When people leave comments on my various blogs, I often check out their writing if they provide a website. That’s how I ran into Australia’s Luke Goddard, who along with his wife Peta, writes at From Frightened To Father and hosts the Filtered Radio podcast. (Don’t worry, he explained it to me!) I asked him if he would consider writing something for readers here, and he came up with a rather interesting topic. The situation described may be foreign to some of you, but in the modern church it can be far too common. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking… For my U.S. readers, Luke used the Anglicized spelling of honor so many times that I decided not to change it today!
•••by Luke Goddard
Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor? This is a valid question as it is an extremely common trait in modern churches to have a visionary leader who is like a miniature god that the congregation must “honour at all costs.” This honour is often driven into the members as if when they open up a discussion about theology, practices or ecclesiology in general is an attack on their God given dream for the church.
The qualifications for a pastor of a congregation are laid out very clearly in Titus 1:
5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
These qualifications include “not pursuing dishonest gain” and, “not overbearing,” and finally encouraging others in “sound doctrine…refuting those who oppose it.”
These qualities are lacking in many pastors, and our submission to them is not meant to be a compulsory, overbearing honour that weighs down and puts into bondage the congregation member. I have witnessed this type of leadership and realized that I was trying to support a vision for church that clearly was unbiblical, yet loved the hype, music, relationships and modern facilities of church and it kept me quiet. I had solid convictions about word-faith doctrine, heretical teachers that spoke blasphemous things that were being promoted by our old congregation, and many instances where visiting preachers said some grievous things from our pulpit… yet my “honour” principle taught from a young age told me to shut up and let it go. They’re a minister, I’m a member… there’s nothing I can say to change anything.
But Christian pastors are literally required to refute those who teach heresy, and also preach in accordance with sound doctrine the whole counsel of God! So I have come to learn that approaching a pastor in a friendly way is OK to discuss theology, but that in most modern churches this is completely unwelcome. Their vision from God for the church is usually “gospel” and unchangeable, and handed down from higher authorities in the Pentecostal movement through young people camps and leader training. It’s a battle for the Bible and souls in reality.
So back to the question: Do we have to submit to a pastor’s church vision? No! But we do honour them as our feeding shepherd, and if they are faithful and rightly handle God’s word then they’re actually due honour for doing so, but those that preach faithfully usually don’t have a “vision” for their church that is infallible. If they do, they end up sliding down a slippery slope anyway. We are in no way obligated in scripture to honour a pastor’s vision. We are, though, under the God given submission to a local pastor if he has “shown himself approved” by studying the word of God. This will be evident in his life, his kids, his teaching and his relationship with his elders and staff. This takes time to visibly witness, but is there for our good. We are to lovingly support our pastors, and speak openly with them about doctrine as it arises if anything is said out of line, but the truth is that heretical teachers usually abhor questioning. In fact, many have gone on record saying they will openly throw out any church member who dares question their way of doing church. This is dangerous. Dangerous because they stand in the place of Jesus as the builder of the church, and the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus becomes the tacked on message to the end of motivational speeches, pep talks, self esteem boosting sermons and mini-movie stories loosely to do with spiritual things.
I think the Bible makes it clear that Paul and Timothy were given very specific directions for pastors to follow, and that those that deviate are not faithfully serving Jesus flock as they should, and as such are liable for questioning. It is how we approach this questioning, though, that often gets us into trouble.
In the end, we need to pray for faithful men of God to proclaim Christ crucified, and support those who do, and listen in to what our current pastors are saying with an open Bible to make sure that they are preaching in context, with the right message, given in season and with faithfulness to the text.
That is the only way a church can grow healthily, and the flock be fed nutritionally.