The second most important ministry event has now ended, and it is at this time of the year, many pastors, plan for and take their annual sabbatical from ministry and spend that time, refreshing their own walks with Christ, or spend that time doting on our families who too often get overlooked or set aside for the greater good of the church and the families that it represents.
But most pastors, like me, rarely get that opportunity to unplug, getaway and put that focus back on our families. 70% of our local pastors, which represent 80% of our churches, (those with membership numbers under 100) are for the most part bi-vocational, meaning the finances of the church are not strong enough to keep a pastor on full-time and as a result, that pastor often will work another full-time job. This even further spreads that pastor’s life thin, and often results in burnout, and many times, an early exit from ministry.
It is at this time of the year, that membership, (who should be praying for and looking for ways to serve alongside their pastors), should also look to step up their game, and look for extra tasks, to find extra time to serve or just look for new ways to encourage and lift up those pastors, who have the responsibility of caring for our spiritual health and the accountability for that health.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers; for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17
It is too easy to look at a situation from our own perspective, and see a perceived slight, and want to act out or be critical of our pastors, or otherwise become resentful towards them or a member of their families. While there are certainly opportunities for improvement in all of our lives, I would encourage all of us, to look at a situation from a neutral perspective, and realize, there are many times other things working in the lives of our pastors, that may be creating his distance or his lack of focus.
A few years ago, a pastor friend’s congregation rose up in opposition to him, because all of a sudden he was no longer available to them, was never in the office anymore and his time in the pulpit had become seemingly uninspired. He just seemed to be completely disconnected from the church family and all of a sudden taking more time away from the church and while he was there his family wasn’t. After about six months of this and after one of those (all too often) secret meetings was held, it was decided that they would ask for the pastor’s resignation.
When the Sunday came that they would ask him to stay after so they could take their chosen action, at the end of the service, he asked the congregation to sit for a moment, and began to explain to the church that after several months of seeking doctors and trying to find a diagnosis, his wife of 23 years had been diagnosed with cancer and that it was inoperable, and they had been told, there really was only a short time left. As a result, he would be resigning effective immediately to spend those last weeks with her and his family.
Not every pastor’s disconnect is going to be related to illness or grief, sometimes it is due to his own failure to stay within moral boundaries, burnout or has become discouraged from lack of help, no time for a personal life or realizing that ministry has been causing him to neglect his own family to meet the needs of another.
So, when you are tempted to meet the pastor at the back door of the church to offer advice (complain) or to point to some ministry that you think the pastor should be doing, I want you to look at that pastor and his life from a new perspective, before you complain, condemn or criticize him. While there are some legitimate areas where critique or rebuke may be necessary, there are some areas that should not. I want to point you to a few of those that are justified scripturally.
- They don’t preach the gospel.
As in, they actually don’t preach Christ’s finished work. Not that they don’t emphasize the points you would or they don’t present the gospel the way you prefer or they don’t give an altar call or they miss this angle of the good news or that one or they don’t preach like Graham or Sunday or Piper or Falwell — but that they actually don’t preach the gospel. (Titus 1:9; Galatians 2:11-14)
- They are regularly engaging in sins or unhealthy habits that would disqualify them from the office of pastor.
Maybe he’s cheating on his wife or engaging in other sexual immorality. He’s a drunk. He has no self-control. His reputation in the community is terrible. He’s inhospitable. He doesn’t know how to teach. He’s violent. He’s domineering or emotionally, verbally, or otherwise psychologically abusive. He doesn’t take care of his wife and kids. He does not submit to his authorities. He’s undisciplined or lazy. He doesn’t rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine, won’t correct heresy or protect the flock from wolves. He himself teaches doctrine in contradiction to the tenets of the faith. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-8)
While a seemingly short list, it is not exclusive and these can be applied in various ways. But just because you may have a reason to criticize him, it doesn’t mean you can do that however you want. All correction should come gently, personally and privately first, and if necessary beyond that, include witnesses. (Matthew 18:15-18) It should be done with humility, respectfully, lovingly and with grace, as grace was administered unto you by Jesus Christ himself.
There are ways to have conversations with your pastor that will sharpen him and encourage him toward improvements without criticizing him. And there are ways to make suggestions without criticizing or complaining (but be sure you’re actually doing that, not just being passive aggressive).
And it can go the other way too! There are plenty of times you should not criticize your pastor! Here are a few of those:
- He just kind of annoys you, rubs you the wrong way! He cannot be all things to all people!
- He’s not your best friend, or you don’t really like his wife! In many of our churches, (especially those perceived pastor-eating ones) the safest place for your pastor and his family is at arm’s length. Relational hurts within the church happen, and more often than not, the ministry family just has to grin and bear it, like nothing ever happened! But it did happen and it will cause resentment if you are not watchful for it!
And on a side note: The pastor’s wife is not paid, she is a volunteer just like you! You should not expect more from her than you expect from yourself!
- He’s not as dynamic, outgoing, animated or interesting as you would like.
- His decisions aren’t really sinful or unhealthy, just not what you would do or the way you would do it!
- You are the pastor’s personal thorn, and you feel an obligation to express your every critical thought! Maybe you should be spending more time praying for him!
- You don’t understand something he has said or done. (This is cause for questions not complaints!)
- He is not ____________enough! Could be political, creative, extroverted, outdoorsy, indoorsy, skinny, fat or hairy! (Fill in the blank)
Or any unlimited bunch of things that the Bible does not condemn or forbid!
This may seem a little burdensome when you feel like you ought to be able to say whatever you feel, however you feel, whenever you feel it. But your pastor bears similar burdens. He likely has multiple people with “helpful suggestions” speaking to him every week. Measure your thoughts out appropriately, choose the right hills to die on, and pray for your pastor. He needs it.
While everyone will agree the pastor’s job is to love the people he has the God-given responsibility to care for, it is also your responsibility to love him, showing double respect for him (Scripture says they are ‘worthy of double honor’), spending time reaffirming that love and appreciation and most importantly, spending time praying for him and being devoted to praying for him!
And while he may not realize what a handful you are, you do, and that should be reason enough to cut him a little slack, especially at the back door on the way out of the church on Sundays! And if, as a result of your prayerful consideration of these matters, you find yourself, wanting more than he can deliver, you may need to prayerfully seek out a peaceful resolution and quite possibly another place of worship and service is in your future!