pulpit supply opportunity, while I was still in seminary, had the ability of turning me off to the pastoral ministry forever. I was given a note by a congregant who did not even come to meet me after the service, but gave it to my wife to pass on instead, and like yours, it was a pretty scathing critique. I’m still young in the ministry, still learning everyday, but that first time haunts me still.

    I recommend holding fast to 2 Corinthians 4. I recommend memorizing it.

    No one was derided for his preaching (post resurrection) more than Paul.

  9. Remember what you preached yesterday. Jer 26:2 “Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.”

    68guns has got it just right. Are you Jeremiah or are you Uriah? Your preaching, especially on Jeremiah, has been a challenge to those who hear it. Some will respond like Pashhur (20:2), but praise God, there are also some Ahikams out there (26:24).

    Josh 1:6-9

  10. Thanks for all the comments today; I’ve really appreciated it. Much to think about…

  11. Dear Colin,

    I prayed for you today. Every preacher gets this kind of treatment from time to time. It’s never easy but let it be used for your sanctification and improvement. I’ve listened to your preaching and I’m sure that it is a blessing to the people.

    God bless you,
    Cliff Allen
    Poland Baptist Church
    Poland, Maine USA

  12. I just read your post. Sadly, I have been their done that. One time I was receiving emailed letter grades for each sermon. The criticism literally made me sick. Later I read Watson’s book, The Art of Divine Contentment. When I make an effort to apply his teaching, Watson really ministers to my heart. When I am content in my God, the harsh words of others matter so much less

  13. Colin,

    Joel Beeke gave a lecture on this at last years Metropolitan Tabernacle School of Theology…here’s a link where you can order it.


    Here’s something written by him I found, scroll down a bit, though the bit on pride is worth reading too!


    I commend it to you…I was bit discouraged at the time, and it helped me much.


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