A woman called in to one of those radio Q&A programs with a complaint she had concerning her pastor. I don’t remember the entire conversation except that after their conversation, the Bible ‘expert’ said, “Almost all complaints like that come from a person who is refusing to do what their pastor is preaching.”
Our family has have moved many times and as a result attended many churches. If the teaching was false, we looked elsewhere. I can remember only one church where the pastor overstepped his position. After our first time at the worship service, he came to our home with three (yes, three) of his elders to convince us we should continue. He gave a strong sales pitch much stronger than any used car salesman. Since we’d already heard him express hatred for a certain leader of the Reformation, we’d already decided this was not a biblical pastor.
Other than that one incident and a couple cases of ‘legalism’ God has put us in churches that fit His promise made to His people Israel:
“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)
In all our years of marriage, my husband has been involved in leadership in his employment, in other organizations, and in various churches. We have learned the challenges and the difficulties of this role. Doing it well is one thing, but doing it when the ‘sheep’ resist even the most solid biblical leading is the greatest challenge and the most heart-breaking.
Certainly those challenges are a major reason the qualifications are so high. The Apostle Paul described some of this way:
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are elievers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:5-9)
Even with this list, some elders in the church had not reached these standards. Paul described some of them:
“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:10-16)
Fortner says that we don’t err by following a faithful pastor because God commands us to do so. I’ve found something else that is important — following a leader is not always about judging them to be faithful but about trusting God. This verse comes to mind:
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4)
This is a strong principle of faith. It works for any situation, and in this case is very helpful. Pastors can and do fail from time to time. They are saved sinners just as I am, and not infallible. However, just as God pulls me up when I stumble, He is also able to make my leaders stand strong in their faith and their role. It is not up to me or to anyone else to make that happen.
As for holding leaders accountable, correction or rebuke must be done as the Bible prescribes (see Matthew 18), yet always trusting God to produce repentance and a changed heart. We are members of one another and need to think about our pastors and leaders as part of Christ’s body, people of great value for whom He died. If I were one of them, how would I want the congregation to treat me?
Jesus, I trust Your ability to change my life, and because You are faithful to do that, You are the same with the leaders in Your church. I know how discouraging and demoralizing it is when people refuse to follow good leadership —instead criticizing and trying to bring down their leaders. May I never do that to anyone, particularly those You put in leadership over me.