When Your Preacher Becomes THE Pastor

why members may side with the preacher in a church fuss

Why don’t people respect the authority of elders? Don’t they know the church is to follow the elders — not the preacher?”

 

The Bible does teach that ordained men are to oversee each congregation. I’m sure there are strains of the preacheritis virus around that infect some people.

Let me share with you something else that could be happening.

I’ve talked with elders who were devastated when people sided with the preacher in a time of conflict. Why didn’t Christians know they were to follow elders and not the preacher?

Here’s what some in one congregation told me:

When my child was in the hospital, our preacher visited often, brought us food, called, and texted to see how we were doing. We received no calls or visits from any elder.

When my daddy was sick and dying, our preacher gave him medicine, visited often, and set up with him all night. We didn’t receive a visit or contact from the elders.

The elders were confused about why many members didn’t take their side in the fuss.

Jesus describes the Good Shepherd: “the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3, NKJV); “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).

The good shepherd:

  1. Calls his sheep my name — he knows them.
  2. They follow him because they know his voice — they know him.

That relationship develops when the shepherd cares. He shows his care by the time he spends with the sheep — in knowing and being known. An eldership cannot make a preacher be a shepherd then expect the people to think they are the shepherds if they haven’t shepherded.

How can we work together to improve this?

  1. Preachers, elders, and other teachers: teach what the Bible says about the role and responsibilities of elders. “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1).
  2. Teach and practice what the Holy Spirit teaches about honoring good shepherds. “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). We are to honor bishops in the Lord’s church because the Lord teaches that principle in the Bible — not because they do everything right and we agree with every decision. Practicing the attitude of gratitude is good for them and us. One of the first questions I ask when I start working with a congregation: “How long has it been since you had an Elders’ Appreciation Party?”.
  3. Elders: practice what the Bible teaches about the responsibilities of shepherds. Feed, protect, know, speak, be recognized.
How long has it been since you had a Shepherds’ Appreciation Party? Click To Tweet

Elders haven’t fulfilled the responsibility of being a shepherd by making the preacher do the work of a shepherd while they ignore that role. It is inconsistent to make the preacher do most of the teaching, most of the visiting of visitors and newcomers to the community, be the primary minister at all deaths, go to reclaim those who have strayed from the fold, make regular hospital, nursing home, and shut-in visits (and hand in a report), work with troubled marriages, minister to those who have problems with their marriages and children, rebuke those who are in sin — then get upset when someone calls the preacher the pastor.

“But Jerrie, we all have jobs. We pay the preacher to do the visiting and the other tasks you’ve mentioned. We’re too busy to do those things.” If you’re too busy to do the work of a shepherd, please resign and remove the title. A man who doesn’t farm isn’t a farmer. Do we think men who served as elders in the New Testament church were wealthy and had no jobs and families?

I’ve worked with men who were ordained as shepherds. They were shepherds. They worked together. They communicated. They tried to be in contact with each family in the church. They made it a point to assure each family had contact with one or more of the shepherds during sickness, death, trouble, and times of joy. One group I have in mind were some of the busiest, most-travelled men I’ve ever known. But they did the shepherding because they made the commitment, assumed the responsibility, and wanted to follow the Good Shepherd.

I’ve observed a few men who had their names on the church bulletin as elders who did little or nothing taught in the Bible that shepherds of the Lord’s people are to do. They attended business meetings and made decisions. They didn’t feed, protect, and care for the flock.

As I reflect on the two groups, I remember of no difference in the job and family responsibilities of either. They both did what they thought elders (shepherds) were supposed to do.

  1. Group 1 — cared for the sheep.
  2. Group 2 — made decisions and made sure the preacher cared for the sheep.
Many sheep don’t know the proper titles and job descriptions. They have a good perception and accurate memory of who shows up when they are caught in the thicket! Click To Tweet

What have you experienced that improved the shepherd-sheep-preacher relationship?

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26 thoughts on “When Your Preacher Becomes THE Pastor

  1. Thank you for your clarity as always Jerrie. Thank God for shepherds who take the work of shepherding seriously! What a blessing it is to the church, what a relief it is to a preacher. The converse creates a situation that is almost impossible to reverse. It leads to burn out, conflict and disappointment.

    • I have experienced those who were excellent in their shepherding. I have heard the despair and frustration of many who have been under the weight of generals and CEOs. It is disheartening. All the more reason to thank and encourage those who shepherd well.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. I cannot add anything to this except to note the two instances where the role of a shepherd is work/labor. It would be good for any bishop/elder/shepherd to read the descriptions of his work and ask himself if he is doing that.

    • You are on target. Our new shepherds at Berry’s Chapel spent their first year with 2 objectives:
      1. Read what the Bible says that elders, shepherds, bishops are supposed to do — and do it.
      2. Learn how to get along with each other.
      They did that and were excellent shepherds.

  3. Excellent article and very true. I’ve seen where elders were jealous of the preacher and the preacher held his elders in comtempt because they did no pastoring. Both attitudes are from the devil. When we follow God’s pattern of organization of the church, the church grows numerically and spiritually.

    • Good observation. When a condition in any family is chronic, it is because everybody likes it that way. When I understand that, it makes it easier to respond. Instead of trying to fix everybody else, I can work on my part in the mix. But that’s hard because I have a hard time getting me to change and grow.

