You would think once I make the mistake of saying something that causes people to get riled up I would know not to say it again. However, given the topic I am about to write on I’d say that isn’t the case.
I once, very unwittingly, made what I thought was a clear-cut, non-threatening statement regarding the role of a pastor within the local church. I found out that for many it was very troubling. I don’t bring it up here today to stir things up. I do so because I genuinely believe it’s important and true. And because as I read the opening greeting of Galatians I am struck by it. Here’s the greeting that begins the letter:
This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen. Galatians 1:1-5
What I said, some time ago, in another setting, was simply this: “Churches often make the mistake of thinking that the pastor or pastors are their employees. They simply are not.”
Now, this observation created a bit of hubbub, for lack of a better word. What people took issue with was the fact that the church calls a pastor, the church “hires” the pastor, and—most importantly—the church pays the pastor. How could I dare say he is not the employee of the church?!
Because as Paul puts it, “I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.”
Pastors don’t work for the church, they work for Christ. And churches often lose sight of this. Churches can tend to develop a sense of entitlement about making sure the pastor is answerable to them. Now, please understand, I’m not saying pastors shouldn’t be held accountable. They must be, and the Bible is clear on this. But in leading the church a pastor’s job is not to fall in line with the people’s agenda, or to give them what they think the church should be like, or to be answerable to the church. They are called to lead—to shepherd. That means giving the people what they need, whether they want it or not. That means surrendering their lives to the way of Christ in such faithfulness that they are the mouthpiece and the hands of Christ giving what Jesus would give. They are answerable to him, not the people.
For the record, I don’t “work” for a church in an official capacity, I don’t receive a paycheck of any kind from a church. So I speak as one who expects my pastors to lead. In fact, I demand it. I won’t be in the Body I’m in if my pastors don’t lead. Period.
And maybe this is a big part of the breakdown with churches not wanting to acknowledge the authority God has given their pastors. We have seen and been wounded by too many who wielded this authority poorly. Too many who presumed too much and thought they were given a license to control instead of to serve. Too many who forgot they answer to Christ and instead were willing to answer to the people.
In light of this tragic reality though, we still have an obligation, a responsibility. We have to be humble enough to seek out shepherds that will lead us well. They will not be perfect, but we must expect them to give us what we need and trust them to ignore our tantrums that will inevitably come. And we have to be bold enough to demand this of them without demanding that they answer to us.
Dear Body of Christ, please surrender your ego and stop demanding that God’s shepherds answer to us. They are not here to please us, and we should want more from them than a simple pandering to our whims and spoiled attitudes. We should want them to drive us relentlessly to holiness.
Dear pastor appointed by Christ, please surrender your ego and stop using the Body of Christ to feed your hunger for power and self-importance. Be God’s chosen shepherd and lead us through the narrow, dark, and difficult way as we seek Christ. We wish you to be a surrendered servant who loves us as Jesus does.