In the first post on this topic, Authority and the test of submission, I shared the story of a friend who recalled to me one of many encounters his pastor has had with disgruntled church members. After describing the situation he partly asked and partly stated,
“I don’t get it. Why are people so unwilling to submit to and respect
the authority of a godly pastor?
Why do people say things to their pastor that
they would never say to any other person in authority over them?”
Simple, in every other sphere of life people are “required” to submit to the authorities over them. In most cases people submit because a boss, the government, a parent, a teacher, etc. has leverage over them. A boss can fire an employee who refuses to do his job or curses him out. So, in most of the areas of life people, even believers sometimes, reluctantly submit to authorities.
However, the heart of all true, God-honoring, Spirit produced submission is voluntary.
In most cases because submission is voluntary in the body of Christ, the church is the one place where the heart can be exposed as to whether or not a person has a true heart of submission and this demonstrates whether or not one understands what it means to honor and respect those in authority.
So, Why do people say things to their pastor that they would never say to any other person in authority over them?
1. One conclusion is that people already feel powerless over their lives.
The Church then becomes the one place where people can flex their muscles so to speak speaking to those in authority over them without fearing reprisal. It is the one place where they can assume control of, have influence over, speak their minds often without impunity, expressing all their underlying anger with the other authorities in the life. Unfortunately and often the Pastor becomes their preferred target since he is, according to God’s Word, the leader of the church, since he in their minds should just take it because that what he’s there for.
There are the few exceptions where church leaders abuse their authority and
coerce and manipulate people into submission, however those are truly few and far between. Most emotionally healthy people can identify that culture very quickly.
2. Another possibility is the feeling of entitlement that predominates the church. Since, one gives money to the church, he is entitled to address anything he doesn’t like directly with the pastor in whatever spirit he so desires.
When you think about it there are really few entities that exist that gives people such direct access to those in authority over them. Often, angry, disgruntled people use their money to control the pastor and justify sinful, venomous accusations. It’s the old, “I’ll take my money and go somewhere else if you don’t respond the way I want you to” scenario. (“my” is bold because a person who talks like that demonstrates he is not submitted to the Lord, because someone who is doesn’t see the tithe as “mine” but “HIS”.) So, the color of the carpet, salaries, the nursery, the music, etc. all become reasons for people to challenge the authorities over them and make a fuss about…well just about everything.
Hopefully, you see how quickly a Pastor can become overwhelmed and with all the possible scenarios and people he is bound to make a mistake, let someone down, respond in anger, or just grow tired of the constant inquisition. No man is able to endure that
without failing at some point.
3. The amount of churches to choose from allows for church hopping and church
Options embolden people. “I can say what I want when I want, act however I want then go down the street if I don’t get the right response.” And, most likely the behavior will be repeated at the next church because no one can hold or has the right to hold them accountable. If the leaders try they will leave the church moving on to the next one on the list.
No wonder a culture of discord and dissension permeates churches.
There is no incentive and less willingness to work things out.
4. It is because many do not have a heart of true, God-honoring, Spirit produced
The way they would treat a godly pastor who cares for them, serves them and shepherds them exposes the spiritual reality that they are not truly submitted to Christ as their Lord and Savior. Again, this is true even when the pastor lets you down or is not performing in a manner that you agree with or has made a decision that you don’t understand.
Some people are submitted to tradition, their preferences, peers, denominations, clics, etc. but are not submitted to Christ. The evidence is their unwillingness to voluntary submit to those God has placed in authority over them trusting God to hold him accountable.
Every good pastor will voluntarily submit to some form of peer accountability.
Again, the principle emerges. Submit unto ________________ as unto the Lord.
Let me close this series with a few suggestions that I believe demonstrates a heart of submission.
- The next time you see a church member getting testy with the Pastor step in, intervene, and help the person express his concerns in a way that honors the Lord. Refuse to allow your pastor to be publicly disparaged.
- The next time a decision is made that you don’t fully understand or agree with trust that the Pastor knows things you don’t know and can’t fully explain why the decision was made or why the action was taken.
- Don’t hate just because something is changed. Change is necessary and good.
- The next time you hear gossip, slander, ridicule or a person mocking the pastor stand up for him. No gossip, slander or ridicule is to be tolerated in the body because it fuels discord and distrust. It gives Satan a foothold. Remember, Satan will always attempt to remove the authorities over you especially your pastor. He will always strike the shepherd to scatter the sheep and unfortunately it is the sheep whom Satan uses to strike the shepherd.
- If you assume that your pastor is himself not submitted to Christ it is not your personal right or role to put him in his place. Pray for him, offer him help, and provide resources he may need if it does come out he has an issue. Even in cases where there is failure on his part he should be met with grace. Of course, if his failure is a crime he should be reported. If it is something else it doesn’t mean he is no longer in authority over you. (see previous post) He is to be submitted to because God has placed him there. God will deal with him, God will remove him, God will hold him accountable. (Use common sense and discernment too to know how to respond!)
- Finally, if you cannot in good conscious submit to his leadership, after it is proven that the pastor has failed and refuses to repent then quietly leave the church but before you make a final decision graciously, lovingly, humbly speak with the pastor or another leader. Let him know why you are thinking of leaving, but be open to changing your mind because there may be something going on that you are not aware of. Again, trusting God even when you are unsure that you can follow your pastor is the heart of submission.