I have pastored for over 32 years and am currently blessed by an incredibly supportive session, deaconate and congregation. But the best church is still a hospital for sinners. I have been involved with all kinds of people and (sadly) with almost every kind of sin you can imagine. I don’t write about this with any sense of pride, but like a mother, sometimes pastors would like for the world to have some sense of what it is we actually do. I think many (if not most) pastors will identify with and confirm what I am about to say.
A church is like a giant foster home; we get whoever God sends our way. Most people bring assets but everyone brings liabilities. There is the baggage of the past and there are the sins that have not yet been committed. There is shame and guilt for their own sins and there are affects and fallout from the sins of others against them. There are the glorious success stories, there are those who seem to make little or no progress, and then there are those who completely crash and burn. The big family we call “the church” is messy and full of all kinds of troubles and problems.
As a young man, eyeing the pastoral ministry, I imagined the joys of study, preaching, teaching, fellowship, camps, and the like. Thankfully, there is a fair amount of those kinds of things that occupy my time. However, the vast majority of what pastors do (along with our sessions) is private, and much of it is unpleasant. We’re like medics in a plague zone. We can’t give a report each week on who we met with, what we dealt with, who said what, etc. We deal with the mature and immature, the godly and ungodly, the nice and not-so-nice, the pure and wicked. (Some time back I gave up saying that “I can’t be shocked.” I’ve seen and heard a lot; but people still shock me.) Pastors are manipulated and lied to by the best manipulators and lairs. We’ve discovered that you can’t try to help troubled and needy people without running the risk of being used. We’re often “damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” We’re second-guessed by a few (some well-intentioned), regarding situations where they have only part of the story. Our motives, counsel, and decisions are challenged by some who are in no position to fairly evaluate but who think they are.
A few of the individuals and families we try to love and help are beyond our help and they resent us for trying. In their anger or bitterness some of them lash out and they have no restraints. They’re free to spin and twist our words and declare an injustice to the world-wide-web. There are a few of them who can even turn our “how do you do?” into something sinister. Any attempt to explain or defend ourselves is quickly declared to be “arrogant.” Even so, pastors have significant limitations on what can be said in return.
So, if you don’t trust a man, don’t make him an elder or a pastor, because he will, of necessity, know things about a lot of people (perhaps about you); things they/you don’t want others to know. He will have to make judgments about situations that are extremely difficult and complicated and he will not be in a position to tell you why or how he made those decision. Sometimes people will be angry at him and say things about him that are not the whole truth, and thus we’re all admonished by the Scriptures to be careful about receiving such accusations (1 Tim. 5:19). Everything is not what it appears to be, even when you’re “convinced.” Sometimes, when you know 10% of a story you presume that you know 100% ― that other 90% can change everything.
Like parents, pastors and elders are fallible. We’re learning a lot as we go (i.e., growing). Like everyone else, our hindsight is better than our foresight. But let me assure you of something else: these fallible pastors and elders are, for the most part, good men who love Christ’s church and sacrifice on a daily basis to feed, guide and protect their flock. They lay awake in anguish, they pray, they go when called, they weep, and they fight the good fight. Their ministry covers the whole range of human sin and frailty, and most of their work is unseen and thus under appreciated. So remember, what you’ve heard is not the same thing as what you know.
Jesus offers these words of comfort to every Christian, but He had to know that as He spoke these words, His disciples and soon-to-be shepherds of His church, would especially need them: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” ―Matthew 5:11-12