The reason why I am writing this article is not because I lack the support and love of the congregation I now serve. I am being given more respect and honour than I deserve. Of all pastors I am blessed to serve the people whom I love, and who I sense love me and my family and care for us. This article is motivated by deep concern about the lack of appreciation shown for worthy hard-working godly pastors who are little esteemed by those who fail to support them in a biblical fashion.
The Evidence of a Call
I am aware of the fact that there are many men in the ministry who should not be there. They do not show signs of being caring shepherds and do not evidence that sacred anointing which Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones considered to be essential for the preaching ministry. The words of Spurgeon are crucial that, ʻThe will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his Church. It is needful, as the proof of your vocation, that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God. God usually opens doors of utterance for those whom he has called to speak in his name.ʼ He added, ʻStanding up to preach, our spirit will be judged of the assembly, and if it be condemned, or if, as a general rule, the church is not edified, the conclusion may not be disputed that we are not sent of God.ʼ
Men who do not have a divine calling and whose preaching is without a divine anointing would do better not to foist themselves upon congregations who sooner or later consider themselves to have erred in engaging the services of those who were never in the first place sent by Christ.
The Gifts and Calling of God Respected
When, however, the godly component of the congregation are able to perceive the gift of teaching and the calling of God upon a servant of Christ, it is in the interest of all to take very seriously the commands of Scripture with respect to those who stand in the sacred office of being pastors to the people. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 reads: ʻNow we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.ʼ Leon Morris in his commentary on these verses points out that the verb translated ʻhold them in the highest regardʼ, is a very strong one. It has meaning, according to Dr Morris, ʻbeyond exceeding abundantlyʼ. Morris suggests, ʻThe whole sentence then is a strong plea for the leaders to be held in the highest regard. They are to be highly esteemed, not for reasons of personal eminence of office, but for their workʼs sake. They have been spoken of as labouring in the preceding verse, and it is the duty of the rank and file to do all they can to forward the work. Leaders can never do their best work when they are subject to carping criticism from those who should be their followersʼ (italics mine).
Churches that have worthy pastors, who are labouring in prayer and in doctrine to feed the flock which Christ has purchased with his blood, ought to consider themselves to be greatly privileged to have been blessed by the head of the Church with such spiritual leadership. Especially so since often long pastoral vacancies are endured in an increasing number of congregations who yearn for dedicated pastors who will ʻprepare Godʼs people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built upʼ (Ephesians 4:10-12).
When the children of Israel murmured against the leadership of Moses, there was no justification for their complaints. Their attitude of heart to Godʼs appointed prophet and leader provoked the righteous indignation of God. They suffered severely for their resentment of the pastoral leadership which was so evidently given to them from heaven. I have lived long enough to know of a number of instances where God has removed men of great worth from one congregation to another because of failure on the part of the people to value what God had given them in providing them with a man of God. Some churches take years to recover from the displeasure of the Lord for their lack of appreciation, while others never return to the prosperity they once enjoyed when they supported a godly leadership. There are churches which have destroyed good men and it is no wonder that they have difficulty in securing the services of would-be pastors when men in question know that they will have to run the same gauntlet. What a blight that is!
We must ask the question, “Is not the removal of the candlestick of Christʼs presence sometimes preceded by the removal of the principal messenger of divine truth?” Furthermore when we read the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor we ask the questions, “Is our Lord less sensitive to the prevailing attitudes within his churches now? Does he not watch over the congregations with the same earnest concern now as he did then?”
The text, ʻTouch not the Lordʼs anointedʼ, can be used wrongfully as though the pastor cannot err. That extreme must be avoided. Nevertheless there are happy examples of churches that have taken 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 to heart. The pastor has been highly esteemed in love for his workʼs sake. He has been fully and enthusiastically supported and abounding fruitfulness has resulted over many years.
In contrast to that there are instances of needless disaffection and personal criticism and exaggeration of faults. Gradually the habit forms in which the pastor becomes a football to be kicked around or to use another metaphor the pastor becomes the Sunday lunch at which time he becomes the butt of censorious fault finding criticism. The evil effects of such example on children and young people are extremely harmful. The Word preached is entirely nullified by carnal insensitive attitudes and the Holy Spirit driven far away. I believe that these carping exercises initiate the first processes on the road to the removing of the candlestick. Avoidance of going down this road of spiritual barrenness can only be reversed by congregational repentance.
How to Treat a Pastor
How then does a church guarantee a fruitful existence in worship, spiritual growth and evangelism? If a church is to have maximum benefit from a pastor/people relationship the following principles should be observed.
• Pray for your pastor
The injunctions to pray for the leadership and for the pastor in particular are paramount.
Paul appealed for prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2). He longed for the prayerful support of Godʼs people. Writing to the church at Ephesus he urged, ʻPray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.ʼ Gifted though Paul was he could not rely on that.
To the Romans the same apostle wrote, ʻI urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.ʼ And more specifically, ʻPray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints thereʼ (Romans 15:30). Paul asked the Colossians to pray that he would be given an open door and that he would proclaim the message clearly. The most powerful preaching in the world will do nothing unless the Holy Spirit applies it. The Temple guards said of Jesus, ʻNo man ever spoke the way this man doesʼ yet there seemed to be very little response at that time (John 7:26). Clarity is a great asset in preaching. Pray that your pastor will not be side-tracked or become muddled on important doctrines and so confuse his hearers. Make sure that he can afford to be equipped with the best and most reliable expository materials. Pray that he will attend conferences where iron sharpens iron and he will be influenced by the best ministers in the land.
Prayer for your pastor is needed daily because he is the prime target of Satan. The strategy still pertains, Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.
• Respect your pastor
Obviously I am referring here to the faithful labourers who are humble and conscientious in their submission to the Word of God. We should never submit ourselves to teaching which is not in submission to the authority of the Word of God. A peopleʼs regard and respect for a faithful minister is a barometer of their regard and respect for Christ.
• Correct your pastor in a spirit of meekness
It will be unusual if your pastor never errs in a matter of fact or action or by forgetfulness or omission of something he pledged. Correction should be given in the context of encouragement and appreciation and in a spirit of humility and meekness. If you often express appreciation then it will not be difficult when there is a matter of correction to be faced.
ʻDo not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your fatherʼ (1 Timothy 5:1). The same principle applies when the pastor is in error over some matter. A true pastor will not resent criticism but if he is bombarded in an aggressive manner he will be discouraged.
• Provide for your pastor
It is important that a pastor have the means to carry on his work without fear of debt. Ensure that there is generous support of his work especially for hospitality and for evangelism.