Many years ago when I was a young pastor, a friend asked me what I wanted to accomplish in the ministry. My response: “I just want to survive.” What was said in humor was only partially humorous, for being in the ministry is no child’s play. More often than not, the local church is the local battle ground of choice for many discontented people. In the local church—especially those with fewer than one hundred in regular attendance—the strong-willed personality often rises to rule and dominate. Sometimes it is the pastor who proves to have too much of a strong will and is overbearing. Sometimes it is a deacon who finds a way to dominate God’s people. At other times it is simply a wealthy person in the congregation who quietly buys power by doling out financial resources from a generous purse, which suddenly can be snapped shut at will if his or her way is not honored.
My concern at the moment focuses on those pastors who are tempted to step into the sacred place of divine proclamation and use the pulpit as an opportunity to lash out at individuals in the congregation in the name of preaching a gospel sermon. It does not take much discernment for a regular congregate to recognize the double entendre in a message and sense that something is fundamentally wrong in the assembly.
To the pastor who is struggling to guide the local church, I would offer the following counsel based on thirty-two years in pastoral ministry, with more than forty years in total ministry.
First, I would counsel that the proper place to resolve problems with individuals is not in the pulpit but in pastoral care. The biblical term “pastor” refers to being a “shepherd.” The term “bishop” refers to being an “overseer”. The term “elder” refers to maturity in leadership. The leader of the local congregation is called “pastor”, “shepherd”, and “elder” because the Lord wants His men to know how to tend to the flock of God with maturity and wisdom. All of this means that the pastoral leader of the local congregation must be the leader God has ordained that he be. Therefore, the pastor, the shepherd of souls, must stop apologizing for doing what God has called him to do.
Unfortunately, many modern local churches have stripped their pastor of true biblical authority by means of a philosophy of congregational rule which is re-enforced with man-made and unscriptural By-Laws of the church. As a token of good will, the congregation might gratuitously allow the pastor to be an ad hoc member of standing committees. The practical result of this practice is that the pastor has no legal authority, and the divine authority entrusted to him is neutralized. This is a blight on Christendom that is causing unnecessary congregational conflict. No one knows who is in charge of the assembly.
Proposition. God’s work should be done God’s way in order to receive a divine blessing.
Proposition. The Lord has a right to establish His church the way He sees fit.
Proposition. The Lord has established the New Testament local church to be ruled by pastors or elders, in the plural.
Proposition. Congregates have a solemn responsibility to recognize those in authority over them and submit to them in humility.
Hebrews 13:7, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”
Hebrews 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
Hebrews 13:24, “Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.”
For those pastors who finds themselves without the authority that God has given, there is a possible solution, and that is to begin to teach the people God’s blueprint for the local assembly. The divine blueprint is found in the Bible, not in the worldly By-Laws, Constitutions, or Robert’s Rules of Order that are so popular in modern-day Christendom. Pastors, set your churches in order by teaching God’s people how to do God’s work God’s way, based on a biblical model of leadership and structure.
Second, I would counsel those pastors who are struggling with unruly personalities in the local assembly to stop being afraid. Fear of men will only breed more contempt and unruly behavior. If a person is not doing something properly, if a person is misplaced in the congregation so that the body is being hurt, again, do not hesitate to lovingly “set in order the things that are wanting” (Titus 1:5). Pastors, do not think you will make everyone happy. Do what is right because the Word of God guides the righteous leader in what is right. Let spiritual justice be done in the church though the stars fall from the heavens. Pastors, do what is right.
Third, preach Jesus and Him only. Pastors, when you are in the pulpit, take any verse of Scripture and make a bee-line for the cross. That is what Charles Spurgeon said he did—and it works.
People do not want to be spoken against from the pulpit directly, or indirectly. They will resent it. People will be provoked to anger because they know whom the message is referring to, more often than not. Pastors, do not take the worship service and turn it into a place to release personal frustrations or send veiled messages. Preach Christ. Why? Because the sheep are pleading and they are saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
Preach Christ crucified, dead, buried, and alive. Preach of the love of Christ. Preach of the Lord’s goodness. Tell the church of His miracles. Retell the parables Jesus told. Do anything and everything to cause the hearts of those who come to hear you preach to see Jesus. God’s people want to see Jesus in His humility. They want to see Jesus in His glory. They want to see Jesus in His acts of mercy. They want to see Jesus showing His love for little children.
Pastors, take people to Christ. Take them to Calvary. Take them to the empty tomb. But do not take the Lord’s people, especially in the hour of worship, and plunge them into the hidden cesspool of sins that swirl in the lives of wayward individuals in the congregation. Deal with such souls in private as a pastor. But in the pulpit, preach Christ.
Here is a final word of caution. Just because some people do not know the undercurrents in a veiled gospel message and are blessed by the message, be assured that those who are blessed will not negate the damage that is done to others who know what has been said from the pulpit.
Church, pray that God the Holy Spirit will give wisdom to the good shepherds. And let the good shepherds of God be careful of the dignity, and power, of the pulpit.