This is part 2 of a seven part series on How to Preserve Your Pastor. I have organized this series around Dr. Tom Ranier’s excellent article: The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors. The top regret of pastors has to do with the lack of practical training for local church ministry which I blogged about here in part 1 of this series.
Dr. Ranier’s second regret has to do with pastors being overly concerned about critics. He quotes a pastor as stating:
“I had this naïve view that a bunch of Christians in a church would always show love toward each other. Boy was I wrong! There are some mean church members out there. My regret is that I spent way too much time and emotional energy dealing with the critics. I think of the hundreds of hours I lost focusing on critics, and it grieves me to this day.”
Pastors, just like the rest of us, want to be liked. They desire meaningful friendships and frequently go out of their way to demonstrate hospitality to church members. They also want the admiration of the members of their church because they know the grace-filled message of God’s Word will be more readily accepted if the messenger is appreciated for both his biblical knowledge and consistent Christian character and gentle witness. Most pastors seek to avoid conflict with church members believing that such encounters may severely undermine the role they have been called to play in the lives of those they lead in the church. Not only that, they know that if enough members band together against them they will likely lose their ministry position.
In response to these relational pressures, some pastors give in to a serious sin:
Rather than confronting church members about their sinful attitudes, words, and actions, some pastors allow their (natural, human) desire to be accepted as admired friends to trump their God-given responsibility to hold their members accountable for sin.
The Bible describes this heart motivation as the fear of man (Prov. 29:25). Rather than fearing God preeminently and living for God’s approval, people who are controlled by the fear of man fear people and live for the approval and respect of people. Among pastors, this too often leads to the second most frequently mentioned regret in Dr. Ranier’s article:
Some pastors are overly concerned about their critics.
Fear of Man Idolatry
In my experience, the idol most worshipped by pastors (tying making an idol of controlling people and situations) is the idol of the fear of man. Even though the Scriptures warn us all to avoid the fear of man, the fact remains that pastors—like all of us—often elevate the desire to be admired and loved by fellow creatures above the desire to serve, obey, and fear The Creator first and foremost:
Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults. Isaiah 51:7
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe. Proverbs 29:25
An idol is anything one places ahead of a singular devotion and commitment to God. The desire to be accepted, admired, respected, cherished, and loved by those who look up to a man as their pastor is an extremely powerful idolatrous force in the lives of the men we call to preach God’s Word to us. Unless we, the members of God’s church, recognize the power of this desire both in our own lives and the lives of our pastors, we will be the ones most guilty of contributing to this great regret that any minister will eventually face.
How can you ensure your pastor will be spared the detrimental effects of this disastrous dynamic?
The antidote for pastors being overly concerned about their critics is to free both the pastor and the church’s members from the fear of man idol through the firm and consistent practice of impartial, redemptive church discipline. Bad behavior is never acceptable behavior in the church (or anywhere!) and the remedy is unconditional acceptance of God’s plan to deal with the “mean church members” (often the pastoral “critics” spreading discontent) who stalk the halls and intimidate others so that they can get their way.
God’s plan is called accountability: accountability for the sinful words and actions (including bearing a critical spirit). Accountability lies at the heart of what it means to build a church worthy of God’s recognition (see Matthew 16:18-19; 18:15-20; Revelation chapters 2 and 3). If you will take the time to read these passages (and I hope you will!), you will note that there are churches of Revelation that are condemned for failing to hold members accountable for sinful belief and behavior.
Pastors must be free of fear and criticism when they dare speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to us about our bad behavior. They must have every confidence that if they speak the truth to us, they will not be in danger of losing their standing as God’s undershepherd in our midst. They need to be encouraged to lead all of the church’s lay leaders and members in a manner that is consistent with God’s revelation without fear of losing their position as God’s ordained shepherd overseers for simply doing the work of the Scriptures.
Of course, as faithful shepherds, they must, always have deep humility, reverence, and fear of God as they administer the rod and the staff (see Redeeming Church Conflicts, page 135). They must never be motivated by their own comfort or control or any sense of being “above” anyone in the church. Instead, they must understand that they are merely servants molding God’s eternal children to the pattern of His holiness. This is a difficult balance to achieve and to maintain and requires careful understanding and mutual submission by both the pastor and the church’s members to the authority of God’s Word. Pastors must fear that God will hold them accountable for their ministry and members must be those who obey their leaders for fear of God’s eternal accountability if they do not.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17
May our pastors fear God—not their critics in the pews.
In the Lamb,