No new questions were submitted this week, so I’m reposting a question from August of 2008 when a faithful CLCer asked, “Is there Biblical criteria for how sheep can know their shepherds are on track? How should concerns be addressed?”
(Those questions are so good and so valid, I only hope my answer will be as helpful!)
1. I think church members (sheep) have a right to expect each of the benefits we see in Scripture - it’s the shepherds job to feed them, to care for them, to protect them, etc. Most of those needs should be met through the public ministry AND the way the church is led and administrated. (By that I mean that it is the pastor’s job to insure that the sheep are being cared for, not that the pastor personally does all of that care himself! Even literal shepherds employ ‘sheep dogs’ to assist them, as well as the use of various tools such as their staff, in order to care for the sheep).
My observation through the years is that many times when sheep are truly not getting their needs met, it’s simply because the pastor was unaware. (Sometimes we pastors get supernatural insight from the Lord, but not always, so it’s much safer for you to communicate so we know if there’s a need not being met.) Regardless, if those biblical needs are being neglected, I would encourage any member to communicate with their pastors to express their need.
As to Biblical criteria as to whether shepherds are ‘on track’, here are a few: John 10:4; 1Cor. 11:1; Col. 3:15. Putting those verses together, the questions are:
- am I hearing the voice of Jesus through my pastor’s ministry, or does his teaching seem contradictory with Christ;
- is my pastor following the example of Christ, or is his/her conduct or is his/her life contrary to Christ’s example; and
- do I have peace in regard to all of this? While the enemy can and does plant troubling thoughts and fears in our mind, the ‘umpire’ in every decision is peace, and if I just cannot get peace about my pastor’s teaching or lifestyle, then at best it’s time for a personal discussion with them.
Which leads to the final question as to whom those concerns should be addressed. As someone who has pastored for over 40 years, I can certainly give you my preferences in that regard:
1. Make an appointment. I’m never at my best when I’m caught in the hallway between services, or even just before or after a service. (I’ve heard from enough fellow-shepherds in this regard to know that after we have ‘delivered our soul’ as the old-timers put it, by preaching or teaching and praying over folks, we are usually spent, physically and emotionally, so the last thing we need is a difficult conversation or a demand that we defend ourselves against some accusation.)
2. Approach your pastor with love and respect. We know we’re not perfect, and, if given a chance, we’re more than willing to repent, apologize, receive correction, etc. – but when attacked in anger or self-righteousness, we’re probably human enough to react in the flesh instead of responding in the Spirit!
3. Express your concerns specifically. If it’s a teaching you’re concerned about, ask for Biblical support or share specific verses that caused your concern. If it’s a practice or lifestyle issue, ask for clarity. (I couldn’t tell you how many times through the years that someone has been concerned over something that wasn’t even true – but they had heard something somewhere and pre-judged the situation without inquiring.)
4. Seek to understand, more than to be understood. Have an open mind to receive your pastor’s response to your concerns. Consider what he/she says in reply, or any requests he/she may make. PRAY.
5. If you’ve sincerely done all of that, and your concerns remain, it’s probably time to find another shepherd. If so, don’t just ‘disappear’. Inform your pastor of your decision, and ask for his/her blessing as you leave. (That doesn’t mean you cannot leave if your pastor refuses to bless you – I’ve known too many insecure shepherds who could never release someone from their flock, and that’s their problem, not yours!) Just as importantly, seek God’s guidance as to where you should be planted, and do NOT try to influence others to leave your former church to go with you. That kind of behavior always brings division and strife and puts a smile on the devil’s face as much as it saddens the Lord and rips the heart of any honest shepherd.
I think that’s it for this week. Now, what would YOU like to ask the pastor?