Darrin Patrick, John MacArthur, and Responding to Criticism

The Bible tends to talk a good amount about things like correction, rebuke, and reproof (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 2:25, Proverbs 15:5, Proverbs 15:10…I could go on and on). There’s good reason for that. One, we all need correction and criticism on a regular basis. It’s one of the means which God uses to grow us. Two, many of us do not naturally respond well to such critiques. Sometimes we get defensive, sometimes we get pouty, sometimes we protect ourselves by firing right back.

I’m fairly confident I don’t take criticism well, it’s undoubtedly a weakness of mine. That’s why a few blog posts from this week really caught my attention.

Darrin Patrick is a pastor of a St. Louis church called The Journey, and is becoming well known around Christian circles. This past year he released a book on church planting that has been highly recommended by many. A few weeks ago, however, another uber-respected Christian pastor, John MacArthur, had some criticisms of the aforementioned book. Let it be said up front that I respected both men before this week, and I respected both men in how they handled the situation.

If you want to know the details of the disagreement, go here and here. For my purposes, you just need a taste of what was said. Here are some of MacArthur’s comments –

“Notice that Darrin Patrick himself summarizes and restates the point he is making, and it is about “uniqueness” in “the way he wants to do ministry.” He seems to suggest that everything about one’s ministry (Patrick expressly includes “his own theological beliefs“) needs to be self-styled and individualistic.”

He continues –

“Indeed, the entire book treats church planting as an entrepreneurial business, with almost no word of caution against the many dangers of bringing an entrepreneur’s mindset into ministry. Scripture, by contrast, consistently uses pastoral language rather than terms borrowed from financial enterprise. Church leaders are to be shepherds, not tycoons. Our people are sheep, not consumers.

I understand and echo MacArthur’s overall concern to protect theology and guard against rampant individualism, but I must say I don’t think his specific critiques in this instance are fair (additionally, MacArthur should be commended for saying – “Allow me to publicly state that if this is not what Darrin Patrick meant to communicate, I would certainly love to embrace any clarification”).

Put yourself in Patrick’s shoes following this. You’ve spent decades watching other church planters and other churches. You’ve faithfully started your own church plant, which has been a successful thing in the world’s eyes and by all accounts a fruitful thing for God’s kingdom. And then you’ve spent years putting those decades of lessons and thoughts down in a book.

And now you’ve experienced some public criticism. How would you react?

I personally doubt that I would react with the humility and thoughtfulness that Patrick did –

“It is my hope that those who have not read the book might not be confused about what I believe. I believe in gospel ministry, theologically driven practice, and biblical fidelity. This is what Church Planter is about. This is what The Journey is about. This is what my life and ministry are about.

Sometimes I fail at this focus. When I misunderstand or am misunderstood, I want to quickly ask, “What is God teaching me?” And, He is teaching me through Dr. MacArthur’s critique. For that, I am very thankful! For those of you who have been quick to be critical of Dr. MacArthur, please remember that we all need to be corrected from time to time. Also, ALL of us who are younger need to give a careful listen to the concerns of seasoned pastors, many of whom have forgotten more than we might ever know.”

Criticism and correction are not only a reality of life they can be a blessing from God. We would all do well to learn some lessons from Patrick’s response, so that the correction we experience in our lives would be even more of a blessing.

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