  4. Thank you for sharing this powerful article. You are correct in stating we need men to stand up and serve as Jesus directs them. We have far too many board room elder and far to few servant leaders. I was especially challenged by your question on the last two Ike we had “a shepherds appreciation dinner.” Don’t remember one. Blessings.

    • That’s one thing we can do to help our leadership grow. A person doesn’t have to do everything right to be appreciated for one thing he does well. This is the way I encourage churches to “get right of bad elders” — have a lot of Elders Appreciation Parties! http://bit.ly/1RX068c

  5. Jerrie you are right on the money on this one. In the deep south where denominational “pastoral” traditions/influences are very strong and difficult to overcome, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to teach. I love being a preacher but there’s a reason I’m not qualified to be a shepherd. I’d rather the scriptural shepherds fulfill that role than me! Thank you for your clarity and help.

    • Chris, You are correct. When the general makes the private command the troops in battle, a lot of people are going to get hurt.

  6. Thank you for the thoughts. One of the greatest challenges a shepherd faces when first taking on the responsibility is taking the time to know the other shepherds and the preacher so that roles and communication can be established. Trying to “fix” the congregation by focusing on being an overseer will not work in the long run. As it is said, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care” really is important to the success of both the preacher role and the role of an elder. Each can fill a special niche in the life of the congregation and complement the roles of each other. It is so easy to get caught up in elder meetings and lose stray sheep along the way. A healthy eldership/preacher relationship sows the seed for a healthy congregation that truly functions like a Family of God.

    • Ron, Thank you for your continued comments and encouragement and thank you, and others, for demonstrating the principles I am discussing in this post.

  7. For years now, I have noticed a trend in the Lord’s church to operate under the “pastoral system “. I think it begins, many times, when a congregation has no eldership. Then when elders are selected, …………. I guess sometimes the preacher either doesn’t want to or doesn’t know how to make the transition. This is another reason for congregations to not go too long without elders. The longer one operates without them the more comfortable the congregation and preacher become to it, thus making it more difficult to change. Anyway, well said and timely.

    • Or when elders instruct the preacher to do the shepherding (visiting, teaching, rebuking, caring, counseling) and have him to hand in a report that he is doing the shepherding which they don’t have time to do.

      • Pondering the point of a preacher not giving up his role when elders are installed when there previously were none, he needs to be supportive of the elders so they can grow and do what GOD wants. When he does that, the elders should respect him and, he will also be free to do the work of a preacher. When we preachers do what Timothy and Titus were to do in developing (which is essential to appointing) elders, the preacher should understand his job and the elders should understand theirs. I really appreciate the article!

  8. Thank you for this excellent article. Each of us can do much better in learning and appreciating the roles of shepherds and ministers. May God continue to bless your work in helping to inform, lead and encourage Christians and churches.

  9. In too many churches, the minister serves as pastor, the elders are glorified deacons and the deacons do nothing.

  10. Below is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about 20 years ago addressing the elder as a shepherd.
    The shepherd knows his sheep by name (Jn 10:3). A cursory reading of this passage might lead one to think that an elder is to know the names of the Christians in the congregation. This is only the beginning of “knowing the names of the sheep.”
    When I was a boy on the farm, we raised cattle. Every year we exhibited our yearlings in a regional competition. My two brothers and I would buy 9-12 calves. They were Angus heifers and were completely black and about the same size. After a time, we named our cattle. No, they weren’t names like Natasha or Rose, but rather Curious, Spooky, Nudge and Playful. Why? We gave names that were characteristic of their personalities. Knowing their personalities was the only way in which to know each calf from the others. When our friends would come from the city to spend the weekend, they were always amazed at how we knew which calf was which. Their question was always “How can you tell one calf from the other, they all look alike?” By their personalities! And the only way we could get to know the calves’ personalities was by spending time, lots of time, with them. Twice every day, we fed them, inspected them, brushed their coats. The key to knowing the calf was time.
    The shepherd knew his sheep by name, because he spent his life with them. He knew their personalities, their weaknesses and their foibles. The shepherd knew which sheep were more likely to stray and get into trouble. Why? Because he spent time with them. Likewise, the shepherd of the Lord’s flock can not watch for peoples’ souls unless he knows each Christian. He can only know them by spending time with them and going to their homes and extending hospitality to them. Through getting to know the Christians, he will be able to give advice regarding Christian living.
    The shepherd’s actions show Christians that he cares for them, therefore the Christian will begin to have confidence in the shepherd. Jesus said the shepherd leads the sheep and they follow him (Jn 10: 3-4). The sheep will follow the shepherd when they trust him. The reason they trust him is that he spent so much time (24 hours a day) caring for them. Christians will follow the elders’ lead when they have that same type of trust in him. This trust can only develop through time spent with the Christians.
    A friend of mine established several congregations after he was 60 years old and then was an elder for some years (he lived to age 100). His wife told me that when he was an elder, he never returned home before 11 pm. He told me that 10% of the church required 90% of the time devoted to shepherding the flock. This shepherd was devoted to caring for the flock.
    A certain Australian shepherd wrote of his experiences with the flock. There was no sheep fold to coral the flock at night. He pitched a tent and the flock settled down nearby. During the night a predator disturbed the flock. He took his rifle and walked among the sheep and talked to them. Soon they were calm. So he laid his sleeping bag in their midst for the night to keep them calm. The sheep were comforted by his presence. They had confidence in him and trusted him. From past experience they knew he cared for them and protected them.

    • Good information of how concerned people are about their livestock. Good shepherds will be concerned about the sheep. Thank you for sharing.