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Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Gotta Serve Somebody"

Bob Dylan sang, "You gotta serve somebody. It might be the devil. Or it might be the Lord. But you gotta serve somebody."

Well, here is a good question for us: Is a pastor the servant of the congregation? Or is he a servant of Christ Jesus? The answer is "yes."

A Christian pastor is not a lord or master over his congregation. So he is not to tyrannize them. This happens whenever a pastor tries to micromanage every sphere of congregational life and sometimes when he allows his lay leaders no opportunity to make decisions of any consequence. In other words, I don't have to impose my ideas about our new parking lot construction as if I'm the boss. I have plenty of people here who know more about that than I do.

A pastor also becomes a tyrant when he asserts his own personal opinions as the Word of God. For instance, I may have very strong political views. Would it surprise you if I do? But outside of teaching people what the Bible says about certain moral issues and the role of government, I don't have any business - as their pastor - of commanding people to vote for this candidate or another. I suppose I could envision scenarios were this would be otherwise, but not often in our democracy would this be the case.

Or a pastor can become a tryant when he tries to govern his members in ways that do not belong to the pastoral ministry. I can (must) tell someone if they are living in a sinful manner. But I can't tell them whom to marry, which house to buy, where to send their children to school, etc. I can (must) exercise church discipline with unrepentant sinners, but I have no civil authority over them.

There have been ministers who have abused their holy office in the ways mentioned above. But at the other end of the spectrum, you have congregations who want to tyrannize their pastors. That is no less ungodly. There was a fine book published a few years back called Clergy Killers. And it's about a growing tendency of congregations to adopt a "hire-and-fire" mentality. "We hired you. You work for us. Do what we say, or we'll can you."

But the fact of the matter is, I don't work for my congregation. I am not their employee. I am a servant called by God, through the congregation. But I answer to God first, my church council or board of elders second. And where those two entities may conflict, God gets my first allegiance. Now, I personally, have been blessed not to have a tyrannical congregation, not in the least. Quite the opposite. They are loving, generous, kind and willing to be taught from Holy Scripture. They have also exercised an extraordinary measure of patience for their young, relatively inexperienced pastor. And I can only pray that I will never be a harsh overlord toward them.

Sometimes pastors can be over-bearing, but an over-bearing church board can be just as pernicious to the kingdom of God. God tells us to submit one to another. It's like marriage. Without submission, mutually, there can be no love-making.

Yes, the pastor serves the congregation, but he does so as an agent of Jesus Christ. He serves Christ in the sense that he is waiting on the Body of Christ. Jesus told Peter, "feed my lambs." We are the undershepherds who answer to the chief Shepherd and bishop of our souls.

Pastor David Petersen, over at Cyberstones, has a further reflection on these sentiments.

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The Cubicle Reverend said...

Very insightful. I am hoping, as is God's will, to be studying for the full time pastorate in the near future. Admittedly the idea terrifies me. I want to be the next Joel Osteen or even better yet another Spong.

Out of all seriousness, I just pray I am able to serve Him and my congregration, welcoming those who feel they should not be in church. I appreciate the post.


Kurt Wall said...

I was just curious what prompted this blog and its immediate predecessor. Was it the astonishing lack of forethought of the elderly priest?

Anonymous said...

As St. Paul says, "I determined to
know nothing among save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." A pastor to who puts his own to the grindstone of defending against false teachers and feeding the sheep is doing what the Lord has called him to do. Carpet choices, et al, can be gladly left up to the leaders in the congregation!

Carl said...

correction on the typos above:
"a pastor who puts his nose to the grindstone..."

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

The one about the elderly priest was just because I happened upon the article and I wanted to express some thoughts.

The second one mainly because I read the post of another pastor, a personal friend, over at Cyberstones. The link is in the post; I haven't quite figured out how to put them in comments.

So I posted the most recent piece, not because of any controversy I am personally experiencing. But, generally, I have many friends in the Lutheran ministry all over the US and the world. And I hear all kinds of horror stories of pastors getting booted for both just and unjust causes. I hear about pastors who make tremendous goofs which cause a mountain of suffering. And I also hear of picky, unkind, bull-headed congregations who torment their pastors. Either because they don't like something about his person (in once case because he'd adopted bi-racial children) or because they reject the Word of God he proclaims.

I have a small congregation. That certainly presents challenges. But I have been very blessed that we are a peaceful group. I find them very receptive to my teaching and leadership.

The Cubicle Reverend said...


Anonymous said...

I have a very young inexperienced pastor and I do not feel he is living up to his own words per say as far as putting God and church first. I am part of the congregation and he has not been in my corner as far as follow through. I pray for him but do not know how to approach him as far as what lies in my heart with his pastorial ways. Any suggestions?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hi Anonymous,

It would be hard for me to give specific advice without knowing more of the situation. But here are a couple of thoughts.

First, you acknowledge that he is young and inexperienced. Your church knew that about him when they called him there. You have an obligation to be patient with him, recognizing that pastors are sinners, make mistakes and so forth.

Second, I'm not sure what you mean by "putting God and the church first." I wouldn't say any pastor should put the church first. He should put God first, his family second (generally), and the church third. Naturally there will be times when he must sacrifice family and personal time for the sake of his cong, but generally speaking, his marriage and children need to remain a very high priority. I don't know if that touches on your concerns or not.

If you feel that he is not fulfilling his duties as a pastor adequately or that he is failing to abide by his ordination promise, you should confront him about it. Do so lovingly and respectfully. I would hope he would humbly accept any well-intended corrections you may offer.

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