A recent phone call from an embattled pastor reminded me of an important point about these strong church laymen who enjoy running the show and running a bluff on pastors: Preacher-eaters can be nice people much of the time.
A layman who gave me the biggest headaches in one church I pastored owned a lovely vacation home in the mountains. On several occasions, my family enjoyed the use of that home. The owner and his wife were the definition of gracious.
It was only when it came to my being the pastor (meaning the sermons I preached, the leadership I tried to exert) that we had conflicts.
The young pastor who called told how the church boss had died not long ago. I said, “The Lord saved you from many a headache.” He agreed, but noted that after the man’s death they saw how many good things he had done for the church, also.
So, it’s not all black and white. This is a complicated issue, and if I made it seem otherwise in my earlier article, an apology is in order.
Case in point.
After a large online ministers’ service picked up that article and forwarded to 100,000 of their subscribers, my mailbox was filled with notes from pastors. Almost all thanked me. Some were in the midst of battles with what we called Sons of Diotrephes (from III John), while other told tales of their struggles with the SODs.
But one man who identified himself as a “pastor-eater” wrote. That letter stood out from all the others.
I’ve not asked for his permission to quote from the letter, so will paraphrase it and print my response. He answered my response, and I’ll tell you what he said. He makes some good points. We’ll call him Doug.
You will see in Doug’s response to my letter he and I are much closer than what I originally thought.
Doug wrote: After reading your article on Preacher Eaters, the situation that you talked about sounds very familiar. As a layman, I’ve served on church boards for years. This does not make me an expert because I’m not. But I have come to the conclusion that pastors do have to learn to deal with people like me.
Perhaps I am what you may call a pastor eater. I believe that pastors are not like Moses who received direct revelations from God. They are people just like laymen. They don’t always know the direction that any church should take. They are not infallible. I for one am not willing to follow blindly just because the preacher claims he is a leader chosen by the congregation. I believe God leads through all the leaders and not just the pastor.
Okay, confession coming up here: I over-reacted, and am regretting it. I think this man heard me saying some things I did not say in the article and that I read some things into his note to me.
Here is my response to him:
That is a scary attitude. Either you believe that God appoints pastors as overseers of the church or you don’t. Acts 20:28 says He does.
My experience with laypeople who speak the line you just did is that they use that as their justification to undermine the pastors and to have their own way.
When you identify yourself as a ‘pastor eater,’ I honestly (and sincerely) believe you ought to delete it from your computer, from your hard drive, and from your soul. My friend, you may have to give account for this some day.
What I wish I had done (and man, how many times over these 50 years of ministry have I thought this!) was to let this “sit” overnight, then respond. In answering hastily, I overstated the case.
Last night, I saw on my iPhone that Doug had responded to my note. Since I was tired and anticipated an emotional answer from him, I let it lay until this morning. By his followup note, I see I had misread him.
I’ll only quote part of it.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my email. I don’t consider myself a preacher-eater from your definition. The question pastors need to ask themselves is “How do I lead?” Are they endowed with some kind of mystical powers of leadership or do they take counsel from a group of godly men? How do you go about finding God’s will for the way you approach ministry in the church? Do you look inside yourself because you are a chosen pastor or do you look to Scripture?
I am guessing your answer would be Scriptural command. But the problem is in many cases there are no clear cut Scriptural commands for everyday ministry. This is where boards or committees come in.
I don’t know you so I don’t know if you were saying that the pastor should run the church because he was chosen by God; if so, I think you’re putting yourself in a dangerous position. I know that pastors just like laymen have a monster within themselves called the fleshly nature. And like laymen, they have trouble with this nature.
In Acts 20:28, there is no way to know if Paul is talking about pastors or just people who were called elders. I think he is talking about elders who would have been similar to elders in a synagogue. Consider what I’m saying and may God give you wisdom. It is true that I will stand before God some day, but I’ll stand there knowing that He knows my heart. Once again, thanks for taking time to answer my email.
As a cartoonist, I know that people will often read a single drawing and overreact. “You oversimplified it!” they’ll say. And they’re right. An editorial cartoon has room to make one point, and nothing more. Same with the typical article on this (and most other) website(s).
To get the full picture of how I see church leadership, I suggest that Doug and anyone else interested go to www.joemckeever.com and check out the numerous (there are 70 of them!) articles from a series on church leadership I did a couple of years back. (Look inside a box on the home page.)
Summing up, may I make the following points:
1. Doug ain’t no preacher-eater from what I see here. The typical SOD is completely sure of himself and holds preachers in contempt. I don’t sense that in anything Doug wrote.
2. We do not believe for one moment that preachers are infallible and that pastors should “rule” as dictators and one-man shows.
3. The Acts 20:28 verse is part of a much longer passage, of course. The elders (vs. 17) are called “overseers” (episcopoi) and “shepherds” (“pastors) in vs. 28. It’s all the same group. W. A. Criswell, John MacArthur, and numerous others who have written on this event, say elders are pastors, and the pastors were the elders. MacArthur writes, In the NT the words “bishop,” “elder,””overseer,” and “pastor” are used interchangeably to describe the same men.
It is worth noting, however, that Ephesus did not have a single pastor but numerous shepherds.
4. While we do not believe pastors are in the same position as Moses who ascended Sinai and came down with God’s revelation, we do insist that when the man of God enters the pulpit on the Lord’s Day, he has a message from the living God. He has “stood in His counsel” (Jeremiah 23:22) and heard from God. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27.
5. The layman who feels threatened by a pastor exerting leadership and cannot abide his speaking as an authority is the problem we are addressing in these articles. Our concern is not reasonable, Godly, humble but strong lay leaders.
6. Every pastor needs all the solid, mature, faithful men and women in places of church leadership he can get. And if he has one ounce of sense, he will seek their wisdom and listen to their concerns.
7. There are times when a preacher will want to build a consensus before acting. At other times, he may have to stand alone and declare, “Thus saith the Lord.” No one principle fits every situation.
Let the preacher be faithful to God above all else. When he does this well, the congregation is blessed and faithful laypeople will recognize that God has His hands upon this man whom He has sent our way.
Let the men and women in the pews be faithful to the Lord above all else. Let them honor the Lord by accepting the leaders whom God sends their way, and supporting them in every way possible. If it ever becomes necessary to oppose them, let the layman do it carefully, prayerfully, and cautiously. This is dangerous ground where many a man has floundered.