Your pastor isn’t perfect, but we assume he or she should be close, right? That’s why when we hear of their fall from grace we are so shocked by their behavior. After all, they were our moral authority and example. They were the closest thing to Jesus we could see. We just expected more. I’m with you; I expected more too.
I lived through the televangelist scandal in the 80’s. My home church had its share of pastors making immoral decisions. We’ve heard of the atrocities of some leaders in the Catholic Church. We witnessed as some church leaders were exposed in the Ashley Madison scandal and now with #churchtoo people who have been victimized by pastors and church leaders. These church leaders should have known better, done better and been better than they were.
Let me be clear, I’m not making allowances for those who committed crimes or serious misconduct. Sexual predators and abusers should pay for their horrific atrocities. And pastors who have overstepped the bounds of morality and ethics should step down. But, this blog isn’t about those headlining cases. Instead, I’d like to address the often-overlooked fact that pastors are, in fact, both human and sinful just like the people they’re trying to lead. There’s no excuse for pastors when they screw up. But there are a few things I wish followers of Jesus everywhere would consider before burning their pastor at the proverbial stake when misconduct, disagreements or yes, even scandals, arise.
Your pastor is a sinner—so give grace.
We pastors struggle with anxiety, fear, lust, greed and envy just like everyone else. In many cases, even worse! After all, it was the Apostle Paul who said, “Why do I do what I DON’T want to do … and don’t do what I know I should do?” (Romans 7:15). We all have different degrees of struggle in life, but in the end, we are all in need of God’s grace. I think I speak for most pastors when I say that we’d appreciate grace from you as well.
Worship Jesus—support your pastor.
Remember, your pastor is imperfect. So, he or she only deserves our support, loyalty, prayer and encouragement, but never our worship. Our worship is reserved for the only one who is perfect. It’s been said that we often put people up on pedestals and then resent that they are higher than us. So, instead of doing that, try to love pastors on the same level you love everyone else. I was told years ago, “Be careful of those who idolize you because soon they will demonize you.” So true, I’ve had people I baptized tell me I saved their lives, then a year later leave the church because I was not meeting their expectations of perfection.
There is no such thing as a perfect pastor, just as there is no such thing as a perfect church. When we expect either one it can become a dangerous thing as if the church doesn’t need to be perfect because they expect their pastor to be perfect for them. That’s a recipe for disaster for both parties. However, if the church is aware that both are imperfect, everyone can learn from the failures and address them together.
Go to God on behalf of your pastor—rather than your pastor on behalf of God.
Many great church members will go to their pastor with what they think God is telling them to communicate. Often it’s a personal preference for sermon material, church programs or the volume in the auditorium.
Can I offer this suggestion? Go to God on behalf of your pastor, rather than vice versa. James says, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12). In other words, we often take our problems and differences out on people rather than taking them up with God first, thus putting ourselves in the position of God. Of course, if you see something immoral, you’ve been called by God to hold one another accountable, but you should approach them one on one (see Matthew 18:15). Not one on Facebook, not one on the group at Starbucks, but actually one on one. This goes for pastors, too.
As for the rest of it, talk to God. God put your pastor there, and he’ll remove or correct them when it’s time. And who knows, God might be using your pastor despite their imperfections.
So, as a pastor, let me say that I’m a sinner in need of God’s grace. I let people down all the time (the list is long yet distinguished). But, I am so grateful I get to serve God with such a fantastic group of people around me who let me be me and walk with me along the way. This is truly what it means to be better together and to live within community. Too often, pastors are excluded from the very community they are trying to lead just because of their position. It should be the other way around, but it requires grace from both the stage and the chairs facing it.