Spurgeon on Leadership (11): Seven Lessons on Criticism and Conflict

1. Controversy is unavoidable for the person who seeks to be faithful to the Lord’s calling. Spurgeon wrote, “Controversy is never a very happy element for the child of God. . . . But the soldier of Christ knows no choice in his Master’s commands…” Jesus counseled His disciples that because the world hated Him, the world would hate them as well. Even the most effective leader will encounter controversy along the way.

2. A leader should not seek out controversy for its own sake. Spurgeon expressed his distaste for controversy: “I’d rather walk ten miles to get out of a dispute than half-a-mile to get into one.”

3. Some conflicts occur because of a leader’s own faults and failures. When a leader is tactless, careless, thoughtless, uncommunicative, head­strong, dictatorial, and arrogant, he will attract criticism as a result. This kind of controversy is not admirable; rather, it represents an unwise leader­ship style that creates adverse reactions.

4. Controversy can serve to unite a leader with his followers. This point was true in Spurgeon’s early ministry when he was maligned by the media. “The bond that united me to the members of New Park Street was probably all the stronger because of the opposition and calumny that, for a time at least, they had to share with me.”

5. The wise leader is capable of differentiating between personal and professional criticism. Spurgeon did not typically respond to personal attacks, but he did respond when someone criticized the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He showed more concern for his official role than for his personal reputation.

6. Leaders may profit by giving their potential critics significant responsi­bility. Spurgeon’s philosophy was to take disruptive types and, in his words, “I set them to work and they are no longer troublesome; if that does not cure them, I give them still more work to do.”

7. A leader’s goal should not include becoming a master of contro­versy, but to become consistent in handling the truth. Spurgeon may not have been the best controversialist, but his resolve was to remain true to firm convictions, regardless of the outcome, believing that righ­teousness will prevail in the end.

On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 6): The Danger of Becoming an Arrogant, Narcissistic, Hyper-Critical Jerk

Leviticus 19:15-18: “You shall do no injustice in judgment…You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor…You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”


Southern Baptist seminaries are confessional institutions. Faculty members and students confess that God is Triune, the Son was crucified and resurrected, salvation comes by grace and faith alone, and that the Scriptures are the very words of God. We rightly learn to see the world through the lens of these confessions, to critique the spirit of the age and its manifestations. We learn to critique other Christian traditions and theologians. We learn to read critically, think critically, and write critically. We write critical essays, book reviews, and research papers. This is good, when done with grace and love to the glory of God.

But somewhere along the way, we sometimes become critical in the bad sense of that word. Perhaps it is easy to slip from critiquing a book or a theological position to criticizing everything and every person we encounter, and doing so in a way that is lacking in grace. One of the most rude awakenings I had upon “entering” convention life (in my late teens) is that seminary people and other “convention” people seemed often to be quick to gossip, repeat unsubstantiated rumor, misrepresent their opponents, and find an all-around satisfaction in judging other people. This critical spirit can take many forms: At pastor’s conferences, we encounter it in the form of preachers making derisive jokes about homosexuals, or allowing their “exegesis” of a biblical text to become a series of drive-by shootings of fellow Southern Baptists. At the lunch table or in the coffee shop, we recognize it when conversation hinges upon criticisms of other people.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that theologians must not critique or criticize. In fact, criticism is inherent to the task of theology. We must rightly divide the Word of God and defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The problem is that sometimes we become inordinately eager to criticize, criticizing at the wrong time and in the wrong way, speaking the truth without love, and attacking people more than error. And herein lies a deep and ugly irony: We who speak often (and loudly) about grace sometimes find ourselves speaking in ways that are not at all gracious. Because our speech is not seasoned with grace, we undermine the very gospel we preach.

Of course, we don’t develop a hyper-critical attitude because we are in a seminary or involved in the convention. We develop such an attitude because we are proud. We are, as Luther put it, curved in on ourselves (incurvatus se). We think we are “big britches.” We love ourselves inordinately, at the expense of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Pride is manifested in many ways and, in our speech, it often manifests itself in incessant criticism. “Criticism,” writes J. Oswald Sanders, “is always made from the vantage point of conscious superiority. Pride will find cause for criticism in everyone and everything. It lauds itself and belittles its neighbor.”

I have noticed that the same pride that prompts me to criticize others also causes me to react sinfully when others criticize me. Immediately, I seek to justify myself. Sometimes, I become hostile and resentful toward those who have criticized me. And almost always, I begin to criticize my critic. But if I could be consistently a humble man, a man who walks with the Lord, I could take criticism no matter from whom, or in what form, it comes. Even the most unfair criticism will likely contain some truth.

The bottom line is this: If we love God more, we will love ourselves ordinately. And if our love for ourselves is in order, we will not develop a critical spirit and we will be able to handle criticism when it is dealt to us. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another….Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another….And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:12-17).java games download