How to wreck a pastor

I’m speeding down the freeway in a southern state. “George” has just picked me up at the airport. I’m schedule to speak in at his church a few hours.

George seems like a great guy. He’s a committed Christian who adores his wife and kids. He loves his church, and has been attending, giving and serving there for more than a decade.

We chat about jobs, kids, and Alaska. Then the topic turns toward my area of expertise: why men hate going to church.

“You know what I hate about church?” George says. “They brought in this new associate pastor a couple of years ago, and he’s said some very controversial things from the pulpit.”

“Like what?” I ask.

“He’s kind of a liberal. He’s made fun of Glenn Beck and Fox News. He tries to make us feel guilty for driving SUVs. I mean, I like the guy but I don’t think he preaches the Gospel.”

“Hmmm,” I say. George continues.

Man lecturing his pastor“So a few months ago I invited him to lunch. I called him on a few doctrinal errors. I told him what I thought of his preaching. I tried to be very upbeat and kind about it.”

“What did he say?” I asked.

“Not a lot. He thanked me for bringing these things to his attention. But it really hasn’t changed the way he preaches,” George said. “He kind of ignores me at church, though.”

Readers, if you want to wreck a pastor, take him to lunch – and then correct him.

As a layperson you may not realize how much “helpful advice” pastors get. Most of it’s delivered gently and is well meaning — but a lot of it is downright hurtful. The sheer volume of suggestions, criticism and second-guessing wears pastors down.

After five years in the pulpit, your average pastor has probably endured dozens of these “attack lunches.” He knows what’s coming – and he’d rather steer clear.

Because of these frequent beat downs, some pastors develop a foxhole mentality. They avoid their people. They spend a lot of time in their study. They pack their schedules. They steer clear of their men.

Some pastors become so hungry for an encouraging word they surround themselves with sycophants. They turn to alcohol, pornography or an illicit affair to salve their wounds and find acceptance.

So what can you do to help your pastor (instead of wreck him)? Here’s some advice:

  • Encourage your pastor every time you see him. Smile at him. Tell him what a good job he’s doing – even if you may be disappointed by something he said or did.
  • Pray for your pastor. Ask for God’s blessing on his work life and personal life. If Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, how much more should we pray for friends and associates with whom we disagree?
  • If you invite a minister to do something, let him know clearly that you’re not grinding an ax. “Hey Pastor Steve, let’s grab lunch sometime. No agenda —I just want to get to know you better and encourage you.” Then be sure to keep your axe at home.

Now, what should you do when your pastor says or does something you object to?

  • Ask yourself: is this simply a matter where Christians are free to disagree, or has the pastor crossed the line into outright heresy? If it is the former, then let it go. Trust God to deal with the situation. Maybe your pastor will change his mind – or you may need to change yours.
  • If the pastor has said or done something you consider heretical, your next move should be to pray. Read the scriptures. Seek the counsel of ONE or TWO other believers in the church (Don’t start a whisper campaign against your pastor). If the other believers don’t think the pastor is out of line, then let it go. Trust your friends’ judgment.
  • If you and at least two others agree that the pastor is in serious error, take your concerns to the elders of the church. Pray for discernment on their part. Then let it go. Trust the elders to handle it.
  • If the situation still isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, pray more. Ask the Lord if he may be leading you to attend a different church.
  • If you decide to change churches, write the elders a letter explaining your move. Keep the tone positive. Don’t blast the pastor or elders. Simply point out your differences and wish your old church well. A brief, gracious letter will have a much greater impact than AN ANGRY, SINGLE-SPACED, ALL CAPS DIATRIBE FULL OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!
  • Most of all, be humble enough to realize that YOU may be the one in error. Humans tend to fixate on what’s wrong – ask the Lord to help you see what’s right about your pastor. And finally, trust the Lord to deal with these situations. Take action only as a last resort.

Pastors have a difficult job. Most are underpaid. Preaching the gospel always offends someone. We heap unrealistic expectations on them. And we demand they never make a mistake.

