Your Pastor is a Sinner
It sounds obvious I’m sure to say that your pastor sins. The Scriptures demand such recognition after all. And certainly experience confirms that no pastor has escaped the curse of original sin.
Yet I wonder if we have become intermittent Pelagians expecting that original sin ought to skip over pastors. Certainly I am a bit conflicted as I write this since I am a pastor. That is, I do not wish to somehow justify my sins or the sins of any other pastor. Nevertheless it seems that when a pastor sins in ways that are common to most regenerate people the response is shock and outrage. Christians are often scandalized when they observe in their pastors some of the very sins they rationalize away in their own lives.
So let us be perfectly clear: pastors are sinners. They can be selfish at times. They can get their feelings hurt and sulk. It has been reported that pastors from time-to-time can become angry. Pastors are capable of being insensitive or irritable. Out of a sinful desire to please others pastors can neglect the needs of their own families. Out of that same people-pleasing desire it is not unusual for pastors to be insecure and sensitive to criticism. Sometimes pastors have conflicts with their wives, their children, their fellow pastors, and church members. Pastors struggle with anxiety and worry. Sometimes pastors will say or write something before they fully consider all the ways that their words may lack proper sensitivity. There are times when some pastors will procrastinate or even forget an important event.
That is only a partial list of course. But we must remember that the call to be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:1ff) which the pastor must take seriously is not an expectation for him to achieve sinless perfection in this life. Your pastor is now and will continue to be until the day he dies a man who sins.
If you believe your pastor has sinned against you (and if he hasn’t he may well at some point) then please consider the following:
1. Assume the best rather than the worst.
You owe this to all your brothers and sisters in Christ. How often, when offended, do you consider that perhaps you have erred in your interpretation of events? How often do you consider the possibility that you misunderstood, misread or judged too harshly? When you feel offended your knee-jerk reaction ought to be to assume the best, even about your pastor.
2. Consider your own sins and frailties.
You are your pastor’s fellow sinner. You possess similar frailties and blind spots. Are you as open to correction as you hope your pastor to be? Have you given him the same compassion that you yourself hope to receive? One helpful rule of thumb for entering into any conversation about someone else’s sin is to first reckon yourself to be the worst sinner you know.
3. Talk to your pastor.
Many pastors have built up over time a bit of a defensive shield because they are so used to hearing things like “some people have expressed concern,” or “I have heard from some folks…” In my conversations with fellow pastors over the years rare is the one who reports positive experiences of people coming directly to them when they are offended. So go to him. Begin by saying, “Pastor, perhaps I misunderstood but it hurt when you said or did such-and-such.” I can tell you that, unless he is a real jerk, he will appreciate that someone actually came directly to him.
When you go to people other than your pastor to express your concern or hurt you a) rob him of the opportunity to repent, b) fail to discover that perhaps you erred, c) miss the joyful experience of a relationship restored.
4. Forgive your pastor.
Your pastor, like every sinner, needs grace. He accepts the fact that he is held to a higher standard. That goes with his calling. But just because God will judge him by a stricter standard does not mean that you must do the same. If he sins against you and then repents forgive him freely and joyfully. He will be made a better pastor through his experience of your kindness.
5. Distinguish between sins and preferences.
Has your pastor sinned against you or has he simply violated your preferences? This is one of the greatest points of confusion I have found in almost 25 years of ordained ministry. My experience and that of fellow pastors I know is that in those times when someone takes offense it is often not because of sins committed but because of preferences violated. Your pastor has not sinned by disagreeing with you.
Consider therefore if you are offended because your pastor actually sinned against you or because he is not extroverted enough or preaches too long? Did he sin against you or did he make changes in the church’s music? Did your pastor sin or did he simply not affirm one of your choices or share a political opinion or give you enough attention? You get the picture.
Please don’t misunderstand. I have and do sin against others just like every pastor. I hate it. I despise my sin. And unfortunately I will continue to struggle with sin until I see Jesus. But over the years the vast majority of the time I have invested in healing relational wounds has not been because I sinned against a brother or sister. The majority of those cases have been the result of my failure (or refusal) to conform to someone’s personal preference.
6. Consider the burden of your pastor’s calling.
Do not pity him. Do not feel sorry for him. The calling to be a pastor is a blessing. But it is also a great burden. It is not a burden for you to carry. However, at times of frustration with him remember that he lives his life in a proverbial fishbowl. His actions and words are scrutinized more highly than anyone you know. Again, he does not need pity for this. But to periodically consider this would be good for your soul and a blessing to him.
7. Pray regularly for your pastor.
Your pastor is a man under attack. The enemy of our souls hates pastors precisely because they are the ones charged to proclaim the Word of Life, equip the saints for ministry, and do battle with fierce wolves. A pastor doing what pastors are called by God to do will never experience long periods of time without feeling the heat of battle. He feels it on Saturdays when the responsibility to preach God’s Word weighs heavily upon him. He feels it on Mondays when he crashes emotionally and worries that he failed God’s people. He feels it when members of the flock wander after myths. When he tries to sleep at night his mind wanders over all the expectations (his own and those of others) that he did not meet. He needs your prayers. Even Moses needed help keeping his arms raised during battle.
* I will be following up on this post with one entitled “Pastor, you are a sinner.”
* As I mentioned above, I am referring here to the sorts of sins that are common to God’s people. Sins such as sexual abuse, adultery, financial improprieties, and other clearly disqualifying sins must be dealt with as matters of church discipline and perhaps civil justice. If you know of scandalous sins or illegal behavior on the part of your pastor then you ought to make the elders of your church aware.