Why the pastor is the last one who should deal with personal attacks

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.



11 thoughts on “Why the pastor is the last one who should deal with personal attacks

  1. Friend Joe, this is one of the more important ones you have written, especially for younger to middle age ministers. It made me THINK. From my days in Union University to now, I have pastored two churches which had ‘fired’ every pastor they ever had. Confidentially, in First Baptist of Marmaduke, Ark. Records showed that every pastor either was fired or forced out back to 1931. The church and records burned that year. Only one pastor stayed more than two years and it took him twice to get in four years. He told me that the worst mistake he ever made was letting them run him off twice. I was there about 6 years and the church tripled in size. Sunday school grew to an average of 220 form 54. The current pastor there, Bro. Kim Bridges, has been there about 15 years and is doing a great job.The other church is FBC, PCB. The last two pastors, Rev. Thomas Stone and Rev. Ned Webb paved the way for me. Although making it unanimous that every pastor had been forced out, none being here over two years, some less than a year, these two men of God stuck it out to about five and a half years each. Handling matters almost exactly as you suggested, God Blessed. I am the only pastor in the history of FBC not fired or forced out. Not that no one tried. Your wisdom must be put into print or available someway to pastors until our Lord comes. Glad to know you my friend and friend of God’s servants. Jerry.

  2. Having had the privilege of serving in various associate pastor roles over the last 23 years in churches ranging in Sunday AM attendance from 83 to over 3,480+; I’ve seen way too much of those who model Diotrophes in churches and far too often we need those who model Demetrius. However, the healthiest churches that I’ve served in have ALL been Pastor Led and NOT led by either Deacons and/or Committee’s. My concern is that if all of the advice listed above is followed which sounds more like a philosophical HR approach for a business than a church: we’re setting the stage for more of the latter style led churches which I find no support for in Scripture and have experienced first hand of the continual roller coaster ride. While various situations determine the personnel who are involved: if the Sr Pastor is a target, then he MUST be involved if he’s truly the leader as the under shepherd of that local flock. If he does not: he has just demonstrated a lack of adhering to Scripture (3 John … “I will call attention to his deeds…”) and a lack of leadership, which in turn will result in further issues down the road as word regarding the ineffective treatment of this type of cancer spreads among the other Diotrophes models to come. Being a pastor at any level of any size church has both blessings and challenges: however, when we begin using our own rationale as opposed to God’s Word for our blue print … we can expect more challenges than blessings.

    • The way the apostles handled the matter in Acts 6:1-7 is an example of the leadership asking the congregation to select Godly men and let them figure out what to do about a difficult assignment. You want scriptural precedent? There it is.

  3. Thanks for your response, Dr Joe! I’ve always understood that passage in Acts to refer to effective leadership in the appropriate delegation to others who can be entrusted to execute the various ministerial needs as they arise. I’m not seeing the connection with this passage and what I understood to be the premise of handling attacks on the sr pastor. Your response in helping me to see that connection will be greatly appreciated. Respectfully Submitted, Dean

    • Dean, I do not see this as worthy of a PhD dissertation, rocket science, and such. That is, it seems clear to me. In the Jerusalem church they had a problem that was causing division, and the leadership told the congregation to select a few good men who would solve it. They did. That’s the model for us. We do not need the preachers to drop what they are doing and wade into the fracas and start refereeing matters. Godly and mature laypeople can do this. And sometimes it’s better that they do. Their presence carries a force which the preacher might not have, since in our cases pastors come and go, but the laypeople remain. This honors the position of minister (who are sticking to their priorities) and entrusts the lay leadership with the weighty responsibility of protecting the unity of the Lord’s church. Everyone wins. — I see not one word in scripture to suggest another approach.

  4. As usual you make some great points that I am able to contemlate and take to heart and remember in my upcoming endeavors. So many of the things you have taught are things I am able to apply as an attendee of the church I’m at even if what you wrote was meant to instruct the pastor (it sometimes just takes a little bit of thinking).

    Though, I notice you haven’t posted anything new for a couple of days. I must be just getting spoiled but I’m very used to a daily Joe Mckeever post. That being said, since I’ve gotten so spoiled by it and almost come to expect it (as it seems to be the norm), I can only assume something important has come up that interupts your ability to do a new post (whether that be something in ministry, a health issue, or just writers’ block). That being said, my prayers are right now with you brother Joe.

    May the Lord bless our brother and strengthen him; grant him the health, care, inspiration, and strength that our brother Joe needs to continue to serve you, Lord. Amen.


    • Thank you, Phil. Very much! I’ve been off at the Alabama Baptist Convention this week. It took a long drive there and a long drive back. Yesterday (Thursday) was spent running errands–grocery, pharmacy, bank, cleaners, car wash, church office–and so I’ve posted only the one article this week. Thanks.

      • Just glad to hear all is going well. These little blog entries of yours have become somewhat of a “staple” in my day. When I get a few minutes of downtime at work (usually early in the shift, I have other things to do later) I like to read these which help set my mood and give me something to contemplate for the remainder of the shift.

  5. Pingback: Pastor Hung Out To Dry (Brush Fire!) | Redemption Ministries

  6. thank you pastor i’m modest samweli from Tanzania,i’m glad to got your contact i want to communicate with you my friend so in the name of our lord Jesus christ i wish you a good ministries ta the glory of God sorry i;m not competent in englis language
    pass my greetings to all servants of God

  7. Thank you.
    No need to go into detail. I am sure you have seen/heard way to much about this topic. Trying to “count it all joy…” in the face of outright slander and lies.

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