Lovingly Hold Your Pastor Accountable~ Way 23
Now we urge you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
1 Thessalonians 5:12,13
If I wrote this entire series on “31 Ways to Appreciate Your Pastor” without addressing the elephant in the room, this series would have no credibility.
The elephant? The large number of people who struggle to appreciate pastors, because they have been hurt, cast out and abused by their pastor and leaders.
When I started in ministry by my husband’s side 17 years ago, I was a bit naive. Although I had seen a bit of the underbelly of the church (what people would call the behind-the-scenes, difficult, political issues that arise), I had mostly seen churches that had a growing desire to know Christ. As a child, I watched my Dad as he was kicked out of churches for opinions that he held tightly. But as I observed his genuine love for God, I had the opportunity to see restoration and growth and change. My Dad learned to not “major on the minors”. By watching this process, I assumed that this was true for all pastors~ mistakes were inevitable, because a pastor is still a sinner, but God would be at work in their hearts, changing them, making them more like Him.
Seventeen years later, I can say that this is not always true. Hard as it is for me to even wrap my head around, there are men who seek leadership positions in churches, because they crave power. There are men who start by seeking God’s glory, but get sidetracked along the way. Fame and popularity become a siren cry that they are unable to resist. Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15 still applies today- Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. There are false teachers in pulpits all across the world and for some of them, their audience is huge, they are on best seller lists and they have been elevated to celebrity status.
Success by the world’s standards does not mean success in God’s eyes.
It’s a message that we as the Church need to grapple with. We must fight for truth and for God’s glory.
When it comes to this idea of holding pastors accountable, I think we all cringe a little. Most people I know do not like conflict and so we run from it. But when sheep are being hurt, when they are being cast aside and abused, we must address it. Maybe it’s naivete that keeps us from acknowledging this growing issue in our churches. Maybe it’s the hope that if we ignore the problem, it will go away. Or it might be the misconception that when scripture says that an overseer is to be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2) it means they should not be reproached (address someone in such a way as to express disapproval or disappointment).
As I have pondered this issue, I have come up with several areas in which a pastor should be held accountable. When these things are done lovingly, a pastor who is seeking God’s glory will feel appreciated. It might hurt at first, but isn’t that true for all of us? We don’t search out opportunities to be refined, but when we have come through it with a deeper trust in and understanding of our great God, our response is one of gratefulness.
Lovingly hold your pastor accountable…
- Acknowledge that your pastor is a sinner, saved by grace~ He will fail. He will respond poorly at times. He will sin. Don’t put him on a super-spiritual pedestal. When pastors are treated this way, the temptation is strong to believe that they ARE above reproach. The sin of pride is insidious and subtle. Pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). I don’t believe that anyone wants their pastor to fall, but this will be the end result of ongoing, unconfessed pride.
- Address abusive language, attitudes and behavior. Yes, I am talking about pastors. If you have not been under this type of leadership, you might find this as hard to believe as I did, but what I am discovering is that this is much more prevalent then I ever imagined. I am not talking about preferences or personalities here. I am talking about a pattern of behavior that results in putting others down, making fun of others who have different perspectives, racism, crass speech, obsession with sex, and/or a critical or judgmental spirit in regards to something other than a sin issue. As I share these things, I am struck by how obvious this seems- of course this is an issue and churches would never let this go unaddressed. But they have and they do. I think one of the reasons it gets swept under the rug is that these attitudes are usually found in strong, bold, charismatic men. In our culture, we have a tendency to be drawn to those who are edgy, to the ones who seem impervious to criticism. This tendency has infiltrated the church and what should astonish us has become acceptable and even admired.
- Be concerned with focus on A church rather than THE Church. Many pastors become consumed with making a name for themselves and growing their church, rather than desiring God’s glory and expanding the Kingdom. It is hard to speak to this in general terms, because God DOES call us to be faithful with the ministry he has put before us. But it should concern us if a pastor or church is unwilling to work with others and is only concerned with their own individual success.
- Question a repeated pattern of staff members being asked to resign, fired or leaving with little to no explanation. The key here is repeated pattern. Another thing I will add is that this should be questioned if the staff member was held in high regard by most of the congregation. One way to determine the health of a church is to look at how conflicts are handled (because there WILL be conflicts!). If a pastor is pushing everyone out if they don’t agree with him, this needs to be questioned. If he is gathering a group around him who think just like he does, this needs to be questioned. If a pastor is challenged by those who are set up to hold him accountable and he responds by forcing them out, this does not bode well for the congregation.
- Be wary of a pastor who spins the truth or blames others rather than take responsibility. Encourage your pastor to be authentic, even it it makes him look bad. Celebrate clear communication.
True intimacy with God breeds humility. ~Beth Moore
We are not called to police our pastors, but a way to truly appreciate them is to desire for them to have intimacy with God. I started this series with the encouragement to Love God Most and to Pray for Your Pastor, because accountability must flow from hearts that are seeking the Lord.
If you are in a situation where a pastor has not been held accountable, if he has not repented of sin and if he is hurting the flock, it is appropriate to go to him in love and share your concerns. If he doesn’t listen, go with one or two other witnesses. If he still doesn’t listen, it is appropriate to present your concerns to the church. If you have done all that you can and the church does not feel like anything should be done, it might be time to leave, trusting God to work in the way He does best (based on Matthew 18:15-17).
This is very difficult and I admit to you that I have not always done this well. But we serve a gracious and forgiving God. He is faithful to heal our hearts when we come to Him in repentance.
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit. ~ Psalm 32:1,2
If you are struggling right now as a result of hurts from a pastor or church leadership, my heart goes out to you. Whenever I hear from church members who have been betrayed by a church, they describe it like a divorce. Many who have experienced this type of betrayal end up leaving the Church and this is the reason I feel it is imperative that we no longer hide our heads in the sand and pretend that this isn’t an issue. The number of those who are hurting is too great.
Let us fight for our pastor’s integrity, by encouraging them to seek accountability.
Way 23: Lovingly hold your pastor accountable.