It usually goes something like this:
A pastor (or another church leader) says, “I’m accountable only to God, not the church.”
The first part of that claim is true, but the man has a serious blind spot because the Church is the Body of Christ. And every pastor (or committee) elected by the Body is also accountable to the Body (or, at least they should be.) Without biblical checks & balances a disaster is in the making. Human history is not real favorable when reading about people who were left to their own devices, void of accountability. Read on…
I’ve seen it far too many times – people (church people/Christians) elevating a man above God. “He’s our pastor. That makes him ‘God’s man’. As David said about Saul, ‘the Lord’s anointed.’ So he must always be right,” they say to themselves. Professor/author, Dustin Benge, offers the following wisdom:
A ministry characterized by humility always produces disciples of the Savior, not followers of a pastor.
Nowhere in all of Scripture will you find God approving this type of blind-faith devotion to a church leader. (Some pastors will use Hebrews 13:17 to justify their behavior toward church members but they commonly take the passage out of the greater context of scripture so as to make people think they are free to be abusive in their leadership.)
What Does the Bible Say? Are Spiritual Leaders Capable of Corruption?
1. Scripture is littered with spiritual corruption. Both testaments are replete with priests, & religious leaders (“God’s Men”) who were self-absorbed, corrupt, and spiritually immature.
2. You’ll find that all of mankind – including church leaders – are fallible, and that, apart from humble submission to Christ’s authority, a man’s “default” is sin.
The following quote by Erwin Lutzer explains:
We should stand amazed at the evil deceptions of the human heart. When the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all else, and desperately wicked,” it means just what it says. Someone once put it this way: Just when you think you have reached the bottom of the evil within the human heart, there is a trap door under your feet, and you realize there is another layer beneath you—a basement of deception—and then another. And another. Never underestimate the evil we are capable of. Revelations about Ravi should cause us to shudder and “take heed lest we fall.”
3. Even Paul was held accountable. There is biblical precedent for holding “pastors/shepherds” accountable. For the Bereans kept even the Apostle Paul (writer of most of the New Testament) accountable.
[The Bereans] “received the message [from Paul] with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what he said was true.” – Acts 17:11
A quote by Bryan Chapell is worth sharing here:
The church’s greatest mistakes occur when the people of God honor what a leaders says without examining that instruction in the light of scripture.
A friend had a pastor that was egocentric and recalcitrant. He demonstrated an attitude that seemed to say, “I’m up here. You all are down there. When God speaks to me I’ll let you know what he says.” She called me and asked me about this. I counseled her to ask their pastor a question, “Do all believers have just as much access to God as pastors?” Because of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer – which teaches that ever since the Cross we no longer have to go through a priest/pastor, etc. to talk and commune with God – the clear and biblical answer is an emphatic “yes.” She emailed him. She never got a response.
***All of this said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach this sort of thing.
How Do I Approach a Pastor on my Church Staff with Concerns About His Behavior and/or Leadership?
***Before you make a single move, make certain you understand the primary goal in any level of confrontation is restoration and redemption. Sure, if the person responds angrily and/or defensively, requiring further steps, the situation may well not result in restoration. Our goal and prayer is that, should there be anything of concern, the leader will own it, confess it, and humbly receive the love and help he/she needs.
1. Pray it through. Don’t make a single move with first talking to God at length about this. Make certain it’s a legitimate concern and not just a personal beef you have with them. Never proceed without seeking help and counsel from the Father. God said in the Psalms,
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
2. Assume the best. (I have been misjudged far more times than I like to remember.) Allow the pastor to, if applicable, clear up any misunderstanding. Trust me, pastoring is hard work. When asked, “What do you like most about your job?”, I reply, “Working with people.” Then the follow-up question: “What do you like least about your job?”, same reply: “Working with people.” Consider the following: Solomon mentioned a few things the Lord hates:
…haughty eyes, a lying tongue,…a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Be warned: of course, this list can apply to a pastor who’s up to no good. But it can also apply to a church member who has an axe to grind.
3. Write your thoughts down on paper. This is a practical and wise thing to do. Why? Should you meet with them it’s easy for conversation like this to get derailed onto tangents that have little or nothing to do with why you wanted to meet with them in the first place. Emotion can convolute what you originally wanted to say. Having what you want to articulate in front of you on paper (or digitally) can help you stay focused.
4. Speak truth, with love. You, no doubt, are familiar with Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian believers. But, Paul offered further wisdom to this principle in his letter to the Galatians when he asked them:
If there is something of legitimate concern, and you’ve shared your concern lovingly (not to be confused with “timidly”), and the pastor reacts angrily and defensively, don’t be afraid or disillusioned. Sometimes, like Paul, we can feel like enemies by exposing truth. Never back down if the truth is on your side.
5. Study and pray over Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Translation: If you see something of concern, make an appointment and visit with them on your own to discuss it. If that doesn’t work (and there remains a legitimate concern), find a respected, spiritually mature friend who will accompany you for a follow-up meeting. Finally, if your meetings have gotten you nowhere – and you are convinced an area in the pastor’s life needs to be addressed, contact the church leadership your local church as put into place to seek next steps. Jesus then pulls no punches, if they refuse accountability to the church, the church should have them removed.
***Important: Never get caught up in someone else’s issue with your pastor by taking on their offense. This is a disaster in the making in that it quickly becomes a mission driven not by the Holy Spirit, but by gossip and other “deeds of the flesh” such as selfish ambition, dissensions, and factions, which can quickly infect your church, the Body of Christ. Satan is hoping we will take his bait to make this a personal mission rather that make certain God is leading and guiding. In a section of his first letter to Timothy, Paul is addressing the very topic I’m writing about here. One warning he makes is:
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.
1. All church leadership needs godly men and women to lovingly provide us with healthy accountability. But, don’t confuse accountability with “policing every little thing we do and say.” We’re all deeply flawed, right? And, you wouldn’t want us doing that to you. But, when there is something of sincere concern, follow the steps listed above.
In the passage to which I referred earlier in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul makes clear the overriding purpose for keeping church leadership accountable – to protect the Body.
As for those [elders] who continue in sin, reprimand them in the presence of all [the congregation], so that the rest will be warned.
2. This applies to all church leadership, not just vocational pastors. All leadership – Sunday School teachers, deacons, elders, etc. – are capable of everything cited within this blog. Garrett Kell offers a solid article linked for you here titled, The Pattern Among Fallen Pastors, which can be applied to all church leadership.
3. Sadly, sometimes a church leader does succumb to pride, arrogance and ego, refusing accountability of any kind. This is unfortunate, not to mention unbiblical. This will not only hurt him, but also the church he serves. Solomon warned,
Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.
Should the situation reach this point, it is up to the church leadership i.e. elders, personnel team, church body, etc., as to what the consequences should be.
4. Always, the goal of confrontation is redemption and restoration. Additionally, there are thousands of humble, Christ-like pastors who have the genuine heart of a shepherd. Should you be one of the many who’ve been on the receiving of some level of pastoral abuse be careful not to paint all pastors with one broad stroke of the brush.
5. Ultimately, leave it in God’s hands. Paul warned,
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption…
And, from Solomon:
Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?
These two passages, along with warnings in Number 32:23 and Ezekiel 34:2-10, are sobering reminders that God will judge irresponsible and abusive pastor/shepherds. So, even if you’ve followed the steps above, and seemingly make no progress, rest in knowing that God is the final judge and will most certainly chasten abusive shepherds.