After 40 years in ministry, I want to clarify something that is often misunderstood and mistaught by the local church: The pastor of your church is one of you. Consider the Apostle Paul — the great church-planter and developer — as he writes the God-inspired words in 1 Corinthians 12 that we are all, as true Christ-followers, individual parts of the body of Christ, which is His Church. (1 Corinthians 12:12-20) While it is good to respect and honor your pastor, he is only part of the team that makes up your church. He does his part, you do your part, others do their part, and the Church (the Body of Christ) works well to bring grace and hope to a community and bring glory to God. Everyone in the church is part of the ministry team. Everyone. If you're at a church and are not helping to minster to the community, alongside your pastor and staff leadership, then you really aren't part of the church. If you're observing and not actually serving, you're simply watching church happen, but not actively participating in it.
Think of it this way: Spectators at a football game are great while cheering on a team. But they're not part of the team, part of the work, or part of the efforts to achieve the goal. At a church, however, everyone — including the pastor, the new believers, and the little children — are all part of the body-life of that particular church. Everyone is part of the team. Everyone is supposed to be doing ministry throughout the week. Everyone is needed and important. (1 Corinthians 12:17-21) And, of course, pastors must do their part as well.
In this age of rapid-fire Facebook posts, tweets, texts, Snapchats, Instagrams, and instant opinions, I often find myself discouraged when church members who are not really supporting, helping, and serving their local church body choose to speak out against that church and its spiritual leaders. After all, God's design is for there to be leaders and followers. This is clear from the New Testament church designs and from the fact that God refers to the elders of the church as "shepherds." (Acts 20:28-29)
Now, Shepherds are indeed supposed to lead sheep. But, they are also supposed to care for and engage with the sheep. Jesus is the Great Shepherd whom we are all following. And, at the end of the day, every pastor is also a sheep. All of us are to be following the One Great Shepherd who satisfies our every need. (John 10:14) Church members should work closely with the pastors and leaders to bring ministry to the local community.
So, could there be some ministers who are potentially not following Christ? Of course. And God will deal with them. These bad leaders are very obvious to those who truly care about the values and principles of Christlike living. Unhitch your wagon from these leaders as quickly as possible. I am referring to ministers — several who I know personally — who are doing all that they can to create healthy ministry, striving to love the church body, teach and practice the "one anothers," and reach the lost in daily discipleship, all while many within the church stand and watch them serve with critical comments and complaints. This is not right. This is not what God expects of the members of His Body, His Bride. Instead, the members of a church were expecting the pastor to work 162 hours per week. I know that is extreme, but I also know that the expectations are high for those who are pastoring. (I've been doing this for a long time and I know that you expect a lot!) And the expectations of pastors in small churches are very high. Instead of expecting the pastor to be so busy, help him! Serve alongside him! (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
The pastor is not more important than the person who just recently joined your fellowship. Both are equal. Both are indwelled by the Spirit of God. Both are spiritually gifted by God through His grace. Both are saved by God through His grace. And both are important to the overall functioning of the church. Both are equally needed. Let me be clear: I'm not saying that your pastor doesn't deserve to be respected and honored. Paul's letter to Timothy is clear about giving double honor to those who lead and teach the church. (1 Timothy 5:17)
But, as a member of the church yourself, it is clear that you are a minister as well. You have gifts (just as your pastor does) that are meant to serve the church. Your gifts are just as important as his gifts. Your work and service are just as important and vital to the effectiveness of the church as the pastor's work. In fact, if the pastor is a phenomenal teacher, preacher, vision-casting maniac with superb leadership gifts and amazing shepherding skills, but you as a member do not serve and support the church, then the church will struggle and eventually fail. You see, it's easy to fall into the false assumption that the pastor's work is more important than yours at a local church. But after 40 years of ministry, I can tell you that your work is just as important. All of the body is valuable. All of the body is necessary for the church to be healthy.
To many of my pastor-brothers out there who are reading this: Please do not put yourself on a plane higher than your fellow church family and congregants. (Romans 12:3; James 4:6-10; Matthew 20:25) Remember that you are His sheep. Humility is essential in order for you to shepherd well. Consider again the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, our model, who washed the feet of twelve disciples as they argued over who was the greatest in the room on the night that one of them would betray Him. Jesus did not lord his authority, though He indeed had "all authority on heaven and Earth."
Do not lord your authority over your people either. Instead, serve them and equip them for the work of the ministry. 1 Peter 5:2-4 says, "shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." (NASU)
Here are four quick summary thoughts:
- Remember that the pastor is just one of you. Do not put him so high up on a pedestal that it destroys his ability to be real.
- Consider ways to befriend your pastor and to support his family just like you would do with your own family or other close friends. Do not stand apart from him as if he and/or his family are "special" or different.)
- Honor the pastor for his service, his heart, and his sacrifice. Forgive him when he is weak or struggling just as you would forgive any fellow church member. Leadership gives a pastor a heavy responsibility.
- Seek to work as hard as your pastor so that the church can be healthy.
In closing, I could like to encourage you all to check out a new ministry platform I have recently launched called 6.14 Ministries, based on my life verse Galatians 6:14 as well as on Nehemiah 2:17. You can learn about the ministry by visiting our official website at: 614ministries.org