How To Treat Your Pastor
Dave Kraft, in a 2013 article posted the following recommendations for what you can do for your pastor: 1) Pray for him, 2) Encourage him, 3) Submit to him, 4) Get to know him, 5) Ask how you can serve, and 6) Talk TO him, not ABOUT him. I agree with Mr. Kraft’s counsel, and would add the importance of you taking the initiative. Please don’t sit back and wait to be contacted by him or a member of leadership, but rather reach out to him and form a friendship. Having a personal relationship with someone helps in more ways than you realize – especially when the difficult times hit. There is no substitute for friendship.
What To Look For
While there are several biblical guidelines for a pastor, all of which are important, many churches default to looking for someone who has a great personality and preaches well. As Billy Graham says, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t the primary consideration. Above all else, seek out a man who has a real heart for God and for His people! Someone who’s been truly called and has a deep, burning desire to serve as an under-shepherd.
Unbiblical Forms of Church Government
While it’s outside the scope of this article to cover this topic in detail, you need to know many existing church “governments” do not comport with the biblical model of “plurality of elders.” There is no one individual “in charge of” all church matters. Following are some common erroneous forms of church governance:
1. Super-star Pastor. You know this type; it’s when the pastor has such a strong and charismatic personality that they “take over” and are vested with tremendous power. Their egos begin to rise like a hot air balloon being filled with super-heated air and soon church-life devolves into “keeping the pastor happy.” This is clearly unbiblical.
2. Deacon “board.” I know you’ve all heard of this one, and it is very popular in some areas of the country, and within some denominations. However, “diakonos” (word we get deacon from) means servant, with particular emphasis on daily needs of the body. This group was never to be vested with oversight authority.
3. Denominational Oversight. Denominations can be good or bad, but staying as close to Scripture’s guidelines is best, and the body itself, under the leadership of her own elders was the biblical path. Don’t take this as a slight against denominations; yet few would argue their role can just as easily turn negative as positive.
4. Democracy Debacle. Today more than any other time our own human self-image demands its voice to be heard. While being a member of a church is a great privilege and one vested with tremendous “benefits,” leadership of the body isn’t one of them. If “public opinion” as seen through “voting” were God’s desire, the Israelites would have never left Egypt! These forms of government today are referred to as “congregational” systems, and appeal to our individual autonomy and ego, but do not represent the churches seen in the N.T.
Biblical Church Governance
The plurality of elders is the model seen in Scripture. This is a group of divinely-called, congregationally-affirmed people who have a heart for God and His people. They’re NOT on an ego trip or power grab, but rather humbly serving the Lord’s Church!
Pastors are also referred to in Scripture as: bishops, overseers, shepherds, and elders. The meaning of all these words are very similar and carries the idea, as the terms imply, of spiritual oversight of the Body of Christ. Pastors are not, “in charge,” but rather under the authority of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ (Yeshua) Himself! He is the head of all things within the body. Elders are leaders, bishops are overseers, and pastors are shepherds… yet all are very closely-related. They’re called in 1Tim 3.1 to oversee, 1Tim 5.17 to rule, and Titus 1.9 to guard right doctrine.
Their qualifications are seen in 1Tim 3.1-6 and Titus 1.7-9. These “qualifications” are better understood as character rather than positional qualities. Read over these prayerfully and humbly. There have been enough teachings on these character qualities to fill a library (for the young people reading, that’s a building that used to house a bunch of books… pre-internet) on this topic. Beware of the two extremes of Liberalism (anything goes and the qualifications don’t matter) to Legalism (a rigid interpretation of the guidelines without a firm reliance upon God and His grace).
Pitfalls To Avoid
Avoid the following tendencies to make a smoother transition of a new pastor and his family.
1. Comparisons. While this is a natural human tendency, you should avoid comparing the “new” pastor to a “previous” pastor. No two pastors are wired the same and each one has their own unique gifts and passions that reflect God’s design and their sanctification (growth).
2. Tests. I’ve heard of folks “testing” or examining the new pastor in unrealistic (and I believe un-biblical) ways, such as seeing how long it takes to remember your name or your child’s position on the soccer team.
3. Expectations. Expectations can be a great thing, and I believe we all should “expect” God to me and for us to grow. However, unreasonable expectations can be harmful and reveal a wrong focus in us. Don’t “expect” the new pastor to “fix” all the things you (in your humble wisdom) have identified as the problems. Many times these personal opinions uncover more about the individual than the prospective pastor! No church is perfect because people make her up… and we’re all broken and shattered under the effects of sin.
4. Politickin’. I know it’s not great grammar, but I think you get the point – don’t try to “get on the inside” with a new pastor solely for the purposes of advancing your agenda. Church life is above the community as a whole functioning to reflect the character and attributes of God to a dying planet… not to make you happy or meet your every need. You should take the initiative to truly befriend your new pastor, but not with selfish motives.
A pastor, then, must be passionately in love with, and committed to Christ! His heart for the Lord should be seen in his proven track record (not a novice). You should see “fruit” of his labor that has been accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. If he’s married, his wife should be in support of his role and calling and should seek to bring honor to the Lord in her own life. His children should be respectful to him, and being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
This is probably a good place for a note on the pastor’s family… all the pitfalls listed above apply to them, too. Just like I’ve never seen a “perfect” pastor, there is no perfect wife or perfect children. The work of the pastor exposes the family to great examination and potential pain. You must be gracious, humble, and loving in your approach of and interaction with the pastor’s family! I’ve seen Satan use church folks to attack a pastor’s family and bring great harm to the body of Christ. Just as Scripture commands, we’re to be watchful of the tactics of the enemy and fight against them at every turn.
The pastor’s main responsibility is to His Lord, and to continually nurture his relationship with the Lord. His next priority is to his family, to which he should serve as a priest in his home, presenting Christ in all His glory for his family to see!
So if you find yourself or your church looking for a pastor, please read over this article prayerfully and lean heavily upon the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Continually check your attitude to ensure you remain humble and flexible. And most of all, love on the Lord and each other more strongly than at any other time in your life. You will need the Lord, and you’ll need each other. Don’t try to “get your way” or “impose your will,” but rather sacrificially seek out the best for others! This is an exciting time for you and your church… embrace it and expect God to do amazing things!