On October 20th, I had the privilege of delivering the doctrinal message at the Salem Baptist Association annual meeting. Lonnie Wilkey, who’s the editor of our state Baptist newspaper “Baptist & Reflector,” was in attendance and later asked me to turn a section of my message into an article for the “B&R.” The following is what I submitted to him. The article was subsequently published in the November 10th Statewide & Convention editions of the paper.
The biblical position typically called “pastor” is a vital church office for our congregations. God, according to Ephesians 4:11-16, has called the man who holds this church office to equip the saints for ministry, build up the body in maturity, and protect the congregation from deceptive doctrine. The primary way he is to go about doing this work, according to John 17:17 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2, is to faithfully and continuously preach the Word of God.
That’s what the pastor is to primarily do for the congregation and how he is to do it, but the question I want to focus on is: how should the congregation respond to the pastor? Due to the awkwardness of your pastor having to say, “This is how you are to treat me,” many simply don’t address it. However, it must be addressed for the health of our congregations and our faithfulness to the Bible. Of course, many jokes have been told about how congregations treat their pastor, but it’s really no laughing matter.
The beginning of the answer to this question is found in the general teaching of how to treat all people, like the Golden Rule, but as we look at the New Testament, we see at least five specific ways in which congregations should respond to their pastor.
First, the congregation should respond with submission. I know that word doesn’t usually set well with us and our culture, but we are to be a people of shaped by divine revelation. Look at what Hebrews 13:17 clearly says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” God has placed your pastor over you and your congregation for your own spiritual good, and you are to submit to his leadership.
So many pastors who are called by God and placed by God in ministry are trying to lead their congregation, but the congregation will not let them. Perhaps there’s a segment of lay leadership in the congregation that is trying to lead the church instead of allowing the pastor to lead. Is this happening in your congregation? If it is, the Scripture in Hebrews says that this sort of thing is of no profit to you, but furthermore, I say that it grieves the Holy Spirit and hinders the growth of God’s kingdom. Congregations, the Word of God says to submit to your pastors, and I pray that you will do so.
Second, the congregation should respond with trust. Church member, let me put your mind at ease: your pastor, if he is truly called of God, loves you and has your best interest in mind. You can trust him.
Even more though, he doesn’t just love you and have your best interest in mind, he has a vested interest as well. We just read in Hebrews 13:17 that pastors will give an account as to how they’ve watched over your soul. That truth means that on the day your pastors gives an account, God will judge him as to whether or not he was faithful and trustworthy. He’d better be faithful and trustworthy, or he has to deal with God. That’s why James 3:1 tells us, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
In my years of vocational ministry, I’ve come across congregations or individual Christians that just didn’t trust their pastor. (Praise the Lord none of them were the ones I’ve served!) They, for various reasons, are sort of automatically skeptical, thinking he’s got some sort of secret agenda. They watch him like a hawk, just waiting for him to slip up in some way so they can point him out. I even have a dear pastor friend in Kentucky who was told by a woman during an interview with the pastor search committee of the church where he currently serves, “I just want to let you know that I don’t like pastors, and I don’t trust pastors.” How did that lady get on the pastor search committee?! What a sour and dysfunction situation to serve in! Does any of this look like your church? Give your pastor your trust.
Third, the congregation should respond with prayer. Paul who planted and pastored many churches made one simple request in 1 Thessalonians 5:25, “Brethren, pray for us.” Churches, if love your pastor, pray for him. If you think he’s doing excellent work, pray for him that he’ll be sustained and excel even more. If you think he’s struggling and could do a better job, pray for him that he’ll improve. The God to whom you are praying is powerful and faithful to help your pastor along. You often turn to your pastor for prayer, but don’t forget that he needs your prayer just the same, if not more.
Fourth, the congregation should respond with financial support. We cannot escape the teaching of 1 Timothy 5:17-18, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” The pastor of your church should be highly honored, and one of the ways your congregation shows honor is by financial support. Whether full-time, bivocational, or volunteer, the man in your pulpit works hard at what he does and is worthy of his wages.
However, it doesn’t just come down to wages. It goes to generosity in general. Galatians 6:6 tells us, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” Is your church and its individuals stingy with your pastor? Is your pastor adequately compensated given the financial situation of your church? Regardless of the financial situation in your church, has your pastor received a raise this year? Honor your pastor with financial support.
Fifth and finally, the congregation should respond with appreciation and love. Paul tell us in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” Friends, whether you realize it or not, pastors are just people too and need encouragement and affirmation. You know, I’ve found that a pastor usually reaches his highest potential in a church where he is appreciated and loved and will probably move around until he finds that place. So, if you are seeing that your congregation is fairly frequently looking to fill the pastor position in your church, I kindly suggest looking in the mirror to find out what’s the matter. Does your pastor know how much you appreciate and love him? If he doesn’t, you need to remedy that oversight immediately, and if you don’t appreciate or love him, you’ve got some serious heart work at which to attend. Love and appreciate the man whom God has called to pastor your congregation.
May our churches, along with our attitudes and actions, be molded by the Scripture, and may God bless both the shepherds and the sheep across our state as we glorify God together through the church!