Keeping Your Pastor On Track

I tell my congregation that they have a heavy responsibility each Sunday, which is to make sure that I’m preaching the Word to them.  And to make sure that I’m not getting in the way of the Word with my own emotions and ideas and prejudices. 

In my denomination, the pastor is called to a congregation by the congregation.  It’s a process whereby both the pastor and the congregation acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is at work, and that we’re supposed to utilize our own good judgment as well so long as it’s not contradicting indications that the Spirit may have something else in mind.  Both the congregation and the pastor have to feel that the union of the two would be a good one for all concerned.  That’s a really fuzzy process, but it’s our best effort at allowing God to guide things, and avoiding a situation that feels more like a secular job interview.  And it avoids the difficulties that come when pastors are assigned to congregations without any control by the congregation.  Not all denominations follow this rather convoluted procedure, but there it is.

So I tell my congregation that they have a responsibility to keep me orthodox.  That they aren’t just listening to the Word I preach to them simply for their edification or benefit, but to also ensure that I’m not twisting Scripture – or ignoring it – to suit a pet preference or to support a personal soapbox. 

The only way to do this is for them to be in the Word as well.  Reading it, digesting it, reflecting on it, discussing it.  Because if they don’t do these things, they can’t hold me accountable in my presentation of the Word to them. 

And if they can’t do that, you wind up with this

This is why it is important to be careful where you choose to worship, and who you entrust with explicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to you.  This is why you need to be in the Word, why you need to know it every bit as well as your pastor does.  This doesn’t mean that you may not apply certain passages differently.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t both have different areas of Scripture that you prefer to emphasize.  But it should ensure that when your pastor apparently goes off the theological deep end and refuses to pray for his enemy (a term used loosely here, and only because that’s how Pastor Anderson identifies Obama), you will be prepared to handle it.

Don’t attempt to handle it as you exit the service.  Neither he nor the rest of the parishioners are going to expect or appreciate a theological argument in the doorway to the church.  Rather, contact the pastor later in the week.  Ask to meet with him, and explain that you believe him to be incorrect in his teaching.  Be specific in what you have a problem with.  When you meet, open the meeting in prayer.  Then succinctly lay out your concern (again being very specific), and then refer to the verses that you feel are pertinent.  Try not to approach this with an attitude or a chip on your shoulder.  Your goal in this is not to be ‘right’ or to ‘win’.  Your goal in this is that one of you – or both of you – will recognize that you are misled about some aspect or application of Scripture, and can be corrected in love.

If there is no agreement at this point, thank them for their time and indicate that you still have concerns, and that you wish to pray and study further.  Accept materials that your pastor may have to help you, or to further explain his stance.  Pray.  Study.  Ask friends whom you trust for their input.  Do NOT turn this into a battle where you try to rally as many of your congregational friends to your side as possible in order to ‘force’ the pastor to change his or her perspective.  That’s very inappropriate at this point (if ever – unless the Biblical errors are major).  If after these steps you’re still convinced of your position, ask to meet with the pastor again, and indicate that you would like to bring 2-3 others with you who feel that the pastor is in error.  Don’t surprise your pastor with the extra guests when you show up at your meeting.  Let him know in advance that you’re doing this.

If you still can’t see your way clear to understanding one another or agreeing, it may be time to ask for greater clarification from a congregational Elder or your church polity.  Obviously, if you’re doing this, it better be for a reason more important than the fact that you don’t like how your pastor pronounces the name Elijah with a soft j instead of a hard j. 

If all of this comes to naught, it may be time to find another congregation, if you feel strongly enough about the importance of a particular issue, or if you find yourself unable and unwilling to reconcile yourself to your pastor.  The key is to try and conduct yourself in the manner befitting a child of Christ, even if your pastor or church leadership is not doing so themselves.  This is hard, and contrary to our human nature.  But it’s a vital part of your witness – to your pastor as well as to others in the church who may not understand what’s going on. 

One Response to “Keeping Your Pastor On Track”

  1. JP Says:

    Thanks, Paul, for this reminder. As a pastor, this news story really struck a chord with me, and your analysis is dead on.

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