There are many things that pastors are called to do: Preach the Gospel and the Word of God, shepherd and care for Christ’s flock, pray, and seek to set an example for the saints, among many others. But there are things that pastors should not do, and temptations that we can fall into. I’ve been a pastor since 1981, and I have failed numerous times, and have many weaknesses. I am so grateful the Lord has been patient and forbearing with me. Here are a few things the Lord taught me over the years that pastors should not do.
1. Don’t think your church is better than others
Oh man, in the early days of our church, I was so stupid, so arrogant. I thought our church was closer to being “a New Testament church” than any other church in town. Once a man who was unemployed told me he was thinking of moving to Texas for work. I said, “Do you know if there is a New Testament church there?” He said, “No, but I’m sure there are some good churches there.” So I said, “Well, it would be better for you to stay here and work in McDonald’s than take a great job somewhere where you don’t know if there is a New Testament church or not.” STUPID! Fortunately the man moved his family to Texas, where he got a good job. Thankfully, God later gave me the opportunity to ask his forgiveness.
Another time I met with a very godly older man who had helped me greatly as a new convert. This man attended a large denominational church in town. I asked him why he continued to go there. He said, “I believe God has called me to be a missionary to this church, because there are so many unbelievers in it.” To which I replied, “The apostle Paul would NEVER have considered being a missionary to the church! He was a missionary to the lost who were not in churches. Churches are for believers.” (Of course I believed that every single person in our church was a believer). I also later admitted to this man how stupid I was.
Don’t think your church is the best in town. At one time I would have thought we didn’t need any new churches to start in our area because, I mean, when you are the best, people should just come to your church. You don’t need more inferior churches to draw people away from you. I can’t believe I thought that way!
I’m grateful our Father is so patient and long-suffering with me. He changed my thinking drastically over the years. I recently told a pastor who is planting a church in our area, “We need all the gospel-preaching churches we can get here. There are thousands of unbelievers in the area who need to be saved. Most of them won’t be attracted to our church, but if they go to your church and hear the good news and call upon the Lord, that’s wonderful. I’m so glad you are here.”
Which leads me to another thing pastors should not do:
2. Don’t be angry, hurt or offended when someone leaves your church for another church
We have had plenty of people leave our church over the years and start attending other churches, for various reasons. I told one woman who said she felt terrible about going to another church, “Hey! There is only ONE church in town – Jesus’ church. We aren’t in competition with other churches. I want you to be where Jesus wants you to be. I want you to be somewhere where you will flourish for him. And you know you are welcome any time you’d like to visit us.” I probably wouldn’t have said that in my early years.
3. Don’t get offended when people disagree with you or see things differently
Not long ago, a man in our church emailed me, disagreeing some points in a message I did where Jesus talked about the end times. At one time I might have thought, “Hey I’m the pastor. Don’t challenge me.” But no more. The man made some really good points. I studied the passage again and considered his points. Although I still came to my original conclusions, I thanked him for being like the Bereans, who didn’t believe Paul just because he said it, but went home and read their Bibles for themselves. I also told the man that he might be right about his points.
No pastor has the corner on truth. Even a great leader doesn’t have the most wisdom about how to lead his church. We need others to share their thoughts and opinions. I am so grateful that I have always had fellow pastors and church members who were not afraid to share their opinions with me.
When I was leading our church, I often had what I thought were really great ideas about things we should do. I’m good at generating ideas. And often when I would share them with my fellow pastor at the time, Steve, he would say to me. “Yes Mark, but have you thought about how much that is going to cost us?” or “That’s a great idea, but I don’t really think we have the leaders right now to take that on.” I would often initially be a bit frustrated, but Steve was usually right. I had lots of ideas but often didn’t think them through. God helped me not to be offended when Steve and others disagreed with me.
We need others to disagree with us! We need others who will correct us or adjust us or point out our weaknesses. David said,
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it…Psalm 141:5
Which leads me to the next point:
4. Don’t Interpret disagreement as disloyalty
I have read that this is one of the weaknesses many gifted leaders have. They interpret disagreement as disloyalty. I have friends who experienced this. When they disagreed with the leader they were under, he sidelined them. One leader told others that he no longer trusted the man who disagreed with him. This is terrible. If you are a pastor, don’t think you always know what is best. Don’t be offended when others disagree with you. Don’t take it personally. You don’t have all wisdom. We need teams.
By God’s grace, this passage has always been a huge help to me:
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14
I’m so grateful that God has often brought this passage to my mind. Not that I always immediately responded to disagreement, but God kept me from interpreting it as disloyalty.
