I am not a pastor and I don’t claim to be one, but as a Christian that’s been in a number of churches over the years, I think I have a pretty solid understanding of how not to be a pastor. I’ve studied the Bible as long as I’ve been a Christian, going on about 20 years now. And I think what needs to be said, is to at least point out some of the more popular problems that I’ve seen in pastoral ministry. This is not the first article like this that I’ve done, criticizing pastoral behavior, and it probably won’t be the last.
1. The Anti-Theological Spirit. The first thing that I would like to mention is the issue of theological downplaying. If anything should belong to pastoral ministry, it is the ministry of theology. The study of God’s Word and the delineation of Christian doctrine, is the primary task of a pastor (2 Tim. 2:16; 4:2; Tit. 1:9). If he hesitates to teach what is true and sound doctrine, then he hesitates to be a pastor. The primary pastoral function is teaching the Word of God. In so doing, Christians are given direction about how to approach God through prayer; and how to behave towards God and one another. A pastor needs to be a person who has what is called “black and white” thinking. If he’s unclear about any one subject, he needs to go to the Word of God for clarity; and the Word of God will bring that clarity. The pastor should be a shining light of truth in this sinful, dark, and confusing world (John 5:35). He should be the one that’s responsible for helping people to see things clearly, in the light of God’s Word. He should be the one that dispels confusion and darkness. He should be the one that, despite his sinful habits and imperfections, is always encouraging others to strive for perfection through walking after Christ (Heb. 6:1). He tells the truth from his own experience; and he tells it in light of God’s Word. The Bible is always his touchstone for everything that he says. Whether it’s in the pulpit or natural conversation. However, I’ve seen a trend among certain types of pastors that discourage “black and white” thinking. They prefer the grey areas. They prefer an antinomianism. They prefer too much grace. They prefer not talking about right and wrong, morals, ethical clarification. Such things are an embarrassment to them. Such things prevent them from watching their movies, listening to the music they like, having fun the way they’re used to. They don’t want to change these things. They don’t want to change how they approach rest and relaxation. They don’t want to change how they approach entertainment. They don’t want to change how they approach friendship building, rapport building, relationship building. They have a worldly mindset still. All they have learned are a couple of facts about the Bible. They’ve missed the main points. It’s like when Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt. 23:23). These pastors strain at a gnat and swallow a camel (23:24). They tend to emphasize the minor things; and de-emphasize the major things. They emphasize that it’s important to have relationships with people. But they de-emphasize that those relationships need to be holy, and filled with the black and white moral absolutes which are found in God’s law, God’s Word, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Neglecting the Doctrine of Hell. Hell proceeds from the first issue. Because antinomianism is so prevalent in pastoral ministry today–although it doesn’t go by that name–it goes under the idea of opposing legalism, or it goes by discouraging black and white thinking, or goes by emphasizing the word “grace” a lot. Antinomianism is still very alive today and it is often considered to be the gospel. Jesus is seen as Savior, but not as Lord. With the neglect of God’s law, also comes the neglect of Hell, and confusion about whether Hell is necessary in Christian theology or ministry. The reason why Hell exists in Christian theology, is because the justice of God breaks out in wrath when people break His laws, and Hell is the eternal punishment for impenitence, unbelief, and unrighteousness (Matt. 25:46). Jesus shed His blood on the cross, so that the unrighteousness that was stirred up from us breaking God’s law, inciting His anger, could somehow be atoned for: but because many pastors don’t like God’s law, and they neglect Hell, they can’t really preach the cross of Christ. They don’t quite understand its meaning; and don’t really understand why the blood of Christ is necessary to wash away their sins.
3. Neglecting Deliverance from Demons. The subject of demons and deliverance, is also treated by antinomian pastors, as something to be avoided. The more you delve into the subject of deliverance from demons, the more you will realize that it has to do with God’s law, and breaking God’s law, and sinning, and righteousness, and understanding moral absolutes. Only when people begin to pay attention to the righteousness of God’s Word, do they realize the presence of demons in their lives. Ephesians 2:2: “In which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” You will find that the antinomian pastor, turns not only away from God’s law, and from preaching Hell, but also turns away from preaching deliverance. They tend to turn away from theology in general. They know that they have to study it, because it’s a sort of procedure that they have to follow, but they do it while rolling their eyes. It is not serious to them; neither are demons.
