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What to do when you disagree with your pastor

April 28, 2010

Or anyone in leadership at your church, but especially your pastor.

‘Cause it will happen. You will not find a pastor or church with whom you completely and totally see eye-to-eye. If you think you do, you probably just don’t know what it is you disagree about yet.

I’ve been at my church for about five years. I’ve been on staff for a couple years now. It changes things. Sometimes for the better, sometimes it just makes things more difficult. One thing that changes (and whether it’s for better or worse depends on your people) is seeing the leadership and the pastor “behind the scenes.” On Monday.

And that has changed how I deal with disagreements. And it seems to be working a lot better, so I thought I’d share. Whether it’s instrumentation on the worship team, theology, mission statements, people selected for leadership, where the coffee beans come from … this might help you.

Step 1
Shut up. Seriously, don’t tell anyone just yet. Several reasons: (1) It’s gossip and it’s not Matthew 18. (2) If you’re wrong, it’ll save you from looking like a doofus in the near future. (3) You need to wait until you’re not frustrated or angry to talk to even the right person anyway.

Step 2
Don’t stop going to church.
Remember that Divide And Conquer is the oldest play in the book, and that wolves tend to separate a sheep from the flock to take it down. Don’t give way to offense, and don’t let it become an excuse for your own spiritual anemia (and that of your family).

Step 3
Pray. In. Humility.
This part is key. The whole of your prayer on the issue should not be focused on the leader you disagree with, and it should not be your singular request that the Holy Spirit open the blind eyes of said leader to his or her heathenistic ways.

Instead, ask Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to whomever needs to see it. Ask that, if leadership is right, your heart be softened, your agendas exposed so you can repent of them, and your eyes opened. Then ask that if you are right, Holy Spirit would speak to that leader and convict or guide him or her as needed.

Step 4
Honestly, you’ll probably never get this far. I’m typing this paragraph to humor you. If nothing changes after weeks or months of prayer (not hours or days) and if – in total humility, submission, and the fear of the Lord – you feel something must be said, read Matthew 18 and do it that way.

If you pray in sincerity and speak in love, and nothing changes – pray some more. It is unlikely that it is some sort of sign that you should leave that congregation. (If this is the next thing in a long line of issues you have with the leadership, then, by all means find a local church that better suits you.)

You might be surprised how often your disagreement is settled at Step 3.

We like to think, in these seasons, that we have been placed in a particular congregation to reform it or root out some evil. But that’s not generally how God works. That’s arrogance. God raises up leaders; the devil raises up cancers. We need to remember that all authority comes from God, that even when David knew he was the next king over Israel he did not allow his men to harm King Saul – “God’s elect.”

God promotes men and gives them the vision and the Spiritual giftings to carry out their tasks. If you support the vision that God has given your pastor for a local church, then support it – even if you don’t love one detail. If you can’t, go find one you can.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2010 9:22 am

    Love this one, Lex! This stuff is soooo hard for people like me who tend to have fairly strong opinions (usually to battle against stuff that looks like things that have personally hurt me in the past). Trusting God to speak to his appointed leadership over the local church is a total litmus test for how much I’m walking in faith at any given point.

    • Lex permalink
      April 28, 2010 7:26 pm

      I’m unreasonably opinionated myself, so believe me when I say I know how hard it is. :) I’m learning though that if I don’t trust God’s leaders, it’s like I don’t trust His leadership, and that is often a bad place to be.

  2. Lex permalink
    April 29, 2010 10:52 am

    Hebrews 13:17 // Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

  3. September 13, 2010 1:48 pm

    This is great. I need to tape this to my forehead. :)

  4. marygems permalink
    May 15, 2011 1:55 am

    what do you do if demands are made of a whole congregation, and some are physically unable to comply?

    • Lex permalink
      May 16, 2011 12:45 pm

      I can’t imagine what kind of physical demands a pastor would have the right to make of a congregation. Ephesians 4 tells us that some people are called to different roles of ministry to (1) equip and (2) edify/encourage the congregation. If a pastor is making “demands” that are unbiblical, follow Matthew 18.

      Matthew 18:15 says to address the offending person alone. Ask your pastor for a meeting at his convenience, and – at the meeting – respectfully express your concern. Is this easy to do? Of course not. It’s awkward and nerve-wracking, but it’s how we’re supposed to proceed. If it helps, write a letter and read it at the meeting – you’re less likely to be interrupted or forget anything.

      Matthew 18:16 says that if he doesn’t hear you, take a couple trusted people with you. Express your concern discretely to others in leadership who you feel will be honest and unbiased, and, together, address the pastor again as above. (It may, also, be that – if YOU are wrong – these other leaders will be able to correct you and perhaps explain things better than the pastor did.)

      If that doesn’t work, the next verse says to tell the church, etc., but if you’re not in leadership that can easily become gossip and church splits. If you talk to your pastor and other leadership, and come to no agreement, then you need to pray and determine how important the issue is.

