A Conversation with an Unhappy Sheep
- Friday, September 07, 2007
"You don't like your pastor. What else is new?"
"You say that like there's a lot of it going around."
"It's like a plague. I've been thinking of going back and reading Exodus where God sent the plagues on Egypt to see if this was one of them. Frogs in the street, blood in the Nile, unhappiness in the pews."
"Are you dismissing the subject? You're so pro-pastor that you can't see sometimes a church has genuine issues with a preacher and he needs to leave?"
"Not at all. I'm just voicing my unhappiness with the whole business. It hurts to see pastors and congregations at odds with one another."
"Do you want to hear my side of this matter? Do you have time?"
"I can make the time. This is important."
We sat there in my office quietly for a moment, then I said, "But first, would you let me tell you something on my heart? This is not about you or your church, but about the whole issue of the relationships of pastors and congregations."
"I'm a good listener," he said. "Shoot."
"One of the primary reasons for so much unhappiness in the pews with the preachers is faulty understanding of what God intends. I've come up with four half-truths which most church members believe. When we believe wrong, as you know, we do wrong and no good comes of it."
He was listening well, so I went on.
"Let me name all four. One, the church hires a pastor. Two, the church can vote him in and can vote him out. Three, his job is to serve the people. And four, if the congregation is not happy with him, he has failed and needs to leave. Does this sound familiar?"
He sat up. "That's pretty well how we do it. And you're calling these half-truths?"
"The best way to explain why they are faulty is to turn it around and list the truth, the way God actually meant things to be."
"Four truths to answer the four half-truths?" he smiled.
I said, "Well, five, actually: One, the church belongs to Christ. Not to the congregation or the denomination. Definitely not to the pastor and most definitely not to the deacons or elders."
"Okay," he said. "No problem there."
"Second, the pastor's job is to serve Christ."
"Hold it," he said. "I thought his job was to serve the church. Didn't Jesus tell Peter to 'feed my flock'?"
"He did. But in doing that, Peter would be serving the Lord, obeying Him. There is definitely a sense in which the shepherd is serving the sheep. But notice, the shepherd does not take orders from the sheep. He takes orders from the owner of the sheep as to the care and tending of the flock."
"I need to give that some thought," he said. "But go on."
"You might recall that Paul said, 'We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.' That's 2 Corinthians 4:5. Notice that he's your servant, but 'for Jesus' sake.' Which means he takes orders from Jesus as to how to serve you. That's important."
"Okay. What else?"
"Third, just that point--the pastor is a servant. Not the lord of the church, not the boss, or ruler, not the CEO or anything else people come up with. He's a servant. That's the meaning of the word 'minister.'"
He was quiet. I continued.
"Fourth, God chooses and sends the pastor. The choice of the minister for a particular church is His. We can complicate it anyway we please--with recommendations and resumes and search committees and bishops making assignments--but biblically, the Lord calls the shots."
"I'm not sure about that one," he said. "It seems to me He gives us a lot of leeway to find the guy who fits our congregation best, the one with the qualifications we feel we need, that sort of thing."
"And that's how we get in trouble," I said. "The sheep do not have a clue what they need in a shepherd. They do not see the storm approaching or the danger lurking over the next hillside. Left to themselves, sheep would always choose the shepherd who caters to their every want."
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