Friday, April 3, 2015

Shepherds should not beat the sheep

A few days ago I was talking with an individual I have known for many years. She is an outstanding Christian and a faithful worker in her church. She was telling me why she had left a church she had attended for several years.

This was a strong church that had been growing for the past few years, but something has changed in the pastor. Sunday after Sunday he beats up on the congregation. He publicly calls out the lay leadership of the church and speaks critically of them during his sermons. He refuses to visit people even if they are in the hospital. One of the saints was in hospice care for a couple of months before she passed, and the pastor never took the time to visit her and her family. Not surprisingly, a number of people have now left the church. Unfortunately, this individual is not the only one who has told me this is occurring in this church.

What is surprising is that the congregation has allowed this to happen. Something is seriously wrong when lay leadership in a Baptist church permits this kind of behavior from the pastor. As I told the deacons in another church, if you are not going to address the problem then learn to live with it, but don't expect anything to change or improve.

Pastors who abuse their people in this way are not shepherds. Jesus called them hirelings, people who cared nothing about the sheep but only about what the sheep could provide them.  In Exekiel 34 God says this about such shepherds.

You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.  The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.

God goes on to say in this passage that he will take the flock from such shepherds. In the New Testament, James warns that those of us who are teachers will face a stricter judgment, and I believe this applies to anyone in ministry.

If this pastor was confronted about his lack of pastoral care I'm sure he would defend his actions on the fact that he is bivocational and has a limited amount of time to devote to the church. Who cares? If God has called him to the ministry and to this church, then he has an obligation to be a shepherd to these people. A shepherd's obligation is to feed the sheep, not beat them.

Is there ever a time when a pastor needs to speak firmly to the congregation? Of course there is, but there is no need to pound the congregation week after week after week. Such behavior speaks more about the failures of the pastor's leadership than it does of the congregation.

If you have been called to serve as a pastor you have been given a high privilege from God. He is trusting you to feed and care for his people. Our call is to one of servant leadership. We are to teach them the truths of Scripture, we are to equip them to use the gifts God has given them for ministry, we are to love and care for them, and we are to lead them in a way that will nourish their souls and enable them to withstand the attacks from the enemy. Anything less than that means we have failed to live up to our calling.

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