“Bad” Shepherds & Deaf Sheep
Pastor-people relationships today are perhaps more strained than ever. A good deal of the problem might indeed be that people expect too much from their clergy. On the other hand, we pastors could do better–if only theoretically–by impressing upon our people (and ourselves!) these basic truths:
- God chooses only fallible people to (under-)shepherd His flock;
- Many whom God chooses to (under-)shepherd His flock have sinned greatly (e.g., Abraham, Noah, Esther, Saul, David, Rahab, Deborah, Joseph, Peter, Lydia, Paul et al);
- Only God’s Message–not His messengers–is infallible;
- God’s Flock has only one Shepherd. (John 10:16b NIV)
This is not to say that pastors have no biblical principles to uphold (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7). On the other hand, laypeople are held just as accountable (cf. “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5:48 LB]).
Rev. Stuart Benson says it well in an article entitled The Making and Breaking of Pastors and Churches:
Every pastor makes mistakes. He, like the members of his church, is only human. Church members are inclined to pass lightly over their own faults but to hold the pastor rigidly accountable for his.
He is expected to be above reproach in word and deed, but it does not take long to discover that he, too, is a child of Adam.
A church that is willing to try to save the pastor when he has made a mistake will not only save a man for the ministry but experience a rich return for being gracious.
Lucille Lavender in They Cry Too! Pastors Don’t Belong on Pedestals, adds:
…if a pastor is guilty of things like preoccupation, rudeness, tardiness, forgetting something, or not returning a phone call, Christian people, who should be most understanding, are not.
Simply said, pastors are also themselves sheep. Like other sheep, clergy are ultimately defenseless, hungry, scared, wandering, deaf and dumb. Through it all and in spite of it all, however, these undershepherds direct the Flock to Jesus, who alone is perfect and whose perfection covers and forgives our inadequacies.
One Flock, One Shepherd
In the midst of it all, then, how do we get past the barren pastures of putting pastors on pedestals and the rough waters of unrealistic expectations–without ethical and moral compromise or just plain lack of leadership? Consider:
- Emphasizing that you, the pastor, are decidedly human and fallible and, too, accepting this fact yourself;
- Urging conciliation and understanding–not, ultimately, denial and rationalization–when mistakes and oversights are made;
- Encouraging and accepting only kind-hearted and personal approaches regarding your faults and fallibility–not seeking to respond to every alarm (leaders get criticism!);
- Discerning by which spirit/Spirit people (and yourself) is/are motivated concerning this whole issue (e.g., distinguish between venting hostility and constructive criticism);
- Ask the “concerned party” whether or not they have to accept everything about themselves, their spouse, kids, and friends to like them. If they make allowances for them, should they do less for you?;
- Be wary about even seeming preoccupied but, when you are, perhaps you need to better “advertise” the mission and ministry of the pastoral office and, as much as possible, make people aware of all you do and how indeed that sometimes engulfs you. Further, apologize for the same and re-direct the conversation and/or your energies as warranted;
- Don’t accept or read anonymous letters;
- Make it a habit to remember people on a regular, routine basis (e.g., calling them or sending a card on their birthday or anniversary)–most of the time, seemingly disgruntled people are just wanting some personal attention;
- Don’t judge or condemn people you catch “red-handed” (e.g., doing something you disapprove of or is biblically questionable) but, instead, treat them like any of your friends; and
- Involve young people in your ministry as much as possible so that they both understand and respect the demands and expectations of the pastoral ministry.
Pastoral Imperfection: Another Perspective
In his recently published book What A Way To Live!, Tony Evans provides an interesting rationale which addresses the tension between pastoral imperfection and pastoral leadership. He likens God the Father to a movie producer, the Son to a superstar, and the Holy Spirit to a director.
We, he says, are the movie preview clips. We want to put our best hoof forward, so to speak–just as preview clips are always the most action-packed and, yes, juicy movie segments–so that others will want to see the movie (i.e. can hear the Shepherd’s voice).
We May Not Be Perfect, But…
True, we pastors aren’t all we seem to be. We also aren’t all we can be but, by the grace of God, on most days that is enough. In His power our weaknesses are made perfect and, more than that, His grace abounds to the point where even bleating sheep–yes, sometimes even wolves!–are pointed to the Shepherd of our souls. And isn’t that what we’re all about?
We don’t preach ourselves but, rather, Christ crucified!
Kelly C. Bedard
I am indebted to Lucille Lavender, They Cry Too! Pastors Don’t Belong on Pedestals—
especially Chapter 4, “Questions about His Humanity.”