Here are a couple of good questions to ask church members from time to time: Would you have treated your pastor any differently this past week if someone had tipped you off that he was a specially sent “messenger” from the very throne of God?
Would you have criticized your pastor so severely or gossiped about him if you had known that he was chosen and appointed by the Lord Himself for the work he is doing?
I’m sure many would have to admit that their attitude, actions, and words would have been much different toward their pastors if they had been told that God had placed them in their churches for a definite purpose.
Many servants of God are treated shamefully because we forget that they’re men with human weaknesses, as we saw in our previous lesson. They are men sent from God— that is, if they are genuine in their calling.
This truth is suggested for us in John 1. The apostle wrote:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light (Jn. 1:6-8).
A PASTOR’S CALLING
Three things are mentioned here about John the Baptist. First, he was a man. “There was a man . . . whose name was John” (v.6). He was an earth-born creature with human shortcomings.
Second, he was sent from God. “There was a man sent from God” (v.6). He was different from other men. He was a man, but one who was commissioned by the Lord Himself.
Third, he was sent to preach Christ, the anointed Son of God. “This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light” (v.7).
John’s purpose in life was to testify of the Lord Jesus Christ. And these same three things can be said of every pastor who is born again, called of God, believes the Bible to be the infallible Word of God, and is living in obedience to it. Yes, they are men—they have human limitations. They are men sent from God—they have divine authorization. They are men sent from God to bear witness of the Light— they have a heavenly commission.
THE CONGREGATION’S RESPONSIBILITY
In lesson two, we stressed the human aspect of those in the ministry, and we emphasized that this should remind us of the pastor’s need for encouragement, understanding, and prayerful support.
The apostle Paul, one of the greatest preachers the world has ever known, recognized his own shortcomings. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he said:
But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
And he also declared in Romans 7:
I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells . . . . O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (vv.18,24).
Remember the words, “There was a man.” Because your pastor is a man, he needs your prayers and encouragement. Not only do we read in John 1:6, “There was a man,” but the verse goes on to say, “There was a man sent from God.” And this truth, when applied to the pastor, is what gives us a balanced view of his person and work. If he’s seen as only a man, some would surely reason, “Since my pastor is human like I am and prone to the same weaknesses and pitfalls, why should I listen to him? He’s no better than I am.” But while it’s true that he is just a man, it’s also a fact that those who have a genuine calling are men sent from God. And as such, they deserve your respect and honor—not because they’re better necessarily, but rather in consideration of their heavenly calling.
This brings us right back, then, to our opening questions: How would you have treated your pastor this past week if you’d been told he was a specially sent messenger from God? Would you have said the things you did about him? Would you have criticized his pulpit manners? Would you have pointed out his poor delivery and grammatical mistakes? Would you have spoken so unkindly to him? If church members only realized that the pastor, in spite of his weaknesses, is a man “sent from God,” I’m sure much of the petty criticism in our churches would be eliminated.
Some, however, will certainly reply by saying, “But you don’t know our preacher. I wish he were more tactful. At times, he’s so poor at expressing himself. He’s always got his foot in his mouth. And some of his mannerisms are enough to drive one up the wall. You don’t know our pastor.”
Oh yes I do. I know him well. You see, I know myself, and he’s like I am— a man with human weaknesses. But if he’s a genuine servant of Christ, then (as it was said of John the Baptist) he’s a man sent from God, and his special “office” calls for your respect. I didn’t say you should worship him or place him on a clerical pedestal. He should be respected because of his calling.
In Romans 10 the apostle Paul made the following comments about those who preach the gospel:
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things! (vv.14-15).
