Book Review: Pastors and Their Critics by Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson

R. A. Miller

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Ministers may face many discouragements as they attempt to shepherd their congregations. Pastors might have to reconcile parties that are at odds with one another, wade through difficult doctrinal issues, or perform funerals of beloved members who die unexpectedly. While all these events can be discouraging for the man of God, one ministry problem is seldom discussed: criticism. Stinging words from congregants may anger or dishearten the preacher on the receiving end of such remarks and these comments have undoubtedly been used by Satan to rattle those who hear them. Proverbs 12:18 compares words spoken rashly to the thrusts of a sword, as they can pierce down to a man’s heart. With fault-finding being dangerous to those who guide the church, its leaders must be equipped and prepared to receive criticism.

Thankfully, Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson have written a helpful volume on this subject, released in 2020. This publication not only discusses the nature of criticism but also tells its readers how to give and receive criticism graciously. Acknowledging that this is a “largely unaddressed problem,” the authors aim to deal “comprehensively with the various dimensions of criticism in the Christian ministry from a biblical and Reformed perspective” (14). While those not in pastoral ministry may be initially disinterested in this offering, Beeke and Thompson note that “the main truths and principles found herein apply to every Christian and every vocation” (15). “None of us,” they argue, “are exempt from receiving and giving criticism” (15). Therefore, Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry is a great aid for anyone seeking to learn more about handling and issuing reproof.

The most enlightening portion of this publication details instances of criticism from the Bible. Beginning with the serpent’s words in the garden, this section spans through the Old Testament, touching on events from the lives of Moses, David, and Nehemiah. Additionally, an entire chapter is devoted to how our Lord handled the words of his accusers in the gospel accounts. It cannot be overstated how necessary and beneficial this section of biblical surveying is. If the opinions of the authors were the sole source of authority found within, the quality of this work would be greatly diminished. However, Pastors and Their Critics begins with a scriptural foundation, allowing the further comments by Beeke and Thompson to stand firm on previously expounded texts. Further concepts explored in this book include: how to receive and respond to pastoral criticism, constructive criticism, coping with criticism, and preparing for criticism while in seminary. These later chapters are a practical complement to the theological insight gained by the opening section and will prepare the faithful minister for future conflict.

While this title is a joint effort, many of the stories shared within are from the ministry experience of Dr. Beeke, which spans over four decades. He is the chancellor of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, a homiletics & systematic theology professor, and a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Beeke remarks, both jokingly and earnestly, that he feels qualified to write this book because he “has had plenty of experience coping with criticism” (15). The other author, Nick Thompson, pastors Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, TN. He began pastoring at Cornerstone shortly after graduating from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity in 2020. While he is credited as a co-author, the appendix that aims to prepare seminary students is credited solely to him. This was an appropriate section for Thompson to tackle, as he was nearly finished with seminary while penning this guide.

This thoughtful and encouraging work has been tremendously helpful to me, as I have returned on several occasions for insight and refreshment. Dr. Ryan M. McGraw, professor of systematic theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, calls Beeke’s and Thompson’s efforts, “solid, wise, and necessary,” praising it as “an uncommon and pleasant book on a common and painful aspect of the ministry.”1McGraw, Ryan M. “Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry by Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson.” Ordained Servant, June 2021, 28–29. All leaders in the church should add this to their libraries in addition to those who would like to digest a biblical treatment of the subject. An encouraging and helpful read, Pastors and Their Critics receives this reviewer’s full endorsement with only one bit of criticism: I wish it was published much earlier!

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1 McGraw, Ryan M. “Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry by Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson.” Ordained Servant, June 2021, 28–29.
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R. A. Miller

R. A. Miller writes articles and speaks about church history and theology. He also runs a website called Church History Database (