5. Don’t be discouraged when your church doesn’t grow as quickly as you think it should
In the 80’s (hopefully now it is different), there was a huge emphasis on church growth. If your church wasn’t mushrooming you must have been doing something wrong. I struggled for years because our church was so small. Often people left because the economy was bad in our area and they needed different jobs. Gradually over the years I realized that God’s word nowhere tells us that we should aim for a big church. Paul never rebuked leaders for the slow growth of their churches.
And someone said something really helpful to me: “Faithfulness is more important than success.” God didn’t want me to pursue success, but to be as faithful as I could to care for the people he gave us.
6. Don’t tell people who are struggling that maybe they should find another church
This one is so hard for some pastors. Someone comes in and disagrees with something they said in a message, or perhaps they are struggling with a particular doctrine or emphasis of the church. Keep talking with them! Consider what they say. Listen to them! Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry (James 1:19-20). You don’t have to necessarily agree with them. But don’t tell them, “Maybe you need to go to another church.” If they come to that conclusion that is one thing. But our attitude should always be that we love them and care about them, and would hate to see them go.
7. Don’t manipulate people into giving financially
This should be obvious by now, after we have had so many TV and celebrity pastors who pressure their people to give. Paul never manipulated people to give. He said,
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
We should never pressure or manipulate the people in our churches to give or serve or anything else. We should trust God to move on those we serve.
8. Don’t do everything your leaders say without questioning
For decades our church was part of an association of churches, which in many, many ways blessed and benefitted us immensely. But one of my weaknesses was that if the leaders told us we should do something, I would often do it without questioning. One conference a leader said they were changing the name of their “home groups” to “care groups.” You guessed it. I went home and we changed the name of our small groups to care groups. No questions asked. If the leaders did it, they know more than me, I guess I should do it.
Fortunately over time, we began to think for ourselves. There are many great leaders in the church, and many excellent teachers. But no one has a corner on truth. No one has all wisdom. What is good for one church is not necessarily good for all churches. Of course, we must obey the clear commands of Scripture. But Scripture doesn’t tell us what to call our small groups.
Scripture has many principles, such as to walk in purity. But it doesn’t say that a teenager should never go to a prom. Scripture says we should give generously, but it doesn’t say we must always give 10% of our income.
We must read Scripture for ourselves, like the Bereans.
Now these Jews (in Berea) were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
9. Don’t build your church into one man
Share the preaching load. A senior pastor may preach a lot of the time or most of the time, but let others preach. Let others teach classes. Make it your goal that if you were to suddenly die the church would go on without a hitch. Try to develop a team of pastors. Have an advisory board. Everyone in the church has different gifts. Encourage your people to use their gifts.
10. Don’t act like you don’t have any problems or struggles
Some pastors refrain from mentioning any weaknesses, sins, bad attitudes, or temptations in your messages. Pastors are not in a class of their own, far above the common folks in the church. No! We are right there with them. We too are in the process of sanctification.
Obviously, pastors should not be involved in serious sins. But we shouldn’t give the impression that we have it all together. Share how you struggle at times to love others. How you were impatient with your children. How you struggled to believe God would help you. When pastors share their struggles and weaknesses it encourages the saints. Hey if that guy gets distracted when he prays, there’s hope for me too.
11. Don’t be irritated, annoyed or impatient with people who are slow to change
Don’t expect people to change quickly. Don’t express disappointment at people when they fail or sin. God is so patient with us. Think about Paul and the Corinthians. He wasn’t annoyed at them because they were such a mess. Sure, he corrected them and warned them. But he didn’t call them a bunch of losers. He told the Corinthians that God:
…will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:8
He told the Philippians:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
Don’t be irritated or annoyed or impatient with saints who are weak. Don’t expect people to change quickly. Don’t express disappointment at people when they fail or sin. Paul told the Galatians:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1
12. Finally, if you are successful, if your church does grow and prosper, don’t think that you did something great
Jesus said “I will build my church.” If anything good has happened it is because Jesus built it.
One of my favorite verses is:
O LORD, You will establish peace for us. For all that we have accomplished, You have done for us. Isaiah 26:12 (Berean Study Bible)
If we have accomplished anything it is because God did it. We have nothing to boast about. All we have, any gifts, any success, it is all from God.
Pastors, we are not to think of ourselves as dynamic leaders, but as servants. As Jesus said,
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slavee of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
Even Jesus came to serve. How much more should pastors.