Although pastors who are truly men sent from God should be treated with respect, there are times, sad to say, when their lives are inconsistent with the teachings of the Scriptures. Some have deliberately violated the precepts of God’s Word, to the extent that they are bringing an open and public reproach on the cause of Christ. But even if that’s the case, no believer should ever engage in a personal crusade against the preacher. Rather, he should quietly and privately deal with the problem in loving concern for the minister himself and for the work of the Lord. And whatever is done should be bathed in prayer and exercised with the greatest caution lest any unjust, uncalled-for, or cruel action be taken against one who is not only a brother in Christ but also a specially chosen servant of God.
In 1 Samuel 26 we read about the time when David spared the life of King Saul, and this example shows us how careful we should be when dealing with someone appointed by God to a position of trust and responsibility. The Old Testament narrative gives us the setting. David had been chosen to be Israel’s next king, but Saul was still on the throne. Motivated by an insane jealousy, Saul hounded David continually, wanting to kill him. During the darkness one night, David and his company came into Saul’s camp while he was sound asleep. It was a perfect setup. David could have put his archenemy out of the way, but he refused to do so. Here’s the record of his experience:
David and Abishai came to the people by night; and there Saul lay sleeping within the camp, with his spear stuck in the ground by his head. And Abner and the people lay all around him. Then Abishai said to David, “God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!” But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” David said furthermore, “As the Lord lives, the Lord shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:7-11).
Now, I realize that there’s quite a difference between a king of Israel and the pastor of a church. But even as David so highly respe cted Saul, the Lord’s anointed, we should be careful not to stretch forth a hand unjustly against any “man sent from God.”
I can still imagine someone saying, however, “My pastor just isn’t doing the job. The church is suffering. He should leave. How can we handle a situation like that? I do respect him and wouldn’t want to hurt him for anything.” Perhaps this article found in a church bulletin will interest you. It’s titled, “How To Get Rid Of A Pastor.”
Not long ago a wellmeaning group of laymen came from a neighboring church to see me. They wanted me to advise them on some convenient and painless method of getting rid of their pastor. I’m afraid, however, that I wasn’t much help to them. At the time I had not had the occasion to give the matter serious thought. But since then I have pondered the matter a great deal, and the next time anyone comes for advice on how to get rid of a pastor, here’s what I’ll tell him:
1. Look the pastor straight in the eye while he’s preaching and say “Amen” once in a while and he’ll preach himself to death.
2. Pat him on the back and brag on his good points and he’ll probably work himself to death.
3. Rededicate your life to Christ and ask the preacher for some job to do, preferably some lost person you could win to Christ, and he’ll die of heart failure.
4. Get the church to unite in prayer for the preacher and he’ll soon become so effective that a larger church will take him off your hands.
If only congregations would pray for their pastors as men and show respect for them as men sent from God, many problems could be avoided. The church would have a better image in the community, and the children would have a more favorable attitude toward the work of the gospel.
How many times have I heard people say, “I just don’t understand why my children have so little interest in the church since they’ve grown up. They just don’t seem to care about going anymore.” Is it any wonder after all the criticism they’ve heard? Sunday after Sunday they’ve had “roast preacher” for dinner. His sermons were torn apart, his pulpit manners laughed at, and his appearance and dress ridiculed by the parents. And then they’re surprised when their children don’t have any regard for the church and the preacher! If you have children in the home, be careful about criticizing the pastor in their presence. It’s your duty as faithful parents to cultivate respect in the minds of your little ones for the office of those men who are sent from God to serve as under-shepherds of the flock. So don’t forget. Your pastor is a man, a man sent from God, and a man sent from God to bear witness of the Light.
Let me say this special word to you if you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior. As long as you look at men, you’re bound to be disappointed. Even the best preacher in the world, although sent from God, is subject to human failures. There is One, however, in whom there is no disappointment. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Godman. He alone, of all men, lived a perfect life. He was absolutely sinless and did not need to die as other men, yet He assumed our guilt. He went to the cross, He shed His blood for our sins, and He was raised from the dead. And now forgiveness of sin and life everlasting can be yours if you’ll acknowledge your guilt and trust Him for salvation. The Bible says:
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Rom. 10:9-10).