It happens regularly, in every church and among every congregation. Sooner or later, you or someone you love is going to be mad at your pastor. Even the best-intentioned pastors, the longest serving, the most faithful men and the most loving shepherds will reach the point that somebody, somewhere is mad at him. And often, that anger is almost indescribable, inexplicable and surprising. Both the pastor, the angry party, an the congregation is at a loss for words or explanation as to why the anger exists, what caused it, and how to make it go away. Nonetheless, it will happen.
Spurgeon (the 13th Apostle) says so.
From the first moment of his call to the ministry, the preacher of the Word will be familiar with temptation. While he is still in his youth, there are large numbers of the subtle temptations to turn the head and trip the feet of the young preacher of the cross; and when the flattery of early popularity have passed away, and it will, then the harsh grumble of slander, and the adder’s tongue of ingratitude attack him, he finds himself criticized and unpopular where once he was flattered and admired; yes, the poison of hatred overpowers the sweet crumbs of praise. Now, let him prepare himself for action and fight the good fight of faith. In his later years of ministry, to provide fresh material Sunday after Sunday, to lead as in the sight of God, to watch over the souls of men and women, to weep with them who weep, to rejoice with those who rejoice, to be a nurturing father to young converts, sternly to rebuke hypocrites, to deal faithfully with backsliders, to speak with solemn authority and fatherly sorrow to those who are in the first stages of spiritual decline, to carry about with him the care of the souls of hundreds, is enough to make him grow old while he is still young, and to mar his face with the lines of grief, till, like the Savior, at the age of thirty years, men will consider him nearly fifty. “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!” [John 8:57] said the adversaries of Christ to him when he was only thirty-two.
The young preacher has many adoring fans and loyal followers. Many of them he led to Christ, baptized and discipled. And many of them will be the very same ones overcome with anger for him not many years later. Spurgeon says that it is a matter of ingratitude, where the poison of hatred leads to open rebellion. It’s still the pastor’s job, argues Spurgeon, to continue doing what he did at first, and to continue his pastoral charge with faithfulness. The pastor is to persevere in the face of love-turned-to-anger, even though he might age ungracefully and be put into an early tomb.
I remember sharing that quotation with a loved one, as we wept together. I have been there, as has every pastor I have ever met and surely every pastor God has ever made. Someone, somewhere is vehemently, viciously, unconquerably angry at you – and you’re not even sure what you did to solicit such anger. For whatever reason, a part of the beloved of God has festered with malcontentment and malevolence and begun to bite the hand that has fed them the Word of God for much time. The question I have struggled with is why.
The answers are never sufficient, and rarely honest. Somewhere there was offense, disappointment, a let-down they couldn’t overcome, a personal imperfection, or some other reason to choose anger over resolution and hostility over love. So then, the Pastor is subjected to a whole host of reasons, often shot out of the mouth of gossip like a scattergun, sure to hit their target if not with forcefulness, at least with overwhelming frivolity. Soon the reasons begin to leak out like a sieve of banality, and the puddle of trifling explanations wet the feet of the congregation naive enough to stand around it. The pastor didn’t shake someone’s hand or they shook it too forcefully. His sermons are too long or too short. He uses too much Bible, or not enough. His sermons are too deep or too shallow. He didn’t remember someone’s name or recognize the face of someone’s honored guest, who they thought to be the Pope of Rome or a celebrity no one should forget. His wife is late to church, or perhaps he gave a dirty look that one time, at least according to someone’s subjection impression. The pastor doesn’t do what they think he should do, because he’s audacious enough to have a day of only 24 hours and is so lazy his week only has seven days, and a real man of God lives in a Holy Spirit time warp and isn’t constrained by things like time and space. Perhaps the pastor is too smart, too dumb, and when the communion wine went dry, wasn’t able to make his own from water. When he gets into the baptistry, he sinks instead of walks atop it. And so, the anger comes at the man of God who is too much man and not enough God.
Ask for a clear Biblical reason for anger towards the pastor, and they will stammer and stagger and make vague generalizations by leaving out specific claims of sin. They’re angry, and that’s enough of a reason to be mad at their shepherd, and if you don’t agree you’re probably just a mindless drone who has drank the Kool-Aid and joined the cult.
Every pastor I know can sing their own verse of that song. But again…why does it happen?
While there may be as many reasons as there are people, there is one underlying answer that seems to be pervasive, in my experience. The pastor, in some capacity, has failed to live up their expectations. He is not the man they thought he was, they’ll say. He’s fallen short of the glory of their assumptions, regarding who he should be. Being hospitable, he has welcomed them into his life and they have discovered the horrifying reality that he doesn’t have the authority of Aaron, the unction of Moses, and the wonder-working power of Elijah.
