5 Options for Settling Differences with Your Pastor
- Jay Sampson Teaching Elder at Heritage Church, Shawnee, Oklahoma
- 2015 14 Sep
I am a pastor. I am a church member. I was a church member before I was a pastor. I am a church member still. I have had differences with my pastor in the past. I even have differences with myself as pastor!
Differences are not failures, they are reality. If we are to endeavor to live as part of the body of Christ, we will have differences. Your pastor is not immune. You should not think so; he should definitely not think so. But too many times the common grace of correction is deprived amid church disagreements; too often a pastor finds out about differences that he has with the flock only after the offended parties have opted to leave the fellowship. After all, our consumer culture loves the idea that the customer is always right, but sadly, we often carry this view into our life in the body of Christ.
We will have differences, but there remains a particular avoidance of action when it comes to dealing with differences we have with our pastors. What are our options when we disagree with our spiritual leaders? Here are five...
1. Do Nothing
Become offended, jaded and bitter. Talk to other people about your disagreement but never go to the source. Rouse a fanbase for your offense. Ultimately leave that church and go to another because of a disagreement that was never addressed. After a short time, repeat the process at your new church.
2. Assess the Disagreement
What do you ACTUALLY disagree with? Is it a personal thing? Is it perhaps a stylistic preference? Or is it something that is central to the Gospel – or possibly an activity or practice that you feel may not be in keeping with the Gospel? Often, if we take a moment to consider the root of our disagreement we may discover that our differences are simply preferences and not primaries.
During the assessment phase, let me encourage you to keep the disagreement private. You may be tempted to vet your offense to another before you have considered it yourself and thereby unnecessarily muddy the waters. If you come to the conclusion that your disagreement is not on a primary issue and it is resolved, it is better that you have not caused others to potentially divide over non-essential issues.
3. [OPTIONAL] Seek Godly Counsel
This is NOT mandatory and should ALWAYS be done as an intermediate step, not a final one. Your ultimate goal ought always to be Step 4: Go to the Source. But in some cases, first seeking the counsel of a godly friend after you have completed step two may be a good course of action. Limit the number of people with whom you discuss the issue and communicate to your confidant that her or she should expect you to address the situation personally eventually, even if they accompany you to a meeting with the pastor.
I once heard Dave Ramsey describe gossip as, "Speaking to someone about an issue who can do nothing to resolve it." I think that is a brilliant rule of thumb for our topic today. Particularly in larger congregations, it may be that you don't feel you have as much access to your pastor as another might. Or perhaps you just cannot get a clear conscience about the disagreement either way, unsure if it is essential or preferential. In such cases, seek out the wise and trusted friend.
4. Go to the Source
I cannot overstate how absolutely essential this step is. So much drama in organizations, including churches, would be avoided if we would commit to one another to simply go to the source of our disagreements. If you have a good friendship with your pastor, this step can happen even earlier in the process.
If you go to the source having already gone through the previous steps, you will have a clear idea what the difference is from your vantage point and why it matters. You are going to the source for clarification and possible correction.
Remember, just because he is a pastor does not mean he does not make mistakes. We all must care about the flock of God as pastors do and value the unity that Christ has provided more than we value lack of human differences. If your pastor is a humble follower of Christ, he will appreciate your courage in coming and will benefit from correction if it is needed. Your relationship with your pastor will be enriched as you see each other as fellow pursuers of thankful, obedient living. Who knows? After clarification, you may realize that you either misunderstood the situation or you may be sanctified by the challenge to your faith.
5. Make a Decision
When once you have clarified your differences having gone to the source, you may have a decision to make. It may be that you have a fundamental disagreement with your pastor. It may be that your pastor has clarified his position and it's opposed to the truth of the Gospel. At that point, you have some humble, honest decisions to make. If he has strayed from the Gospel, it is time to establish his error by the taking of other witnesses and to continue as far as the "end stages" of church discipline as communicated in Matthew 18 – all with the goal of winning him over with the truth and restoring your brother.
Tragically, however, it is rarely Gospel differences that lead to divisions. Too often it is unresolved secondary differences that are harbored and gossiped about which grow into cynical bitterness, stubborn territoriality and unrepentant apostates. All because we either won't or don't take some simple steps when differences first appear.
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together he makes an incredible observation: the fact that we have easy physical proximity to other believers tends to make us devalue it. If, however, we were in a situation where other followers of Christ were very few, we would place incredible worth on their fellowship! Which leads me to the question: If your current congregation were your only option for fellowship with others who proclaimed to love Jesus, how would that change your attitude towards them? Would you forgive more easily? Would you be less offended? Would you overlook more things that are secondary, thankful simply for a common confession of faith?
The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as a divided church. The church is Christ's body and He is not divided. When we have divisions, we have fractured organizations. Let us value the body to the exclusion of the organization. Let us go to the source. Let us deal with differences quickly and in love. Let us not give the enemy a foothold. Let the love of Christ dwell in you and flow through you. It is all we have.
Finally, don't allow your pastor to exist on a pedestal in your mind such that you will not afford him the same grace as you would your fellow congregant. If he puts himself on a pedestal, well... then, I suppose you have a difference that you need to address.
Jay Sampson is the Teaching Elder at Heritage Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma where he pastors literally tens of people every week. A father of three and aspiring fantasy baseball champion, Jay has been teaching at Heritage since 2007. Weekly podcasts can be found at www.heritageshawnee.org.
Publication date: September 14, 2015