Monday, 28 January 2019 12:28

When the Church Bully Happens to be the Pastor

Written by Joe McKeever

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church, calls the shots, and who bullies parishioners and pastors alike. But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent, and ousts anyone not obeying him. He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers. His opinion is the only one that counts.

I wish this was a rare phenomenon. It isn’t.

The definitive bully found in Scripture is Diotrephes.  In III John, we read, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves the preeminence (“loves to be first among them”), does not accept what we say…unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church.” (NASB)

That’s the bully:  loving preeminence, rejecting outside interference, bringing accusation against the opposition, and putting people out of the church when they oppose him.

We’re thankful the New Testament churches had these problems.

There’s a certain degree of comfort in knowing that the problems churches experience today are not new; they are not signs the church is going to the devil or evidence we’re being swamped by the world. The problems of division and strife (see I Corinthians), heresies (see Galatians), and petty egotism (III John) have been with us from the beginning.

This forever prevents us from piously withdrawing from today’s churches experiencing the same internal strife while claiming that they no longer do God’s will.  There are more churches at this moment in time doing great work for the Savior than at any time in history, and likewise, more experiencing the cancers of worldliness, division, jealousies and egotism.

There is nothing new about this.

It’s not even new or unheard of that pastors would be the bullies.  After all, there must have been a reason why Peter wrote what he did in I Peter 5.  For him to have cautioned pastors not to lead in such a way indicates he had seen it happen.

In a similar fashion, we have seen husbands lord it over their wives.  “God made me the head of the home,” the bully says, “so that means you are to take orders from me.”  It means no such thing, of course.  In fact, Scripture says the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5).  So, there’s a dichotomy here:  The husband is the head, but he is to sacrifice himself for his wife and family.  A faithful husband does just that.

Wrong ways to lead the Lord’s church

The great apostle spoke to “the elders among you as your fellow elder” (I Peter 5:1).  These are pastors. Peter considers himself a pastor/shepherd also.

As “a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed,” Peter’s credentials are impeccable.  He was with the Lord when He walked on earth and is in line to share His heavenly glories in the future.

Elders/pastors are to exercise oversight of the Lord’s church (5:2).  The word episcopos (root of episcopountes, the word used here) refers to the overseeing assignment of the pastors (see Acts 20:28). A shepherd watches over the sheep, leads them to green pastures, is ever alert for dangers and threats, and has the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind at all times.

Do not lead the flock in the wrong way or for impure motives, Peter advises…

Not under compulsion, but voluntarily. The KJV says “by constraint,” meaning the pastor is doing this “because he must.” There’s no joy but total drudgery, no inspiration but a harshness. Instead, the faithful overseer is glad to be preaching the word and tending the flock.  He loves the people, loves the Lord, and loves his calling.

Not for sordid gain, but with eagerness. He doesn’t do this for the pay.  This is not just a job, not a vocation, and not a work he entered because it paid well.  He is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and is thrilled at the privilege. Asked what he missed most about the pastoral ministry, a man said, “I miss the trumpets in the morning.” Ask any God-called and Heaven-anointed pastor. He knows what that means.

Not lording it over the flock, but being an example. Here we have the key passage for our subject today. The pastor is not to “lord it over” the flock. Jesus is the Lord and he isn’t.

Pastors are not allowed to lord it over the Lord’s church.

Jesus said, “I will build MY church.” (Matthew 16:18) It’s His church, His body, His bride. No pastor in his right mind (with his heart right!) would dare to insert himself between the Lord and His bride!

It is true that Hebrews 13:17, calls on God’s people to “obey your leaders and submit to them.” But that same passage says pastors are to “keep watch over” (overseeing!) “your souls” and will “give account.” Pastors will stand before the Lord and account for their stewardship and care for each sheep.  A scary thought if there ever was one.

A pastor lords it over the church when he…

Makes decisions unilaterally for the church. He considers no one else’s counsel, believes God speaks only through him, and rules like a potentate.

Micromanages his co-workers and colleagues. He alone knows what is best and allows them no room for individual expression.

Feels threatened when someone disagrees with him. Usually reacts angrily and with harshness.

Forces those taking contrary positions out of office. “My way or the highway” is his mantra.

You get the picture.

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