By Joe McKeever
Someone–Sister Dee Structive or Brother Big Shott–is stirring up dissension in the church, accusing the pastor of this silliness or that foolishness.
On the surface, their criticism appears to be nonsense, and yet some people will believe anything negative. The congregation is disturbed by this business and outsiders are looking around for other churches to visit.
Somebody ought to do something and do it quickly.
We have said on this website that when someone in the church attacks the pastor and is stirring up strife in the church, a small group of Godly members should visit the troublemaker and do two things: a) ask “what’s going on?” and then b) listen to their complaint. If they have a legitimate beef, or if it appears they may have one, the members of the task force return to the pastor and, with his involvement, begin the process of dealing with it. However, if the individual does not have a sound reason for what they are doing, the visitors kindly but firmly ask them to “cease and desist.”
“Sister Structive, we are asking you to stop this now. It should end.”
To my surprise, several readers went found much to disagree with in this approach.
They attacked on two points, where we said that the pastor is the last person who should deal with this and that a small group of church members should handle the problem.
“McKeever either doesn’t know his Bible or does not believe it,” one said.
“Matthew 18 clearly spells out what the offended party should do, and the pastor is the one offended.” The others agreed with him.
But they are mistaken.
If possible–(he said with a grin)–I’d like to try to clear this up.
What Matthew 18:15-17 says is this…
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to youlike a heathen and a tax collector.”
I completely agree.
The one who is sinned against should go to the offender and deal with this.
However, do not miss this point: Anyone slandering and attacking my pastor harms my church and thus is offending me. Furthermore, they are offending the entire congregation.
When someone is dragging our pastor’s name in the mud, all the members are the offended party.
So, we will do the Matthew 18 thing, and not the pastor.
Why the pastor should not have to deal with an attacker himself…
1) He is often the last to hear these things and frequently hesitant to attach any weight to the slander. Meanwhile the cancer spreads and the damage takes root.
2) In most cases, the pastor would delay acting for a hundred reasons: he doesn’t have time, he fears making the matter worse, he “has bigger fish to fry,” he wants to let the Lord handle the critic, and so forth. Again, it continues to spread unabated.
3) In defending himself, the pastor makes himself vulnerable. This is not only a God-appointed calling, but it is his job by which he provides for his family. A small group of powerful people in any church can get a preacher fired. So, let’s take him out of the equation.
4) Anything he does or says will seem self-serving to some. So, let others defend him.
5) God has put in the congregation a number of strong and godly members who are far better qualified to deal with this. In the same way the pastor would not (in most cases) sing a solo on Sunday or teach the toddlers or lead a construction crew because he has people better qualified than he to do such things, he should allow those more equipped by the Holy Spirit to handle disruptions in the congregation.
What we have recommended as a better way to deal with the pastor’s critic…
1) The church has some kind of leadership team in place–a body of deacons, the administrative committee, or a pastoral-relations group. Several members of this team should take it upon themselves to visit the offending party. In the absence of such an official group, a few of the most mature (sweetest, godliest, and the ones who hate dissension with a passion) should deal with this.
2) Before doing anything, they should inform the pastor and receive any input he cares to give. But they should stress that “this is not about the pastor; this is about the Lord’s church.”
3) They should call on the attacker, critic, or offender–whatever we choose to call him or her–in a sweet and friendly manner. They are not there to arrest anyone or to bring charges. They want to do two things:
–a) First, ask “What’s going on?” The individual will almost always respond with “What are you talking about?” Answer: “We understand you are unhappy with the pastor.” Then, they should be quiet and wait. They should not overtalk in this situation.
–b) Listen to the individual’s complaint. If he/she is reluctant to answer, saying something like “Well, that’s between Pastor Bob and me,” the team leader should reply, “I’m sorry, but it isn’t. Your criticism is all over the church. That’s why we are here. Now, we want to hear it from you.”
If they refuse to tell you, then your team advises them that this is disrupting the church and you are calling for an end to their campaign against the preacher. End the visit quickly. Do not stay for coffee and cake; this visit was about something very serious.
If it turns out the individual has a legitimate gripe, assure them you will deal with it and get back to them. Ask them graciously to spread this matter no further and lead in prayer before leaving.
Return to the pastor. Prayerfully discuss what took place, hear the pastor’s response, and then decide your next step. (And because this could take a number of avenues from here, this is where we will have to leave the matter. Obey the Holy Spirit.)
The lay leadership is best situated to deal with attacks on the pastor…
1) They have no axe to grind, and will almost always have a longer tenure in the church than the preacher.
2) If the critic is a bully, he/she probably thinks they can say anything about the pastor and get by with it. Your visit says otherwise, that they will be held accountable.
3) The pastor is vulnerable since this is his livelihood, he needs the job to provide for his family, and he depends on the income. If the critic manages to stir up enough support to run him off, they have damaged the ministry of a God-called servant for years to come and set back their own church’s ministry for a long time.
4) The church suffers when people slander the pastor (for reasons good or bad; there is never a good reason to attack a preacher. If he needs removal, there are ways to handle it.). The cause of Christ suffers. Outsiders scoff at those Christians who can’t even get along with each other.
5) This is why the team of Godly leaders must act promptly, decisively, firmly, and kindly.
6) If the charges against the preacher are proven to be bogus, they should say to the offender, “This has to stop now. No more.”
7) If the person continues their mischief, this time, the committee pulls out the ultimate weapon: They return to visit the individual with their spouses.
I’m not sure why having both husbands and wives in the visiting team carries a greater weight, but it does. That’s why I would save it for the second visit.
Matthew 18:15-17 was never intended to be a strait jacket, or an iron weight to burden the church but a spiritual guideline.
Go for the spirit of this instruction.
“The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life.”
I quoted that line in an article, and a reader jumped all over it. He had never heard this before and thought it was sheer lunacy and slandered the role of Scripture. I responded, “Second Corinthians 3:6.”
I never did hear back from him. In fact, there is no way to know if he even read my reply. People who react to these teachings with instant hostility often want to be heard, not taught. They want to speak, not listen. And that makes them dangerous.
Friend, let us work for the health and integrity of the Lord’s church of which we are a part. And let us do all in our power to preserve the unity of the body in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
The eternal destiny of thousands of souls depends on your church and mine getting this right. Be on the alert, for the enemy walks to and fro looking for the foolish and undisciplined among us whom he can use to spread his lies. Let God’s faithful people be courageous and faithful.
(Since not everyone reads the comments at the end of this article on our blog, I felt it would be helpful to include the following along with the body of the piece.)
When a reader commented that this approach is without scriptural precedent and more the HR (“human resources”) philosophy, I referred him to Acts 6 where the Jerusalem church dealt with a divisive issue in just this manner. When unhappy church members were threatening the unity of the fellowship, the leadership called the congregation together and asked them to choose a small group of the godliest and most mature whom they (the apostles) would put in charge of this matter. The congregation did as they were asked, the leadership approved, and the small team of laymembers handled the problem. In fact, we’re not even told what exactly they did, only that they did it so well that unity was restored and the reputation of the church was golden once more. (Acts 6:1-7).
That appears to me a wonderful scriptural precedent, if we require one. I will add before leaving this subject, I’m not sure what it says about us that we cannot do anything without “scriptural precedent.” But that’s an issue for another time.
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.