"Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, take care of them, not by constraint, but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly. Do not lord over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike. But a friend wrote, "What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?"
"What does your pastor do?" I asked him.
His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent and ousts anyone not obeying him. He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers. His opinion is the only one that counts.
We could wish it were a rare phenomenon. It isn't.
The definitive bully found in Scripture is Diotrephes. In 3 John, we read, "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to put himself first among them, did not accept us. Because of this, if I come, I will bring up what kinds of works he does: ranting against us with malicious words. Not content with that, he does not accept the brothers, and stops those who want to, and throws them out of the church" (3 John 9-10).
That's the bully: loving preeminence, rejecting outside interference, bringing accusation against the opposition and putting people out of the church when they oppose him.
We're thankful the New Testament churches had these problems
There's a certain degree of comfort from knowing that the problems churches experience today are not new, not signs the church is going to the devil or evidence we're being swamped by the world. The problems of division and strife (see I Corinthians), heresies (see Galatians), and petty egotism (3 John) have been with us from the beginning.
This forever prevents us from piously withdrawing from today's churches experiencing the same internal strife while claiming that they no longer do God's will. There are more churches at this moment in time doing great work for the Savior than at any time in history. And likewise, more experiencing the cancers of worldliness, division, jealousies, and egotism.
There is nothing new about this.
It's not even new or unheard of that pastors would be the bullies. After all, there must have been a reason why Peter wrote what he did in I Peter 5. For him to have cautioned pastors not to lead in such a way indicates he had seen it happen.
In a similar fashion, we have seen husbands lord it over their wives. "God made me the head of the home," the bully says, "so that means you are to take orders from me." It means no such thing, of course. In fact, Scripture says the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5). So, there's a dichotomy here: The husband is the head, but he is to sacrifice himself for his wife and family. A faithful husband does just that.
Wrong Ways to Lead the Lord's Church
The great apostle spoke to "the elders who are among you, as one who is also an elder" (1 Pet. 5:1a). These are pastors. Peter considers himself a pastor/shepherd also.
As "a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed" (1 Pet. 5:1b), Peter's credentials are impeccable. He was with the Lord when He walked on earth and is in line to share His heavenly glories in the future.
Elders/pastors are to exercise oversight of the Lord's church (1 Pet. 5:2). The word episcopos (root of episcopountes, the word used here) refers to the overseeing assignment of the pastors (see Acts 20:28). A shepherd watches over the sheep, leads them to green pastures, is ever alert for dangers and threats, and has the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind at all times.
Do not lead the flock in the wrong way or for impure motives, Peter advises:
—Not by constraint but willingly. "By constraint" means the pastor is doing this "because he must." There's no joy but total drudgery, no inspiration but a harshness. Instead, the faithful overseer is glad to be preaching the word and tending the flock. He loves the people, loves the Lord, and loves his calling.
—Not for dishonest gain, but eagerly. He doesn't do this for the pay. This is not just a job, not a vocation, and not a work he entered because it paid well. He is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and is thrilled at the privilege. Asked what he missed most about the pastoral ministry, a man said, "I miss the trumpets in the morning." Ask any God-called and heaven-anointed pastor. He knows what that means.
—Not lording over those in your charge, but be[ing] examples to the flock. And here we have the key passage for our subject today. The pastor is not to "lord it over" the flock. Jesus is the Lord and he isn't.
Pastors are not allowed to lord it over the Lord's church.
Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). It's His church, His body, His bride. No pastor in his right mind (with his heart right!) would dare to insert himself between the Lord and His bride!
It is true that Hebrews 13:17 calls on God's people to "obey your leaders and submit to them." But that same passage says pastors "watch over" (overseeing) your souls" and will "give account." Pastors will stand before the Lord and account for their stewardship and care for each sheep. A scary thought if there ever was one.
A pastor lords it over the church when he:
–makes decisions unilaterally for the church. He considers no one else's counsel, believes God speaks only through him, and rules like a potentate.
–micromanages his co-workers and colleagues. He alone knows what is best and allows them no room for individual expression.
–feels threatened when someone disagrees with him. Usually reacts angrily and with harshness.
–forces those taking contrary positions out of office. "My way or the highway" is his mantra.
You get the picture.
Final question: What if you are a member of the bully's staff (as a worship leader, student minister and so on)? What are you to do?
I'm tempted to ask how this happened, how you ended up on a church staff with someone so difficult to work with. But I'm aware the answer is often: "I was here first." The bully pastor came later, and might even be new. The church leadership—knowingly or cluelessly—brought in a pastor who would rule over the church with a heavy hand. And you are left to deal with it.
So, what should you do?
–Pray, pray, pray. Ask the Father all the questions bugging you. How to respond to the pastor today, what to do when the pastor asks you to do something you cannot or would rather not do, how to make your thoughts known to the preacher, and so forth.
–Get two or three or four friends in other areas to pray for you constantly. These could be members of previous churches or classmates from school. They should be able to keep a confidence.
–Don't get territorial—as in "I was here first, and God called me to be minister of music and this is my job." That attitude will get you a quick exit and a bad recommendation for the next church. Keep your eyes on the Lord and look to Him.
–Ask the Father about making this situation known to a key church leader, someone of great integrity and trust. If you do this in the flesh or if it's handled wrongly, it could be interpreted by the pastor as you making an end-run around him and be considered disloyalty. A pastor who is a bully would see this as grounds for dismissal.
–If things are really bad—to the point that you are considering leaving, but would rather not—then try something bold. Go in to the pastor's office and tell him kindly, gently, forcibly, assertively what he is doing and how it feels to you, and why it is wrong. You do this only when you have come to the point that "if worst comes to worst, all he can do is fire me." I'd rehearse again and again with my spouse, but mostly with the Lord, what I wanted to say to him. Then, go for it.
–If nothing changes and the bully continues to tyrannize the staff, get your resume up to date and share with your most-trusted friends. Ask the Father who called you into this work in the first place to open up the next assignment for you.
–If nothing else opens up or if you do not feel led to leave, then ask the Father to show you how to do your job well under these most difficult circumstances. It can be done. If you make the decision to try to stay, then consider walking in to the pastor's office and asking, "Tell me what you'd like me to do. You are my pastor and my boss, and I want to do everything I can to bless this church and honor your leadership. Tell me how."
God bless you, friend. The good news about having a tyrant for a boss is the next place you serve will feel like heaven.
After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.
This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.
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