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“Pastor, I’d like to set up an appointment with you soon.  When are you available?”

Whenever someone asked me that, my first reaction was to wonder if I had done something wrong.

I’d plumb the catacombs of my memory trying to figure out what I had done.  Was it something I said in a message?  Were they coming to complain about the music?  Or did their visit concern a problem with a spouse or another churchgoer?

I almost always got it wrong.

Like most people, pastors do not enjoy being confronted about anything – so pastors respond to confrontation in various ways. But as I mentioned in the previous article, it is biblical to confront a pastor about wrongdoing, although you may question if you’re the best one to do it.

If you do confront a pastor about a personal sin, let me share with you six possible reactions you might encounter, from the least to the most likely:

First, some pastors will question your right to confront them at all.  They will tell you they work for the Lord, not for anyone else, and that He alone corrects them.

In that case I’d be tempted to say, “If the Lord is the One who corrects you, maybe He hasn’t been paying attention recently,” but that’s probably unwise.

The pastor might even pull out that famous Old Testament phrase, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.”

But realize that this phrase refers in context to David’s refusal to kill King Saul when he had the chance (1 Samuel 24:6,10).  Gently tell your pastor that you do not intend to end his life but to prolong his ministry by discussing a concern with him.

My guess is that there are few pastors around today who will respond this way.  Pastors may not admit it, but they do listen to their wives, kids, key donors, and close friends, so they don’t just listen to the Lord.

Second, some pastors will criticize you to others.  If you confront them, they will tell the staff, the board, their colleagues, and their family that you dared to take them on.  I even know of a pastor who would bring up people’s criticisms of him in the pulpit and then slam them (though not by name) in front of the congregation.

That’s one way to keep people from approaching you with their concerns.

This is the response many Christians fear most if they confront a pastor over an issue.  While it’s legitimate for a pastor to ask those closest to him if someone’s criticism might be valid, it’s unethical and unprofessional for him to take that concern into the pulpit.

Third, some pastors will listen to your concerns but disagree with your assessment.

If you express concern about the church’s direction, they’ll say you’re the first person who has ever disagreed with it.

If you tell them their humor borders on the tasteless, they’ll tell you that others seem to appreciate it.

If you criticize their preaching, they will tell you they don’t see it your way.

Many pastors are masters at making you feel like there is something wrong with you for having and sharing a different viewpoint.  If you receive this response, stand your ground but leave the ball in his court.

No matter who it is, you must earn the right to confront somene about an issue.

I once went to lunch with a man on the fringe of the church (and society) who decided to tell me what was wrong with my preaching.  In my view, he hadn’t earned the right to tell me how to teach God’s Word, so I told him, “If you don’t like my preaching, go somewhere else.”  He was the wrong messenger.

It’s not that I can’t learn from others.  I can.  (A board member once scolded me for putting down his beloved Dodgers during my sermons.  I stopped.)

Fourth, some pastors will confess, “You may be right.”  I learned that phrase from Marshall Shelley’s classic book on church conflict, Well-Intentioned Dragons.  This phrase lets people know they’ve been heard without committing the pastor to change.

“Pastor, the music is too loud in our worship services.”

“You may be right.”

“Pastor, I don’t think this church is ready for 55-minute messages.”

“You may be right.”

However, you can’t expect the pastor to use that phrase in a robotic fashion:

“Pastor, you should disband the board and run the church yourself.”

“You may be right.”

“Pastor, you should fire the associate pastor because he’s incompetent.”

“You may be right.”

The good thing about this phrase is that it shows your pastor has heard you – and isn’t that one of the goals in Matthew 18:15?  Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Fifth, some pastors will thank you for speaking with them.

This has been my response whenever people have confronted me about an issue.  Whether I agreed with them or not, I would tell them, “Thanks for bringing your concern directly to me.”

It takes courage to talk to a pastor, especially when he’s revered or has enjoyed a long tenure.  So whenever anybody came to me, I’d reinforce their adherence to Matthew 18:15 by acknowledging how difficult it must have been for them to approach me – and how much they must care about me for taking the risk.

I believe the great majority of pastors today will thank for you speaking with them as long as you approach them wisely.  (See previous article.)

Finally, some pastors will hear you out and make appropriate changes.  Pastors can be a very proud species.  You’re more liable to receive a defensive response to a confrontation than hear the phrase, “I totally agree with you.  I’ll make immediate plans to implement the changes you’ve suggested!”

So the likelihood is that if a pastor agrees with the substance of your concern, he may wait a while before making changes … so it looks like it was his idea.  But who cares as long as changes are made?

And he may have you to thank!

What are your thoughts about pastors and confrontation?

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