A Conversation with an Unhappy Sheep
- 2010 19 Aug
"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."
"I can tell you don't think a lot of pastor search committees surveying the congregation to see what they want in a preacher."
"Oh, I think a lot of it. I think it is a complete waste of time and leads the people to faulty conclusions, that the pastor is their choice and is there to satisfy them."
"What's the fifth 'truth'?"
"You're going to love this one. Fifth, the Lord does not care one iota whether the sheep approve of His choice of a shepherd. The shepherd is there at His pleasure, not the congregation's."
"So," he said, "if the congregation feels there is a mismatch between us and this preacher, tough cookies. Is that what you're saying?"
"Probably. If there are moral or ethical or biblical reasons for getting rid of a pastor, the leadership of the congregation should step up and do the job. It's a difficult task and it's probably going to make a lot of people unhappy with them, but they are the leaders. If the preacher absolutely should be removed, they ought to do it."
He was quiet, taking all this in, and a little restless.
He said, "It has to be something big? It can't be that we don't like his style? Or that he sometimes mangles the King's English? And that his wife is unfriendly?"
I said, "You folks have lost your way."
"You have forgotten the church is not a social club. This is not a popularity contest. The pastor and his wife were not sent by God to be the congregation's mascots or the favorite guests at the civic clubs.
"The pastor was sent to shepherd the Lord's flock. He was sent to represent God, to preach His word, and to train the people for being salt and light in the community.
"The church is not a human enterprise and we are not running a business. The church was never intended as a democracy where the majority calls the shots. The church is Christ's body. He is its Head and we are individual cells in it. We are to obey Him. The way to do that is to read His Word and then follow it.
"I grant you a preacher should use proper English. It's distracting when he's preaching and he says 'John and me were visiting the other day.' But that's all it is--distracting. If he's opening the Word and telling what God has said, if he is a man of prayer and is sincerely working to lead the Lord's people, then cut him a little slack, for Pete's sake."
He didn't say anything.
"It's not just you or your church, it's like an epidemic in our land. People on the pastor's back because they don't like his sermons, they don't find his wife friendly, his children are unruly sometimes, the pastor doesn't give enough respect to the older members, he is introducing too much change into the church, he uses too much humor or tells too many stories or doesn't wear a tie. It's enough to drive a man crazy.
"None of this has the first thing to do with anything," I said.
"The Lord did not send the pastor to make the church happy. He sent the pastor to make the church healthy and Himself happy. I can't put it any stronger than that."
I finished, "Sorry for the outburst. You can see I feel pretty strongly about this."
He said, "I still want to talk with you about our church situation sometime. I grant you that it would be wrong to run the pastor off, but maybe you could help him do a better job of relating to the older people."
I said, "If I can, I'll be happy to. Especially since I happen to be in that age group myself.
"Before you leave, could I give you something? This is a verse of scripture I'd like you to read and think about over the next few days. Acts 20:28 may be one of the most important texts in the Bible for what your church is going through right now.
"Paul is talking to the pastors or elders of Ephesus. He tells them, 'Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood."
He agreed to read that scripture several times and think about it.
If he does, I'm confident he will be in for a realignment of his attitude about the pastor's role in the church. Scripture has a way of doing that to all of us.
Almost every one of the five points we talked about are found in that one verse. The Lord owns the church. The pastor's job is to obey the Lord by shepherding the flock. God chooses the pastor. How the flock feels about the man God sends at any particular time is irrelevant.
I called him a week later and we met at McDonald's for coffee. I said, "Now, let's talk about whatever it was that brought you to my office the other day..."
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.