I’m speeding down the freeway in a southern state. “George” has just picked me up at the airport. I’m schedule to speak in at his church a few hours.
George seems like a great guy. He’s a committed Christian who adores his wife and kids. He loves his church, and has been attending, giving and serving there for more than a decade.
We chat about jobs, kids, and Alaska. Then the topic turns toward my area of expertise: why men hate going to church.
“You know what I hate about church?” George says. “They brought in this new associate pastor a couple of years ago, and he’s said some very controversial things from the pulpit.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“He’s kind of a liberal. He’s made fun of Glenn Beck and Fox News. He tries to make us feel guilty for driving SUVs. I mean, I like the guy but I don’t think he preaches the Gospel.”
“Hmmm,” I say. George continues.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Not a lot. He thanked me for bringing these things to his attention. But it really hasn’t changed the way he preaches,” George said. “He kind of ignores me at church, though.”
Readers, if you want to wreck a pastor, take him to lunch – and then correct him.
As a layperson you may not realize how much “helpful advice” pastors get. Most of it’s delivered gently and is well meaning — but a lot of it is downright hurtful. The sheer volume of suggestions, criticism and second-guessing wears pastors down.
After five years in the pulpit, your average pastor has probably endured dozens of these “attack lunches.” He knows what’s coming – and he’d rather steer clear.
Because of these frequent beat downs, some pastors develop a foxhole mentality. They avoid their people. They spend a lot of time in their study. They pack their schedules. They play a lot of golf.
Some pastors become so hungry for an encouraging word they surround themselves with sycophants. They turn to alcohol, pornography or an illicit affair to salve their wounds and find acceptance.
So what can you do to help your pastor (instead of wreck him)? Here’s some advice:
- Encourage your pastor every time you see him. Smile at him. Tell him what a good job he’s doing – even if you may be disappointed by something he said or did.
- Pray for your pastor. Ask for God’s blessing on his work life and personal life. If Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, how much more should we pray for friends and associates with whom we disagree?
- If you invite a minister to do something, let him know clearly that you’re not grinding an ax. “Hey Pastor Steve, let’s grab lunch sometime. No agenda —I just want to get to know you better and encourage you.” Then be sure to keep your axe at home.
Now, what should you do when your pastor says or does something you object to?
- Ask yourself: is this simply a matter where Christians are free to disagree, or has the pastor crossed the line into outright heresy? If it is the former, then let it go. Trust God to deal with the situation. Maybe your pastor will change his mind – or you may need to change yours.
- If the pastor has said or done something you consider heretical, your next move should be to pray. Read the scriptures. Seek the counsel of ONE or TWO other believers in the church (Don’t start a whisper campaign against your pastor). If the other believers don’t think the pastor is out of line, then let it go. Trust your friends’ judgment.
- If you and at least two others agree that the pastor is in serious error, take your concerns to the elders of the church. Pray for discernment on their part. Then let it go. Trust the elders to handle it.
- If the situation still isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, pray more. Ask the Lord if he may be leading you to attend a different church.
- If you decide to change churches, write the elders a letter explaining your move. Keep the tone positive. Don’t blast the pastor or elders. Simply point out your differences and wish your old church well. A brief, gracious letter will have a much greater impact than AN ANGRY, SINGLE-SPACED, ALL CAPS DIATRIBE FULL OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!
- Most of all, be humble enough to realize that YOU may be the one in error. Humans tend to fixate on what’s wrong – ask the Lord to help you see what’s right about your pastor. And finally, trust the Lord to deal with these situations. Take action only as a last resort.
Pastors have a difficult job. Most are underpaid. Preaching the gospel always offends someone. We heap unrealistic expectations on them. And we demand they never make a mistake.
Don’t make your pastor’s job any harder by offering unsolicited advice. The best thing you can do for your pastor is to pray for him and his ministry. Encourage him. It’s not your job to school your pastor or change his heart – that’s God’s job.
And if you do take him to lunch, be sure to pick up the check.