One of my favorite ways to describe ministry’s on-display-life is to use the metaphor of the department store window. “You live your life in the front of Macy’s department store window, it’s all on display for the congregation,” is what I usually say.
In my earlier days in ministry I must confess that I used to use the metaphor as a way to draw sympathy for myself, particularly if the on-display-life drew criticism, which was always hard to devastating for me.
But something wonderful has happened.
Last week we were asked in our small group, “What is your most memorable, faith growing experience?” Without hesitation I answered, “Being the pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.” Being the pastor here, living in Macy’s window here, has literally saved my soul. What saved me was the criticism.
A pastor can expect criticism for many reasons. But the one I found to be so wonderful for my soul is how a pastor can expect criticism because it is part of God’s sanctification process—a tool that he uses to reveal idols and accelerate the pastor’s growth in humility.
Taking some time in the lunch break of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, I spent some time in Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor. And there it was again! I spotted this on the pastor living in Macy’s window and criticism:
Because there are many eyes upon you, therefore there will be many observers of your falls. If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you. And you should thankfully consider how great a mercy this is, that you have so many eyes to watch over you, and so many ready to tell you of your faults, and so have greater helps than others, at least for the restraining of your sin. Though they may do it with a malicious mind, yet you have the advantage by it.
According to Baxter, the critique of many is actually a great advantage to pastors. This is a great mercy. Although I have always sought praise, the reality is that I have grown far, far, far, far, far more from criticism and correction than from all the wonderful encouragement I have received over the years.
Have you ever wondered what criticism wounds? I think the simple answer is that criticism wounds the sin that has not been put to death with the old Adam. A wise, older pastor once said: “What hurts isn’t dead yet.” And that is often what criticism wounds—my still‐living, still‐breathing pride.
Receiving criticism and correction is necessary, because it reveals the blind spots in my life and the pockets of pride that have not been put to death (Colossians 3:5, 12).
So God uses criticism to mature pastors.
And this is God’s great mercy to help me see my own pride and sin and what drives me to return to my Savior.
Living in Macy’s window has turned out to be a blessing.