Occasionally I receive email or Facebook messages asking questions about various topics and issues within the faith. Here is a question I received recently, and it dovetails with an essay I’m preparing for tomorrow based on a verse in John 11.
3. How can a pastor who I believe loves Christ be so off track?
This question, which was from more than one person, revolved around pastors who are OK in the pulpit but allow false teachers to infiltrate Sunday School, Women’s Ministry, or the Youth group; or who recommend books or materials to their members that are less that solid.
There are many possible reasons. Here are a few I can think of.
One reason in answer to the question might be simply the pastor’s inattention and/or busyness. I remember a powerful sermon from about 4 years ago delivered by Pr. Jim Murphy of First Baptist of Johnson City NY in a sermon called “The Subtlety of Satan“. He repented on the pulpit and also charged his church to repent too. He said that he had allowed satan to get his tentacles on his congregation via the church library, the Sunday School, and the Women’s ministry (including Beth Moore materials.) He said he was protective of the pulpit but had been inattentive and too busy to guard those other areas and the devil had gotten in.
However, there is one critical difference between a false pastor and a true pastor who has simply become busy and inattentive. The true pastor will listen to your concerns and prayerfully consider them by checking against the Bible and with his elders. He would either teach you in all gentleness why you are in error, (2 Timothy 2:25, Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2) or in all humility, accept what you’re saying and check it out for himself. A false pastor will become angry, and make accusations against you and blame you. Thankfully, if the cause of being off track is inattention, it does not last forever. Eventually the Spirit brings him to repentance, as Pastor Murphy powerfully and transparently showed us in his own life.
Another reason a pastor can be so off track is that he might be lazy. It’s easier to allow the ladies to continue in their Beth Moore study than it is to confront them and endure their lady-wrath. Or another way to be lazy is simply not check the materials his people are using and rely too much on the Sunday School Superintendent or Ladies Ministry leader to make these decisions. However, a good shepherd will remember he is responsible for the souls of all his sheep’s souls, and won’t over-rely for long.
If he is lazy, one way to check is by googling his sermon titles and key points of the sermon and find out if he is plagiarizing, that is, passing off his sermons as his own but they are really canned from some storehouse online somewhere. If he is lazy at the pulpit he will be lazy elsewhere, like not being diligent in vetting study materials for the women and Sunday School. Plagiarism by the way, isn’t a new problem. God charged the false prophets leaders of Israel thru prophet Jeremiah of plagiarism. It is the lazy way out.
Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who steal my words from one another. (Jeremiah 23:30).
Sadly, one reason he could be off-track could be that he may not really be a believer. I’m very sorry to have to say this. We say it carefully and only as a last resort. The Bible is clear about how powerfully the false convert can mirror a real one. For one, Judas was living intimately with the disciples, and when Jesus said one of them will betray Him, not one disciple asked if it was Judas. They all asked if it could be themselves rather than Judas. (“Is it I?”) He had all the disciples well fooled. Philip baptized Simon the sorcerer, he had Philip fooled, but his dark heart was revealed later when Simon asked Peter to give him the Spirit for money. Demas walked with Paul and only betrayed his black heart when he left to go join the world. Demas had fooled Paul. So false converts can rise to even leadership positions, and fool all those who know them. For a while. Sin eventually shows itself, or there’s an eventual failure to bring fruit.
In any case, you look at your pastor or any believer over time. There are only two ways to go. The believer grows, is on the narrow path, and is developing fruit. Upward. The lost, false convert, even a false pastor, is on the broad path, goes downward, and develops thorns and thistles. The Holy Spirit in the true believer will NOT allow false doctrine to remain in that person for long. That’s why we look over time. Any person can make a mistake, even pastors. That’s OK, it happens. The key is the reaction by the pastor when he is respectfully asked about whatever it is concerning you. Hopefully he will make a course correction be repented of, and the pastor AND his flock grows because of his humble example. If not, then the Spirit is not in him.
If you see something of concern, first, pray. The Spirit’s ministry is to point to Christ. The Holy Spirit wants purity and truth. He is always working. So pray to Him for your pastor, and He will be the catalyst for the necessary changes in him…or you! In all things, submit to those who lead you and pray for them. Love is patient and love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)… As a matter of fact, before you go speak to your pastor about your concerns, Love your pastor this way-
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.