The solution to this irrational and unavoidable, eventual anger is, in my opinion, to clarify what is and what is not to be expected of your pastor.
God is omniscient. Your pastor is not.
God is omnipresent. Your pastor is not.
God is omnipotent. Your pastor is not.
God is without flaw or error. Your pastor is not.
God is self-sufficient, and is lacking in nothing. Your pastor is not.
God is the provider for all of his people’s needs. Your pastor is not.
God the Spirit convicts the world of sin. Your pastor cannot.
God the Spirit hands out spiritual gifts. Your pastor does not.
God the Spirit produces spiritual fruit in the congregation. Your pastor does not.
God gives a peace that surpasses understanding. Your pastor does not.
God searches the hearts and knows the minds of men. Your pastor cannot.
God knoweth all things, and decrees the end from the beginning. Your pastor does not.
God can be all things to all people at all time and bring people personal and spiritual fulfillment. Your pastor does not, cannot, and will not.
What your pastor is supposed to do and be is lined out in the Scripture. The Bible explains the pastor’s job description in various passages and when combined in a systematic view, you can ascertain his job function.
The pastor is a shepherd that exercises oversight over the ministry of the church – 1 Peter 5:2-3. Please note, he is not the one primarily responsible for doing “ministry,” but for exercising oversight over the membership, who should be doing ministry.
The pastor is to “feed” the Saints (with the Word of God, through preaching and teaching) – Acts 20:28
The pastor is to be steadfast in the Word, to teach the church and to rebuke those who disagree with God’s teachings – Titus 1:9
The pastor is to reprove (warn with Scripture), rebuke (admonish with Scripture) and exhort (teach with Scripture), when it’s convenient and inconvenient – Timothy 4:2
The pastor is to equip the church for them to do ministry – Ephesians 4:12
The vast majority of the pastor’s time is to be spent in prayer and in equipping himself to teach and preach, the one qualification for the office of pastor that separates him from all other servants of the church (2 Timothy 2:24).
Let’s bust some myths.
Most of the “discipleship” the pastor can do is done behind the pulpit (I have viewed with great annoyance men who have never served in the office of pastor demand that pastors disciple an entire congregation in one-on-one discipleship, as though he indeed has more time in the day and days in the week than other mortal men). Most of the encouragement, rebuke and reproof he gives is from behind the pulpit. Most of the counseling he can do is behind the pulpit.
While there are other occasional duties of the pastor, like folding church bulletins, watering flowers or mowing the church lawn, he does those things not because he’s a pastor, but because he’s a member of the church like anybody else. While the pastor may visit the shut-in, the imprisoned, or the sick or elderly, he does it not because it’s in the pastor’s job description (it is not) but because it’s in a Christian’s (and deacon’s) job description.
Woe to the angry man who says, “He’s a great teacher, exposits God’s Word, teaches the oracles of Sacred Writ, and dutifully devotes himself to scholarship, but he fails miserably at [whatever task is not in the Biblical job description].”
Or, woe to the angry man who believes that the qualifications of pastors and elders in Timothy and Titus requires perfection from the man, as though he were God Himself. The qualifications typify the elder, they characterize him; they are not given us to mandate sinless perfection from our shepherd or else there would be no congregation with a pastor. While gross and repeated, unrepentant violations of the pastoral qualifications (once determined by a process of church discipline, and not by the subjective feels of an angry church member), should earn him the left boot of fellowship from the church’s pulpit, too many times an angry church member holds up the standard of perfect personal righteousness, and pokes at the pastor’s real or perceived blemish of imperfection, and then wiggles around the sore so that it might become red and swollen for others to more easily notice.
The anger that causes this shepherd-eating behavior is, more times than not, caused by failed expectations. Why? Because their expectations came not from the Bible, but from a misplaced idea that the pastor exists to fulfill the role of Christ in their life.
Does the pastor seem to be unable to stave off conflict between two church members? Is there disharmony he doesn’t seem able to help? Are there financial problems and he can’t send out a disciple to pluck gold from the mouth of a fish? Is the church membership growing too slowly? Is it shrinking? Is it growing to quickly? Are the potlucks too boring? Is the turkey too dry?
Too many times, church members are apt to treat the pastor like tribal pagans treat the medicine man; if the rain falls, the medicine man is right with the spirits, but if there’s a famine, it’s totally his fault.
Remember that your pastor is not an Apostle, and he’s certainly not a prophet. He’s a man with an incredibly difficult job. Please don’t make it harder.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Hebrews 13:17