Recently, I saw a pastor post something on Facebook about the pain of being “stabbed in the back” by someone in the church where he serves. He was not vindictive in what he wrote, and he left it broad enough to where it would be impossible to pinpoint the specific person who had wounded him. Nonetheless, I understood immediately that he was hurting, and I hated it that he felt he had nowhere to turn other than social media to communicate his pain. Having been through my own episodes of pastoral pain, I felt the deeper struggle behind his carefully chosen words. Let’s shine a light on the elephant in the room: sometimes Christianity is a full-contact faith, and sometimes the most volatile contact is between leaders and those who follow them.
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that He powerfully works within me.” – Colossians 1:28-29
Pastoring churches has sunken to near the bottom of the list of most-respected vocations. In one poll, pastors were listed right above used-car salesmen in perceived trustworthiness – that’ll bless your heart. The Scriptures teach that, in the last days, the predominant characterization of people is that they will love their own selves above all else. Because of this narcissistic reality, in our local assemblies, there is sometimes a resistance to accountability, authority and intentional leadership as outlined in the Bible. The biblical mandate to pastors to “reprove, rebuke and exhort with patience and teaching” is often met with a reply of, “Who are you, preacher man, to assert to me something different than what I believe?” Our culture has even redefined love as being “you must make me feel good about me if you truly love me.” So, when a spiritual leader acts as Paul described in the verses above (proclaiming, warning and teaching his followers), some people respond by resisting or rebelling. Undoubtedly, some pastors are part of the problem in the spiritual leader/spiritual follower paradigm. This is because pastors do not always operate in the Spirit of Jesus, who came not be served but to serve others. Yet, a pastor who is faithful to the Word of God will have to learn to live in a constant tension between desiring to affirm and encourage those whom he leads, while also being called to an unwavering commitment to God’s truth. Sometimes the pastor must choose between the Father’s calling on his life or the followers’ comfort-zones for their lives.
Did you notice in those verses above why Paul said that he did what he did? His goal was to intentionally lead, clearly proclaim, unapologetically warn and precisely teach his flocks so that they would have the opportunity to be matured in their own relationships with Jesus. He was actually serving them by not allowing them to remain as they were. This is the ultimate goal of every sincere pastor I know. We are called to stretch people beyond their current capacity. We are called to take people deeper than where they have dived before. We climb steep cliffs of truth, love and life in order to lead others up those same inclines. We desire to pour into others the very best of what God has poured into us. Some of that pouring will come out smoothly like honey. Sometimes it is like pouring wet cement – hard, chunky and requiring time to settle. Either way, spiritual leaders do what we do in order to afford those who follow the very best opportunity to grow in grace and truth.
I close with a word to all who lead and influence others in the Kingdom. Be prepared ahead of time to occasionally hurt. Be committed ahead of time that you will endure those hurts. I guarantee you that the pastor who candidly communicated the stabbing in his back episode on Facebook was hurt deeply because he cared deeply. Kingdom leaders, take your groans to Jesus as often as is needed. He doesn’t mind. Fight vigilantly to continue to love those who are the source of your occasional leadership pains. The Father will uniquely fashion you to be like His Son through the process of shepherding those who misunderstand you, misrepresent you or even mistreat you. If you are one who is called to follow a pastor, then that relationship will be greatly served by your prayerful investments into the life of your leader(s). Their job is much more difficult than you might think. Ministry does not sanctify anyone, so be reasonable when the faults and struggles of church leaders become visible. Remember that you will give an account to God, not for how your pastor led you, but how you followed that leadership. The flock would do well to remember that God calls each sheep to follow in a way that brings joy to the leader’s ministry (Hebrews 13:7). Church leaders, do not forget that Paul said in Colossians 1:28-29 above that ministry is characterized at times by toil and struggle. Do not miss that he also said in the same verses that we are granted supernatural power and energy. Pastoring is gloriously good work – all Kingdom leadership ministry is! The fragrances of grace, love, mercy and hope will come from your life like the scent of a rose. Yet there will sometimes be thorns attached to that rose, and sometimes they burrow deeply into you. How good of God to allow you and me to taste of something that not every saint gets to taste: the glories and the groans of leadership in His Kingdom.
So keep after it!