Don’t make your pastor’s job any harder by offering unsolicited advice. The best thing you can do for your pastor is to pray for him and his ministry. Encourage him. It’s not your job to school your pastor or change his heart – that’s God’s job.

And if you do take him to lunch, be sure to pick up the check.


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  • C. Loewen

    Well said and well written. However, I believe that those who most need to see it, won’t.

    George Barna reports that 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.That will never change until church culture changes and pastors are viewed as something other than used car salesmen.

  • Bev Wafford Morris

    I can only agree to a certain point. if you pastor is preaching about non-Biblical things (ie global warming or something political), you should seek the opinions of others as to how to correct him and it should be done. Our pastors are to teach us what Christ taught. It is our responsibility to apply those lessons to our lives.

    • David Murrow

      And I agree with you to a certain point. However, it is not the role of the laity to correct the pastor. That role belongs to the elders or deacons.

      • ggacre99

        And let’s keep to our roles, for god’s sake!

    • ZacDilone

      Not that I like playing devil’s advocate, but are global warming and political issues always non-Biblical? :)

    • Des Williamson

      Did I read that right? Global warming or something political is non-Biblical. I thought God put humans in charge of the earth to nourish and look after it – that makes global warming an issue. Jesus was very political – standing up for the poor and foreigner is politics.

  • Duncan Vann

    OK, the point here is well made. But I think part of the problem stems from having such a sharp pastor / laity divide in the first place.

    Thank God the pastor at least has an associate. Otherwise, the article seems to see the pastor on his own, in charge of deciding what’s right and wrong, fending of all the concerns from a raft of lay members; and the layperson very much as a passive listener whose supposed to accommodate all of this. Is that even biblical?

    Involve more people in the leadership of the church, each using their own gifts. Let a deacon preach and send the pastor on holiday for a couple of weeks. Present both sides of an argument and ask people to reflect on it. Have a discussion group where people get to say what they think and the pastor shuts up. (In the excellent Alpha course, there’s a session where the guests get to say whatever they think and _the Christians all shut up_ never mind just the pastor. I never thought that would work, but actually it’s amazing watching a group of half-believers talking through the faith.)

    Now I’ve written all that as if it’s the pastor’s problem, but in my experience the pastor is usually (though not always) pretty keen to empower other believers to do stuff and it’s the rest of us that are slow to step up. Still, the one thing that reliably shuts me up is whenever someone puts me in charge of something. Once I have enough problems of my own making my pastor’s mistakes fade into perspective and I’m off to him for advice instead of complaining. That pastor needs a drink! If any of you knows him would you get over to Starbucks …?

    btw Does Mr. SUV live, work and travel in some sort of giant SUV-driving Fox-loving ghetto? Because if he’s attacking the pastor, what kind of impact is he having should he ever meet a neighbour that, for example, doesn’t like Glenn Beck (whoever he is)?

  • Des Williamson

    As a church pastor can I make a few points.
    1. Churches can be cruel places to be because often christians do not speak honestly to the leader, they either leave the church and gossip to others or become passive-aggressive and smile on the outside while be difficult and awkward in practice.
    2. Most christians are great people and church can also be a great place to be!
    3. Many of the things I believe today I would have considered heresy 10 years ago – we need to grow as christians and if you think your pastor is off the rails it could be a great opportunity to learn more and grow in faith. I once went went to a pastor and confronted him about not preaching the gospel before leaving his church- 5 years later I went back to apologize for being an arrogant twit! humble pie never tastes good so choose the wisdom of the open ear instead of the foolishness of the open mouth!

  • David Oatney

    This is a very honest assessment. Sadly, I think people forget that the role of pastors is to be SHEPHERDS, and to LEAD THE SHEEP on the right way. It is not for the sheep to try and lord it over the Shepherd and run them off. Christ did not establish ecclesiastical “Animal Farm.”