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“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
My good friend just became pastor of a prominent church in my hometown. Someone joked that his uncle would’ve been a better choice. The uncle barked a loud laugh as we all agreed, “Man, don’t nobody want that job!!” Anyone who intends to guide people into heaven will have to fight all of hell to do it. If you think it’s hard to be a Christian, try being chosen to coach a whole team of them.
The worst church members like to whine, criticize, and play the victim. Some have mental illnesses and think the pastor is a psychologist. Some are power hungry and would manipulate or unseat the pastor to satiate themselves. It’s a lot to fight off. Basically, these mufkas is crazy. And if you want to lead them, you might be crazy too.
Pastors are seen as proxy representatives of God. People look to them to set an ideal example. However, they have to constantly redirect people to Jesus. Everything a pastor does isn’t gonna be right. People always discover this. And when they do, if they don’t know to follow the example the pastor’s following more than the example the pastor’s setting, it’s gon’ be some smoke in the city.
If the tables were turned
What would you do if you were in charge? Scripture emphasizes that pastors shoulder an enormous burden to take care of God’s people, right? So if the people are dismayed or unsatisfied, that might mean you haven’t taken care of them, right? Trying to fulfill that responsibility is honorable. However, when put into practice, it looks like one person trying to keep a group of constituents happy—the same thing politicians do.
How does a pastor become a politician? Easily. Your intention can be to serve God’s people and give them what they need, but on the outside, it just looks like you’re trying to curry favor and get re-elected. Suddenly, those who loved you now hate you. They think you’re unfair and wielding your influence to push an agenda. Now you’re about to be crucified for doing the right thing. That’s the power of righteous indignation. We love Jesus, but we will still burn your house down.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” —James 3:1
Maybe you’re not a pastor. But do you attend church? Do you worship God? Chances are you’ve accidentally worshipped a pastor. I’m sure you were aiming at God, but your worship arced downward and hit his servant instead.
What’s that I hear you say? You only worship God and no man comes before him? If you’ve ever been offended at someone calling your pastor by their first name instead of their proper title, then you misplaced your reverence. If you’ve ever said, “That would never be my pastor! My pastor doesn’t do that,” then you incorrectly identified who is actually holy.
Listen. Every pastor is fallible. No exceptions. America loves superheroes. We want to believe someone will swoop down and save us while trumpets play and people cheer. But there is nothing supernatural about pastors. They go to the bathroom, pay taxes, and get hangnails like everyone else. Even your faithful leader is capable of screwing up.
Good intention, bad execution
“I’m perfectly human. I might just tell a lie.”
A pastor told me plainly years ago that they would at some point do something that would disappoint and/or hurt me. And damn if they didn’t keep their word! I was heated, but they warned me. People are human. And devastating letdowns will happen.
When an honoree forgets who to thank, they say “charge it to my head, not my heart.” You have to look at the heart’s intention more than the actions. Otherwise, when leaders fall from grace, your hope and faith can go down in flames with them. And I do mean when— not if. Look at what they were aiming for. Pastors are lightning rods. If there’s any blame loose, they will attract it. Grace and forgiveness are needed, but not likely to come. Give them the benefit of the doubt. They mean well. They really do.
Related Junkyard Salvation posts:
- No One To Blame — Sometimes it’s not your fault, but you have to clean up the mess anyway.
- Fast As You Can (or Why I Ate Everything) — What do you do when the pastor tells you one thing and God tells you another?
- On Fathers’ Day: “I Had a King Once” — It’s a beautiful thing to step up and take responsibility.
- Let Them Eat Cake: How To Fail At Christianity — Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty in order to come clean.
- If, Then, But, and Other Things You Said — How much control do you really believe the Word of God allows?
As always, I love your insight Mark. Topics like these often tend to sway to one side, i.e severe criticism of everything church authority/leadership but this is very balanced in that it offers grace towards the screwups of pastors/leaders (who themselves are mere mortals like you and I) and of course, provides caution to those who might find themselves (albeit unintentionally) worshiping them.
Augh. I’m happy that came across. I didn’t want to come off one-sided. I figured I might be safe though, ’cause some of the crazy church member stuff I listed was stuff I’ve sho’ nuff been guilty of. You live and you learn, right?
Good read. That video is yet another reminder of why I am not called to preach.
You and me both. It takes a nation of millions to hold us back. I don’t know if a few ushers would be enough if that happened to me.
Thanks Mark for your abilty to articulate (with humor) the reality of pastoring. I alway say that church members should try pastoring for a day and then see if they still have reason to criticize openly. Of course in many high-profile cases, there is some low-hanging fruit that is easy to criticize, but the vast majority of pastors have a sincere desire to serve the people God sends their way. I say cut them some slack, give them grace (the same grace we want), but dont turn a blind eye to obvious sin or sin patterns in leadership. If the people would seek to be a solution to church problems, we could get rid of some church problems (which might include getting rid of some church people)! Love ya bro!
I’m relieved to hear I did it some justice! I can only speak from a limited position because I’ve never had THAT responsibility on my shoulders.
NOW to work on taking my own advice. Oh, boy. I’ll probably have to come back and re-read this whenever I feel like throwing stones.
Love you right back!
Amen!!!! It is so much easier to criticize and point out someone’s errors than it is to actually do the work! Leading a Bible Study was enough for me! Ha!
I love this!!!! It is absolutely true!!
Of all the points, the two I think that most people forget is that 1) pastors are human first. Yeah, they’re held to a higher standard, but they’re still just a fallible as the next person. The only difference is that when they “fall”, it’s seen as being harder and further.
The second point is the one about the heart. It’s as deceitful as anything can be; yet folks say all the time, “follow your heart”. That’s a quick way to destruction if one’s heart isn’t following the right thing.
As always, you’re practical take is easy to read, but will hit *if* it convicts someone.