We are committed to preaching the “whole counsel” of God. In other words, I am committed to preach what the Bible teaches and not just what I like or feel comfortable teaching. As a result, sometimes my assignment is uncomfortable for me. Such is the case this week.
I don’t like talking about Pastoral leadership or really anything to do with Pastors. I can’t help feeling that it sounds like I am trying to advance my own agenda with such messages. That, of course, is not my desire. Our desire is to be faithful to the Word of God because we believe the Bible to be reliable and true. So, let’s dig in.
17 Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God.
Obey and Submit
There are two widely different responses to this command. The first is to take this too far. A Pastor claims a pope-like authority. He controls finances, program decisions, and “casts a vision” to the people that he believes they should implement. The most extreme illustrations of this are the cult leaders who lead their flock to suicide.
You don’t lead by being aggressive (although it would seem most of the world seems to think you do), leadership is one person leading another person. That works best when we are humble and gentle. The “authority” that the Bible talks about with Pastor’s is really a derived authority that comes from being a messenger from God.
The other response is to just ignore these words and view the Pastor as an employee of the church. The Pastor is expected to do his job, grow the church, and do the ministry stuff that needs to take place.
NT Wright observes,
The present mood of Western society, in which all authority seems suspect, and all power is assumed to corrupt people, gives an extra excuse to people who want to do their own thing rather than submit in any way to what anybody else says.”
The Bible teaches that Pastor’s are set apart for preaching and teaching and therefore should be listened to as those who have carefully searched out the truth of God. That does not mean we don’t show discernment. The Berean Christians in the book of Acts were commended because they listened to Paul teach and then they verified what they were told by their own examination of the Scriptures.
William Barclay sums up the issue of following leaders,
To the present leaders the duty of the congregation is obedience. A Church is a democracy but not a democracy run mad; it must give obedience to those whom it has chosen as its guides. That obedience is not to be given in order to gratify the leaders’ sense of power or to increase their prestige. It is to be given so that at the end of the day the leaders may be seen to have lost none of the souls committed to their care. The greatest joy of the leader of any Christian fellowship is to see those whom he leads established in the Christian way. As John wrote: “No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth” (3 John 4). The greatest sorrow of the leader of any Christian fellowship is to see those whom he leads growing further away from God.
The Pastor’s Heart and Responsibility
The first reason we are given to obey and submit to spiritual leaders is because spiritual leaders keep watch over the souls of the congregation. Though I can only speak confidently about our pastoral staff, I believe Pastors care deeply about your spiritual growth. When you stumble, I grieve for you. When you hurt, I hurt. When you are absent from worship, I miss you. When you sleep in worship I see you! When you cry I am tuned in to your pain or your joy. When you rebel it pains me just like a parent feels pain because of a rebellious child.
A Pastor called by God is given a love from God for his congregation. More than anything else I want you to have and to walk in a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. I long for you to know the joy of forgiveness and the freeing power of His grace. I want you to be able to forgive and to rebuild. When I see you drifting I actually grieve.
To this end, I want to be growing in my life to try to be the very best example I can be. I try to be transparent and honest about my failures and struggles for three reasons: 1) I want you to see that these kinds of struggles are normal; even for your Pastor. 2) I hope to model how to trust god in the times of struggle. 3) I want you to look past me (as a weak and flawed vessel) in the hope that you will see Jesus who is neither weak nor flawed.
Do I get exasperated at times? I do! Are there days when I want to walk away from all this? Yes. (I have been helped immensely by the advice I was given that you should never resign on a Monday!) A website called ExPastors.com reports that 50% of ministers starting out will not last 5 years! Only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
What people sometimes fail to realize is that you attend the church. You may (and I hope you do) love your church. But a Pastor’s connection is different. We pour our lifeblood into the church. The church is our life’s work. That is how we feel as Pastor’s of the Union Church. We have devoted our lives to serving our community through this church and desperately want to see it become what God wants it to become.
There is a second reason to follow your spiritual leader: We Are Accountable In James 3:1 we are warned,
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
Jesus himself warned about misleading other people and this certainly weighs heavy on any teacher,
6 But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
Every Pastor needs to remember that the congregation they serve is not “their” congregation; it is the LORD’s Congregation and we are merely His caretaker. In other words, it is like fingernails on a blackboard to hear someone say they go to “Bruce’s Church”. It is not my church! It is His church and His congregation. He is the One who has a plan for us. It is not my vision for this church that matters, it is HIS vision for the church that matters.
God equips those called to be Pastors. He has given us gifts for leading and for teaching. We are studied in the things of God. Our instincts in church matters are generally more refined. We see the big picture whereas most people in the church only see the things they care about. Our job is to help everyone grow.
Simple Ways to Help Your Pastor
Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.
18 Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honorably in everything we do. 19 And especially pray that I will be able to come back to you soon.
The first part of the text was hard enough. Let me go back to the research from Ex-Pastors.com and share their findings
- 90% of pastors report working between 55-75 hours a week and feel unable to meet the demands of the job. The average Pastor is expected to visit everyone, be available at all hours for counseling, be involved in the community, have regular office hours, be a brilliant administrator, contribute to every project others are involved in, do maintenance around the church, and have an answer for every problem. And that is just the required stuff!
