Saturday, February 2, 2008

On The Role of the Pastor as Shepherd

Maybe it's just me...but I don't think so.

A week ago, a good Christian friend of mine, who has been serving in the same Christian school for six-and-a-half years, was quickly dismissed for (as near as I can tell) upsetting a few people. He did nothing to merit such a dismissal—trust me, I grilled him about it—but there were parents who wanted him gone. And it happened. The pastor was described as a "Pontius Pilate:" He washed his hands of the matter while a deacon and the principal broke the news to my friend...right after Sunday morning church.

Back in the 90's, my own mother was railroaded by a pastor and an elder whom she apparently irritated. My parents left that church.

The first Christian school in which I taught was headed by a pastor who showed no love to anyone in his congregation (except perhaps his family). When I confronted him about a lie and some other issues, I was essentially told to shut up and get in line...or leave. We left.

Another good friend of mine, formerly a principal at a Christian school in Indiana, was treated horribly by his pastor, who eventually forced him out because either he felt "threatened" by the year-to-year success of the school or because he wanted his son to get the job...or both.

Another church some of my relatives belonged to some years ago was headed by a pastor who summarily bounced them from his church for disagreeing with him.

And in 2001, several of us at a church in Jacksonville watched in horror as our "pastor" entangled himself in a web of scandal and forced out the principal, and then had several of us wondering if we'd be next. The details of this scandal are still painful to remember.

[Aside: All six of these pastors had the same alma mater....the one I proudly claim. All but the last one are still in the same pulpits. None of the other people involved in the situations described are still in those churches.]

And there are many other similar stories I have heard from my friends over the years.

It both grieves and angers me when I observe these things. Is not the pastor, of all people in the church, supposed to demonstrate the love of God? To demonstrate selflessness? To lift up the weary and comfort the tenderhearted? To stand boldly against the devil—instead of those God-serving Christians in his midst?

Some verses on the matter:

1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.
2 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
Yes, I know—it's an O.T. passage that has no direct connection to the church. I believe the principle is the same, though. As near as I can tell, the Hebrew word for "pastors" here is a participle of a verb which means "to feed" in the sense of a shepherd leading his flock to pasture. And is this not a proper picture of the N.T. pastor of the local church? And is the "woe" promised of God equally appropriate to pastors of N.T. local churches who "drive away" and "scatter" their flocks?
1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Here we have the "classic" passage on the qualifications of the bishop or pastor. Let us notice in the last two verses that "being lifted up with pride" will cause him (or any other Christian, for that matter) to fall into the condemnation of the devil. I am particularly disgusted by a spirit found among some pastors that exudes the aura of "this is my church, and I am its ruler." This is nothing more than naked pride—pride which delights Satan and grieves God. It hurts his testimony both among the flock and among the unsaved. The devil will use this to his advantage.
17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (1 Timothy 5:17-20)
Here is a passage rich in application for this topic. A few observations:
  • There are elders/pastors that "rule well." And they indeed are worthy of great honor. But there is a logical implication that there are elders who do not. Should they be honored because of the position they occupy? Yes. [This also applies to deacons, teachers, parents, governmental leaders, and others who hold God-ordained positions of leadership.] Should rampant and unfounded accusations against them be given credence? No. If they sin, should they be rebuked? Yes...just like any other Christian. I am reminded that Matthew 18:15-17 applies to all Christians, including pastors.
  • Those who labor in the church—and this includes Christian schools—should receive the treatment vs. 18 applies. I have a theory based on my observations: Christian school teachers are the most abused members of many fundamental churches, and it is most often the pastor of the church who is most at fault for this. If the Christian school movement falters and fails, it will, in largest part, be on the heads of the pastors...especially those who drive away the God-serving staff members in those schools.
There are pastors who "rule well." I have one at my church. I count the pastor of my in-laws' church as a good friend...and so do they. There are many others—praise the Lord—who serve faithfully, lovingly, and unswervingly in their local churches. But if they fall into sin, or if they mistreat the members of their flock, I will firmly, carefully, and in Christian love confront them about their sin. It is my duty.

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