The temptation of a pastor to misuse the Lord’s congregation

“Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her…. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:25,30).

It’s His church.

It’s important for pastors to keep reminding themselves there were good reasons why God did not give them ownership of the flocks which they are tending.

“…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” is how Paul puts it (Ephesians 5:27).

“…that we might show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” is how Peter put it (I Peter 2:9).

“…as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” is how John put it (Revelation 14:4).

The congregation belongs to Christ. Not to its pastors.

The pastor must keep reminding himself. “They belong to the Lord.  Not to me.”

–They were not given you as an audience for your preaching.  They are that, but this is not their primary purpose. So, when they come to hear you and then get up and leave, you may be tempted to see this as God’s plan.  It isn’t. They are to be far more than an audience. 

–They were not given you as a laboratory for your ideas and experimentations.  You will be able to present your ideas and programs to them, and from time to time will develop ministries which God may use far and wide.  But you must not make the mistake of thinking God put these people there for you. They are the sheep of His pasture and are there for His purposes.

–They were not given as a team for your wonderful quarterbacking, to display your gifts of leadership.  You will be their leader–or at least, one of them–and if you do it well, they will follow you and you will grow in leadership abilities.  But they were not sent as your team. They are the people of God, a holy nation.  A royal priesthood.

–They were not given as your cheering squad, to support you in your starring role. Scripture commands them to obey their leaders and submit to those having the rule over them in the Lord, but you must not let that go to your head.  God has far bigger purposes in mind that your ego-enhancement or your pumping up your resume.’

–They were not given as critics of your sermons. Human nature being what it is, some of them will criticize your sermons. And sometimes you will need what they offer.  But they are not sent for this purpose and they should tread softly on this quicksand of sermonic-evaluation.

A great congregation will do marvelous things for their pastors.  They may send him to the Holy Land and fund his education and endow his overseas ministries.  They may respond to the pastor’s leadership so beautifully that the denomination takes notice and suddenly the minister is invited to address large conferences and to write books.

The minister so blessed will be handed a new set of temptations, enticements rarely given to other colleagues in the ministry.  He will be tempted to think of the congregation as a means to an end.  That “end,” of course, is his own glory and recognitions.  And that would be a serious mistake.

Let the successful pastor never forget that first and foremost, before all and after all, he is the undershepherd of the Lord’s flock and he must be out there ministering to them.

The lest he ministers to them–that is, the fewer and fewer contacts he has with the hurting and the needy, the hungry and the wayward–the more he strays from his calling and veers into the land of egotistical quicksand.

The people are the Lord’s and according to Hebrews 13:17, pastor, you will someday stand before the Lord and give account for them.

Let that scare you and challenge you.

They are the sheep of His pasture.

They are the people of God.  They are His people and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3).  They are His lambs, His sheep (John 21:15-17).  The bride of Christ.  His own body (Ephesians 5). A chosen generation, a royal priesthood , a holy nation.  His own special people.  (I Peter 2:9-10).

They are not to be trifled with, not to be neglected, and not to be dismissed or mistreated or abused.

They are to be handled with care.

A shepherd with a true pastor’s heart will  frequently pray the prayer of Solomon:  “Lord, give to Your servant an understanding heart (that I may be able to lead) this great people of Yours” (a slimmed-down version of I Kings 3:9).

The people of God are a mixed multitude who will drive their shepherd to the nuthouse unless he allows them to drive him to his knees on a daily basis.

Pray or quit, pastor.  (That’s Luke 18:1.)

Many a pastor has learned the lesson given to Moses in the wilderness, something he ended up having to relearn repeatedly:  “They belong to the Lord, not to me. They are the Lord’s problem, not mine.”

He alone is adequate.  (See 2 Corinthians 3:5 and rejoice.)

At the end, the pastors will account to the Father for the care they gave to the flock.  That’s Hebrews 13:17 and it strikes terror into the heart of pastors who take God’s word seriously.  (Is there any other kind?  Alas, yes.)

“Lord, bless your church with pastors who are strong and courageous as well as wise and tender at the same time.  Give us pastors who will tell the truth but do so in compassion and kindness.  Who will speak the truth in love, and love the people of God in truth.  Amen.”

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