The Pastor and the Congregation: In Search of a Working Relationship

The relationship between a pastor and his congregation is unique, and to be honest, quite strange, at times. As the outside world looks in at this relationship, they see a group of volunteers who have come together to employ an individual. The strangest aspect of this relationship is that the pastor is employed to oversee the collective group.

In the world of business this is essentially a working relationship, albeit an unconventional one.

As we continue our series considering ways to bear each other’s burdens, I want us to ask ourselves, ‘is our relationship with our pastor a working relationship?’ Or, in other words, does our relationship with our pastor work?photo-24764091-business-people-with-hands-together-for-unity

Undoubtedly, relationships between congregations and pastors go through periods of difficulty, hardship and testing. However, as we have been looking at the end of the book of Galatians over the past two weeks (Darwinian Christianity and Demolition or Restoration?) we have noted opportunities to bear one another’s burdens. And perhaps surprisingly Paul points to this relationship between the pastor and his congregation as an opportunity to bear one another’s burdens.

He states it succinctly in verse 6: ’One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches’ (ESV).

Are we helping our pastor?

For those of us who are members of churches reading this blog post we have to answer the question, ‘are we helping our pastor?’

Some time ago I heard about a church that refused to pay their pastor a month’s wage because they failed to see eye to eye with him on a non-doctrinal issue. Even though this is an extreme example it illustrates effectively the type of abuse that a congregation can exercise in this most unique of relationships.

Paul’s exhortation is plain and simple – congregations must pay their Bible teachers. Notice the wording, ‘must share’; not should share, or consider sharing, but must share. This is an explicit command to pay those who teach the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:11 and 1 Timothy 5:17).

However, our payment of our pastor is not a means of leverage allowing us to dictate what he should wear, how he should preach, where he can live or when he can go on holidays. Churches and congregations must be careful they do not try to manipulate their pastor. If we are trying to manipulate our pastor we are not helping him.

We must pay our pastors generously (2 Cor. 9:7), and permit them to use their salary as their own conscience directs before God. Our employing them does not make them our employees.

Pastor, are you helping your congregation?

This is a two way street – and so for those pastors and church staff who are reading this blog post the question we must ask ourselves is, ‘am I helping my congregation?’

I remember talking to a pastor about the stresses and strains of ministry. My passion is preaching and teaching the Bible and so I often gravitate toward questions regarding that, ‘when do you study?’, ‘how do you study?’, ‘how do you organise preaching series?’ and so on. As this pastor expressed the busyness of life in ministry he said something along the lines of ‘it is enough just to be faithful to the text when preaching’. As the words left his mouth I felt uncomfortable with what he had said, but I couldn’t quite out my finger on it.

Yes it is important to be faithful to the text, vitally important. However, it is not enough – as we come to preach (even with all of the other stresses and strains) we must strive and labour to be engaging, deeply helpful, practically applicable and totally engrossed in our message. In other words, it is imperative that we pour all our intellect, emotion and strength into each and every sermon. We must be careful that we do not rob our congregations by fulfilling the bare minimum of preaching God’s Word to them. This does not help our congregations.

Intimately connected to this is the necessity to avoid laziness. I once heard a story about a pastor who would get up early and open all the blinds and curtains in his house before going back to bed! He hoped that if any church members drove past they would think he was up studying or working – not having a lie in. In many respects it is easy to be lazy as a pastor because there is no one looking over your shoulder all day long (this kind of thinking should alert us to our small view of God). However, sooner or later this laziness will reveal itself – in the pulpit, through visitation, in a lack of planning or preparedness, or in some other way. If we are lazy we do not help our congregations.

A final warning must ring out for pastors. One of the most profound things I heard during my time at Bible College was my pastoral studies lecturer tell me ‘you don’t need to be rich to be materialistic’. I had never really thought about the distinction. Being materialistic is not about the having of things, necessarily, but about the desiring of things. Pastors are not immune from falling into the trap of desiring things, wanting more, yearning for just that one other possession. We must guard against this, because this too does not help our congregation.

A working relationship?

Does your relationship work?

Whether it is your relationship with your pastor or with your congregation, is it working?

Do you bear one another’s burdens?

The congregation sharing all good things with the one who teaches, and the teacher devoting himself to the work of preaching the Word?

It can become too easy for congregations to beat their pastor into submission, especially when the cheque book is involved. It can be too easy for pastors to starve their congregations of the Word and so coast through ministry half-heartedly. This is just another version of Darwinian Christianity where one tries to kill another off. We should endeavour to be involved in the opposite, keeping one another alive (and in this case we mean both physically and spiritually alive).

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