I was privileged to participate in an ordination service for a young man who had recently been called a pastor of a church that had been without a pastor for quite some time. As is boilerplate, the charge was brought centered around the command to “preach the Word” from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. Sadly, you rarely hear spoken in these services (or even in seminary classes) that simply “preaching the Word” will bring grief. Yet I’ve had reminders of that truth in the last 24 hours.
A friend in another state, faithful expository preacher of the Bible – who holds no unscriptural view, who has never even been accused of preaching falsehoods, but instead – because of a broken local church ecclesiology (theology of church polity and power) – has been pushed out the door and forced to move from the parsonage, without pay to even afford another place to live. This man has been a faithful preacher of the Word. He has been honest and faithful to his call – but this faithfulness has also been the dagger that stabbed him in the back. When you preach in an expository format, you cannot easily skip over the controversial, uncomfortable, and “hard” stuff that many topical preachers conveniently just avoid. If you preach the Word, you will meet these difficult passages with honesty, love, and in a way that will very likely step on toes. And sometimes a church that has members rebelling against God in their personal lives will become offended and want more candy and less meat.
But add in the clear need for biblical discipline – such as a church member going on a well-publicized (in state-wide media) racist rant, or radical, community-rocking sexual sin (thing the incestuous forniaction of 2 Corinthians fame) then to get blocked by the church’s un-biblical church government – and you have a perfect storm to completely devastated a pastor and his family.
No sooner did I get some details on the above case (which is FAR from the first similar case I’ve become acquainted with among pastor friends), I got word of another friend in a somewhat different ministry position who also has been pushed out of his position via an extremely unbiblical and un-Christlike manner.
This is a sad pattern that, as I shared with my friends this morning, is nothing new and will continue to exist until Jesus steps foot on this earth. But I grieve for the damage done to these men who are simply pouring out their heart, giving of themselves in a very sacrificial way to glorify God and “preach the Word”, to make disciples – and to endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Much of this is rooted in an extremely dangerous theological perspective that many churches have, one that I heard hints of even in the ordination service I was a part of yesterday. While we who claim the Bible as our sole foundation and measure of faith and practice, we often take things to extremes. One example we find – we claim that Jesus is the “head” of the local church. We might even give verbal assent to a pastor being an “under-shepherd” to “lead” the church. Yet I have heard many times (and again heard it yesterday afternoon) that a pastor “serves at the pleasure of the church”. This always strikes me as completely incongruent with Scripture. It is about a maximum stretch to find a full-on “democratic rule” of the local church depicted or prescribed in the New Testament, but to find anything that remotely resembles a pastor being nothing more than a convenience to serve at the fleshly whims of the local church is exactly what brings us to the above mentioned recent cases, and these all are found in a very man/me-centered theology, which is an upside-down theology. It is a very small-view of God that actually places man ABOVE God. While Jesus is the head of the local church, and the church belongs unquestionablly to Him who gave His life for her – scripturally, we have the model and even command for the church to be “elder-led” – meaning God’s man (or men) are called to “rule” (we really hate that word). At the same time, the church does have a voice in many factors – but ultimately, a pastor is God’s man, called to be the primary lead – not as a hireling that can be cast aside when tastes and fleshly desires or feelings blow in a different direction.
But don’t we see this in many help-wanted pastor listings? How often do we see a church saying that they are looking for a man who holds certain degrees from prestigious institutions, who has decades of successful (by what standard?) ministry, yet never even mention that they are looking for God’s man – for the soul that the LORD Jesus Christ would be preparing to lead that congregation. As a seminary graduate myself, I appreciate the tool that seminary was (and still is) in my life and ministry – but the seminary does not make a pastor (or preacher). Wordly preferences do not dictate what God would have for the local church. And the sad reality of many congregations, filled with nominal or immature Christians, we have a recipe for disaster.
Does a pastor, who is faithfully dedicating his life, heart, blood, sweat, & tears deserve to be treated in any matter less than with genuine love, grace, and biblical processes? Understand that a God-called man sacrifices more than you could ever know. He isn’t going to brag about the hours spend in prayer and studying. He isn’t going to post a time card listing the miles and hours dedicated to helping that stumbling church member, that sick widow, or the questioning worry-wart. He won’t trumpet the inconvenience of going to a funeral home with a grieving family that doesn’t know how to put a funeral together. He doesn’t ask for lots of vacation time or leave unless there is no other option available. His phone is on nearly all the time, even when it means sacrificing family. And whether you know it or not: he is praying for you, usually by name every single day.
And in our current world of confusion and fear – he too is dealing with anxiety – and possibly measurable depression. Some who have been deprived of preaching time due to lockdowns or personal quarantine and illness, are struggling with simply not emotionally breaking down. These men… we pastors are not selfish when we pray for some return to “normal”, we are not uncaring when we have expectations that believers would act not out of fear but out of confidence in the LORD as a witness, a living testimony to a fear-paralized and broken world. When we desire the least-restrictive church operation possible, we are not seeking the illness or death of church members, but looking to make the facilities, ministries, and services accessible to the most people.
If you are a member of a local church, you may not realize it – but your pastor loves you. He has been entrusted with your spiritual growth and maturity – and tasked not with babying you and acquiescing to the world or church member preferences, but admonishing, encouraging, and yes, even bringing biblical church discipline when justified. If he preaches a message that spiritually slaps you in the face, don’t get mad, but instead get on your knees and thank God that the LORD and your pastor love you enough to speak the truth – then repent and pursue righteousness! Don’t launch a devil-inspired campaign of dishonesty and destruction in retaliation. And if we slip, if we fail – then remember the Biblical means of addressing that – in the spirit of love and reconciliation, walk and act in grace, covered by prayer, remembering that this pastor is a soul too –
Cast all petiness aside (Read and pray through Romans 14, especially the last 13 or so verses). And seek to walk in the truth of God’s Word.
Please pray for these two men hinted to in this entry – one in Missouri, the other here in Arkansas – and the many facing similar circumstances that I just haven’t heard about yet. If you have issues with your pastor – please pray both for him and for your own heart in the matter – and seek the biblical answer to the perceived problem. And act in LOVE, not vanity and flesh.