Pastors are imperfect; that much should be obvious. However, the attitude of some Christians toward their pastors leaves us wondering whether those three words are as plain as one would think. While pastors, like all of us, share in Adam’s fall, they have the particular challenge of having their faults on display week-by-week as they stand in a pulpit or as they minister amongst their flock. Pastors are public people and, sadly, public scrutiny comes easily and regularly. Church members should be particularly sensitive to this when they offer opinions, solicited or otherwise, about their pastor’s ministry.
Regretfully, some pastors make easy targets and bear the brunt of some of the most frivolous criticism. While all pastors should be open to constructive critique—indeed they should welcome it for the ministry’s sake—they are not deserving of the back-biting, nit-picking and any other hyphenated wounding that they regularly undergo.
The Scriptures put pastors and teachers up to a higher standard than other Christians because they stand as exemplars of faith. They are men who are called to ministry because, by God’s grace, they meet the qualifications set by Scripture (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Their lives are on display as a means of modelling the Christian life to their congregations. Thus their failings—especially in cases of grievous sin—have ramifications for the whole worshipping community. But just as they are held up to a higher standard, so too are they worthy of what the apostle Paul calls “double honour” (1 Timothy 5:17). This includes financial honouring, but it also has to do with how we regard the pastoral office. Later in the letter Paul warns against “godless chatter” (1 Timothy 6:20), which Timothy is to avoid. To gossip about and slander our pastor, even if it is “well-meaning” is to do him dishonour; the complete opposite of what Paul admonishes Timothy. The apostle explicitly says that charges against a pastor are not even to be entertained unless they are made with witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).
Christians need to think twice before they share opinions with other congregants about their pastor’s “performance” last week, or whether he meets every standard on tertiary matters of doctrine. These men shepherd the flock to the best of their God-given abilities, they care for the souls of their people and do their best to maintain harmony in the church. They and their families suffer for the sake of the ministry and our off-handed complaints can demonstrate a real lack of appreciation for all that they do for us. Pastors counsel us through bad marriages, baptize our loved ones, minister to the dying, share the gospel with our unbelieving friends and deal lovingly with puerile members who are eager to declare how inferior their pastor is.
Of course there are bad shepherds, as in Ezekiel’s day (Ezekiel 34), but there are proper mechanisms to deal with pastors who are no longer qualified for the ministry (1 Timothy 5:20); griping about them is not one of them. So, rather than firing arrows from our tree-blinds at doe-like pastors, let’s pray for them, seek their best and return good for good. This will only serve the betterment of the local church and will ultimately bring glory to God before a world that watches our every move.