4. Adopting Stupid Church Fads. When pastors consistently neglect the law, and the testimony, Hell, demons and deliverance, and other types of moral absolutes in Scripture, what follows is that they will do whatever is right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). What this means is, that they will start to adopt theologians and teachers which are sort of faddish, and popular, whose teachings don’t really chafe against the flesh, like a lot of the older preachers did, like John Wesley, Charles Finney, and the Puritans. But they’ll do whatever they think is right in their own eyes: and what this means, could be a number of things. 2 Timothy 4:3: “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
5. Football Attitudes. One of the things that I’ve seen pastors do a lot of, which they think is alright, but it’s only in their own eyes, and does not come from Scripture, is overemphasizing the importance of football. Sure, it’s okay for people to have hobbies, but if pastors are going to choose a hobby, you would think that as Christians, they would choose one that didn’t encourage violence, angry short-tempered behavior, watching cheerleaders, immoral commercials during the Super Bowl, or ungodly rap music which sounds terrible. It’s hard for me to see how football culture, in any way, can relate to pastoral ministry, with all of the competition, arrogance, and egomania that it has about it. It’s hard for me to see how football in any way contributes to sanctification, or to ministry; and yet, how many pastors are bewitched by the National Football League (NFL)? The macho attitude is evident. These men can’t be approached. They’re not relational; they’re arrogant. Whether they’re overtly arrogant, or smugly reserved, they still think that they’re better than you, and that message does come across. 1 Timothy 4:8: “Bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
6. Selling Christian Books in Church. The selling of books seems to be inappropriate, if done in a church. I’m not against writing. I think theological writing is greatly needed in pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, there is so little of this, that random people have to end up being touched by God Spirit to publish books. Back in the days of the Puritans, pastors like Richard Baxter always wrote theology. They were always working on some new some new theological book and getting ready to publish it. But in all of the writing that they did, I’m not aware that any of them sold their books at their churches. If this was the case, it seems to be a transgression against John 2:16: “To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!'” I would think that Christian theology books that are written by pastors, should only be sold in Christian book stores, or offered for free at churches, perhaps in a church library, but not sold there.
7. Resistance to Lay Ministry. The suppression of lay ministry is another disturbing thing that I’ve seen. With the exception of some very Wesleyan pastors who understand that lay preachers were at the core of John Wesley’s ministry, most pastors seem to absolutely shun the idea of lay people being involved in teaching the Word of God. Some churches are more open to this; and they will allow for cell groups or small groups where this can happen, and genuine Christian conversation, and friendships can develop. But how can it be that with the great majority of pastors, we find spiritual arrogance and an absolute unwillingness for other people in their church to share their thoughts about the Bible? “Stop talking,” they imply in such and so many words. “Just become part of the community,” and implied in this is, “Leave it for us to talk about God.” And so people can’t even process life by talking through their faith experiences. Everyone is just turned into ears and hands (1 Cor. 12:15-26)–listening to sermons and volunteering to clean up or act in some skit; and their tongues are cut out of their mouths. Acts 21:8-9: “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” They what? They prophesied: they spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and they were not pastors.
8. Mean Pastors. Rude, mean, arrogant pastors. I’ve seen this in Assemblies of God frequently. So ill-mannered. Nothing like Mr. Rogers with his air of kindness. Nothing like that dear country pastor Rev. Alden from Little House on the Prairie. What is wrong with people? Don’t they ever even read the teachings of Jesus! Don’t they ever get the sense that the Holy Spirit is kind? What is wrong with them? I’m not referring to people who are labeled “legalistic” or “strict” about Biblical rules of righteousness. Biblical rules teach kindness, when understood rightly. I’m not referring to people who get mad sometimes. I’m talking about people who are arrogant, because they are self-centered, egocentric, megalomaniac macho men. Arrogant just because they are arrogant men. Not because they have a theological view that makes them that way. Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness.” Insulting is not found in the list.
9. Manipulation to Volunteer. Manipulation to be a volunteer or being a consistent, faithful, giving church member, is something I’ve seen across the board in many churches; and I think it is just disgusting. 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.” Sure churches always need more volunteers; sure churches always need more money. But if pastors trusted more in the providence of God for this, then they wouldn’t need to be speaking verbally to people to manipulate their actions, getting people all concerned about their responsibility to the church. Nine times out of ten, most people struggle with even trusting churches at all. It’s a miracle that you even have people attending your church! I say, if people want to volunteer, then put the opportunities out there, but don’t be urging it all the time; and don’t manipulate them into thinking that they’re going to be a leader some day; or even have their own church some day; or some kind of teaching position–when all you know in the back of your head is, you’re just trying to get them to clean up trash for some event. You don’t want to be their friend, but they are waiting for that to happen.
10. Rich People Honored, Not Spiritual People. Too much honor is given to the rich. The Bible says that you honor the man who has gay apparel (James 2:3). True ministry is not going to honor the rich, just because they have a lot of money, and can keep the church’s bills under control. Those people are usually the ones in need of the most spiritual help, because the cares of this world are weighing down upon them; and distracting them from the Holy Spirit. Yet at the same time, these are the people often given authority in the church, because they’ve got the money; and what better way for them to control the pastor: those people who are spiritually sick, usually because they have so much money and such small souls. Revelation 3:16-17: “Because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
In review, I would say that the biggest things that I’ve seen over the past 20 years, that bother me with pastors, are pride, arrogance, down putting, control, and manipulation; to get people involved in volunteering for menial tasks, while at the same time promising them the moon; and giving too much honor to people who have a lot of money, but who are at the same time spiritually sick. I’ve also seen that 90% of the pastors out there, are antinomian their persuasion towards God’s law, Hell, demons, and morals. We all struggle with sin, but it’s even more spiritually dangerous to be in a church, that’s controlling, cult-like, anti-moral, and not going to help you do the right thing when you stumble and fall.