      If you can agree to disagree, and otherwise continue in fellowship and the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” then do so. The grass is always greener on the other side, but the truth is you will probably never find a church/pastor with whom you agree 100% on everything. If this ministry is working to fulfill the great commission, and discipling you, then it’s okay to disagree on non-essentials in favor of supporting God’s work.

      • marygems permalink
        May 17, 2011 4:48 am

        Thanks. The demands are not unbiblical at all- and yes, I am very familiar with Matthew 18. A new assistant Pastor is an evangelist. Suddenly all cell groups were shut down and new groups were created in each suburb.The new plan was presented and I was shocked to hear that instead of meeting to pray, worship and study the Word, we are to do evangelistic activities each week like prayer walking every street [at night and coming into Winter [ NZ] inviting people in our street to dinner, going on outreach into malls or markets, etc. For older people in Rest Homes, young parents with children wakeful through the night, or over 60’s who have simply not got any energy left by evening- this whole new program is daunting indeed. The Pastor and his wife have been to visit me and I have explained that I am advocating for a number, not just for myself. I believe he will take the concerns and address them.I thought cell groups [ home groups] were for the building up and edifying of the saints- obviously an evangelist has very different ideas. What is essential for me, is not for him. We can agree to differ, yes- but it remains to be seen if the older folk will be able to participate in this flurry of activity.It’s all too much for me. I am already stretched to the max fulfilling the purpose of Christ for my life with His grace and strength- I can’t also fulfil the demands of an evangelist.

      • Lex permalink
        May 17, 2011 12:23 pm

        Sounds like you’re doing well with it, then. Hopefully some agreement can be reached that will hopefully include cell groups for worship/study AND for evangelism.

        And hopefully, through the new Assistant Pastor’s passion, other people in the congregation (who are physically able, of course) will start to understand their role in fulfilling the great commission as well! :) A lot of people NEED that little push to get them out sharing the gospel and inviting people to church. It seems scary at first, but once we’re almost made to do it, we realize how not scary – and, in fact – how rewarding it is.

  5. Earlybird permalink
    May 15, 2011 8:09 pm

    I’m really glad you wrote on this topic. I have recently had a heartbreaking experience in that the church that my family has been a part of for 50 years has had a pastor for the past 3 years who doesn’t believe in women in ministry. Our church has always been moderate in that area, and had women deacons before it was cool. My sister is active in a state women’s organization that has been “cast aside” by the denomination. This minister made it impossible for her to do her ministry in that church any longer, and was deceitful and untruthful about the issues. So my family and extended family and friends are leaving. Others in the congregation revere him, and I don’t begrudge that. I am happy they are able to worship and feel God’s presence. But it is painful to see my family basically cast aside. My dad even had a heart attack the week after resigning as a deacon. I am so very, very heartbroken-our church of 50+ years has basically been hijacked, and there is nothing we can do. They have found a church they like, and they will go on serving and worshipping-just grieving!

    • Lex permalink
      May 16, 2011 12:53 pm

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience.

      While I don’t believe that the scriptures teach against women in ministry, I can’t fault a pastor or church for adhering to what they genuinely believe to be the teaching of scripture. That the actions of leadership were “deceitful” and “untruthful,” however, is unfortunate, and I wish I could apologize on others’ behalves.

      I only hope and pray that your gentle attitude – evidenced in not begrudging other’s respect for the pastor – would continue during this difficult time. Your family and friends need to be a part of a ministry they can support, but I hope you will all be able to make the transition in humility, grace and love. There are differences in the body of Christ but we all need to remember that – even if we’ve been hurt – we’re still all on the same side. It’s not easy to return evil with peace, but it’s our commission.

  6. Earlybird permalink
    May 17, 2011 9:57 am

    I have begun to have a great mistrust of ministers-not anything purposeful or intentional, just a down deep gut feeling that is similar to what someone might have who has been emotionally abused. It is very sad, because I love the church, and I do believe that God has placed certain people in authority, but when those people abuse their power and try to dictate, I just believe we are to discern that that is not of God. I am capable of a humble and submissive spirit, but I also do not believe that every man in the pulpit is all powerful or always gets it right.

    I am sorry for being a downer here, I am usually a very upbeat person, I am just heartbroken over losing our church to a man who wants total authority.

    • Lex permalink
      May 17, 2011 12:31 pm

      Your heartache is completely understandable. And, of course, no one – in the pulpit or the pew – is all-powerful or always gets it right. In the case of abuse it is always our job as believers to use wisdom and discernment to make the best decisions for our families and our discipleship efforts.

      I hope and pray that as your family and friends find a good church – with a pastor who is a man of integrity and full of the Holy Spirit – and God heals that wound, that you would find freedom in forgiveness. As God restores you all, I hope the general mistrust of ministers would ebb away as well. It’s true that too many people have been victims of unkind, abusive people in ministry roles, but the truth is that most are honest, kind, God-fearing men and woman. They’re not perfect, and they’re not always right, but most of them deserve the benefit of the doubt, and our prayers and support.

      • Earlybird permalink
        May 17, 2011 12:39 pm

        Thanks Lex, I appreciate your thoughts and insights.

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