- 70% of Pastor feel grossly underpaid. (In fairness, most people feel grossly underpaid.) However, it is hard to look around at people who have much less education, work less hours, have far fewer demands on them, and who make lots more money. It is hard to celebrate with people who are heading out on nice vacations and know you cannot do so. It is hard sometimes to know that you own nothing! It is also hard to have everyone know how much money you are being paid and have to listen to people debate whether or not you are worth it. By the same token no true spiritual leader is in ministry for the money.
- 90% of Pastors say the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered ministry. There is a lot more managing of egos and personalities than expected. It seems like there is always someone who is upset about something.
- 70% of Pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
- 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affect their families. 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked and feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.
- 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
Not all of these things apply to Rick and me. But since our listening audience is much wider than those who are here in our sanctuary, I list all of these.
Our text tells us that we are to support our leaders so they will be able to work with joy rather than with sorrow. The Message says
Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?
So, if I may, let me give some suggestions for how to help your spiritual leaders.
- One of the best things you can do for your Pastor is to care for your soul as much as he does. In other words, work at spiritual growth. Be open to instruction and growth. When we see someone who is hungry and growing in their faith, reading the Bible, sharing their faith with others and working at prayer, that encourages and excites us.
- Look for things to applaud rather than always being critical. A common meal on Sunday afternoon is “roast preacher”. Try to understand that you are not the only person in the congregation who is chipping away at us. A comment here, a disapproving look there, a negative comparison to other ministries all eat away at us. It is easy to become weary of the constant criticism. A little enthusiasm for projects and ministries energizes us.
- Set realistic expectations. One person (or two) can only do so many things at once. It takes time to prepare messages and classes. (Remember the disciples who told the people that their primary responsibility was to teach and preach so they needed to have time to do that?) We try to make as many visits as possible but sometimes it is hard to get out. It would also help us a great deal if you would remind us to be realistic in our expectations for ourselves.
- Talk to us privately when you have a concern rather than talking to others because that undermines the work we do (and the work of God). One of the reasons the church is powerless and turns off so many people is because of the bickering of God’s people!
- Work to make sure his needs are being met financially while still being good stewards.
- Take time to prepare your own heart for worship rather than “daring the Pastor” to make things interesting on a Sunday morning.
- Recognize that your preferences are not the same as the many others in the church. Learning to love means making allowances for others. When the Pastor tries to find a middle ground understand what he is doing rather than assuming that he is ignoring your preferences.
- Encourage him to take care of himself. Guard his day off by knowing when it is and not calling for pastoral stuff on that day. We almost always have someone in the office in the mornings and we stagger our days off. Encourage him to get away. Budget for conferences and learning experiences that will refresh. Try to be aware of his needs and the needs of his family. You might even occasionally find creative ways to get him some rest or some family time.
- Fulfill your commitments so he does not have to fulfill your commitments. When you have an idea of things “the church should do” (which often means, “I think YOU should do this)” share how you plan to implement these things.
- Discuss issues as collaborators rather than as adversaries. Pastors are not trying to “take over the church” or “hide things”. They are just trying to be faithful before the Lord. Try giving them (and each other) the benefit of the doubt.
- No one can participate in everything (nor should they). However, if everyone got involved in the areas that would best minister to them (the things where you say, I know I should have signed up for that . . . ), our programs would flourish, the leaders would be energized, and God would work in wonderful ways.
- PRAY for him. Prayer that we live solid and consistent lives. Pray that we hear the Lord clearly. Leaders in the church face strong forces. Satan works hard to discourage, distract, and derail Pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday School teachers. Pray for God’s protection. Pray for health both mentally and physically. Pray that God would meet His needs financially, emotionally, and spiritually. In other words, pray that your Pastor would keep growing as well.
I hope this message (as difficult as it has been to preach) is one that many congregations will hear and take to heart. Over the years I have wept with more Pastors than I care to remember. These men were broken and disillusioned because they had been beat up. A few of them gave themselves fully to the work of the church only to be attacked in a very unkind manner. The non-Christian world is watching to see how we treat each other. If you don’t respect your spiritual leaders no one outside the church will respect them (or their message) either.
Rick and I have been blessed. Our situation is not the norm. We have had many people over the years encourage us. I am grateful for the kindness that has been extended to us over these many years.
I am concerned about the state of the church. Too many are simply leaving the church. They don’t want the hassle and the conflict that seems to permeate many churches. As a result they separate themselves from the ministry of others and they rob others of their unique gifts. Other people change churches more often than they trade cars. The sense of commitment that is necessary for a church to grow seems to be largely lacking. We have become selfish.
I hope and I pray that every church member who hears this either today or in the future will take these words to heart. If we do, maybe we will be used by God to rebuild the church and to foster the kind of community and discipleship God intended for us.
©Copyright June 7, 2015 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
 Excerpt From: N. T. Wright. “Hebrews for Everyone.” Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. iBooks.
 William Barclay, ed., The Letter to the Hebrews, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 200.
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Heb 13:17.