Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 18:15-20’

I was once the pastor of a church where we were building a new worship center.  The church was located in an extremely unchurched community (less than 5% of the population went to church anywhere) and our leaders believed that God wanted us to reach out to the spiritually lost around us.  Demographic studies showed that the community preferred an intellectual approach to the Christian faith (as opposed to an emotional approach) and that they preferred a presentational worship style (as opposed to a participative style).

Six months before the building was completed, I encouraged the worship team to improve the quality of our Sunday services, including using more video and improving our music while singing fewer songs.  One of the women on the worship team, who had always been a friend and supporter, took issue with my vision for our services.  She wanted the congregation to sing for at least half an hour because this approach was meaningful to her.  She began to lobby for her position to the point where I had to call a meeting with her and our worship leader.  We all listened to each other’s viewpoints and she left the room agreeing that if she had any further problems with me or my policies, she would speak with me personally.

But soon afterwards, she was at it again.  She vehemently complained to the chairman of the board (who was a friend of both of ours) about me and used language that was so full of anger that the chairman believed she was ready to launch a serious conflict.  The chairman reiterated my position to her (the board had already approved it) but she was determined to have her way.  After causing heartache to many people, she ended up leaving the church, an outcome that I did not welcome because I genuinely cared for her.  But I couldn’t let her – or anyone else, for that matter – stand in the way of the ministry that God was calling our church to do.

When a believer in a church is upset with the pastor, how should that person handle their feelings?

According to Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, if I as a believer sin against you personally, you as a believer have the obligation to come and discuss it with me in private.  Neither Jesus nor Paul mention exclusions for pastors.  As a pastor, I have sinned against people on occasion.  When I’ve been aware of it, I have tried to take the initiative and make things right on my own.  But sometimes I’m unaware that I’ve hurt someone.  In the great majority of those cases, the individual who is hurt never comes to tell me how he or she feels.  In fact, I can count on both hands the number of people who have had the courage to come and tell me that I’ve hurt them over 35+ years of church ministry.  I suspect that most pastors have had similar experiences.

Instead, when the pastor hurts someone – consciously or unconsciously – that person usually tells their social network what the pastor has done rather than tell the pastor himself.  A few years ago, a friend told me that a woman in our church was angry with me.  I asked, “How many people has she told?”  Using his hands to count, he concluded, “Ten.”  Then I asked him, “What did I do wrong this time?”  He said, “You didn’t say hi to her one Sunday.”  I told him, “Go back and tell her to talk to me about it.  If she does, then this is really an important issue for her.  If she doesn’t, then it must not be that crucial.”  Of course, she never came and spoke with me, and over time, she collected a plethora of offenses that I had committed against her and shared them with anyone who would listen.

Although many Christians are aware of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, we need to distinguish between personal offenses and policy offenses.  If I personally offend you – whether I’m a pastor or not – then you need to contact me, tell me how you feel, and let me have the opportunity to work things out with you.  Most Christians choose to tell their family and friends instead which just spreads discontent throughout the church.  Sometimes these harbored offenses build up to the point where believers who have been collecting them share them with others, and before long, as believers pool their hurts, the pastor becomes guilty of scores of offenses – and those offended become determined to get rid of the pastor at any cost.

But if a pastor commits a policy offense – that is, he makes decisions about the church’s ministry that attendees don’t like – I don’t believe that Matthew 18 applies.  The pastor hasn’t sinned against anyone personally.  You may feel that he has, but he’s simply making a decision that he believes will advance the ministry.  If you don’t like the decision, you should be able to speak with the pastor or any official church leader (i.e., board member, associate pastor) and let them know how you feel.  They may or may not agree with you, and the policy may or may not change, but at least you’ve gone on record as to how you feel, and that’s the mature way to handle matters.

Of course, if the pastor offends you personally, you may choose to instantly forgive him, and you may also choose to pray that God will help him see the light.  But if you’re upset with your pastor for some reason, please don’t spread the virus of complaining to others.  Either speak with the right person or keep it between you and God.

And if you’re upset with what I’ve written for some reason, you know what to do …

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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