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“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison

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“Furthermore, [the unchristian environment] is the place where we find out whether the Christian’s meditation has led him into the unreal, from which he awakens in terror when he returns to the workaday world, or whether it has led him into a real contact with God, from which he emerges strengthened and purified. Has it transported him for a moment into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of God so securely and deeply in his heart that it holds and fortifies him, impelling him to active love, to obedience, to good works? Only the day can decide.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Life Together 

Image result for Life Together 1954

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Where Christ bids me to maintain fellowship for the sake of love, I will maintain it. Where his truth enjoins me to dissolve a fellowship for love’s sake, there I will dissolve it, despite all the protests of my human love.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together, 35.

“The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together30

“When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament. But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together29-30

“A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together29.

“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together29.

By Joe McKeever

When The Church Bully Happens To Be The Pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike. But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent and ousts anyone not obeying him. He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers. His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon. It isn’t.

The definitive bully found in Scripture is Diotrephes. In III John, we read, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves the preeminence (“loves to be first among them” (NASB), does not accept what we say….unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church.”

That’s the bully: loving preeminence, rejecting outside interference, bringing accusation against the opposition, and putting people out of the church when they oppose him.

 We’re thankful the New Testament churches had these problems

There’s a certain degree of comfort from knowing that the problems churches experience today are not new, not signs the church is going to the devil or evidence we’re being swamped by the world. The problems of division and strife (see I Corinthians), heresies (see Galatians) and petty egotism (III John) have been with us from the beginning.

This forever prevents us from piously withdrawing from today’s churches experiencing the same internal strife while claiming that they no longer do God’s will. There are more churches at this moment in time doing great work for the Savior than at any time in history. And likewise, more experiencing the cancers of worldliness, division, jealousies and egotis

There is nothing new about this.

It’s not even new or unheard of that pastors would be the bullies. After all, there must have been a reason why Peter wrote what he did in I Peter 5. For him to have cautioned pastors not to lead in such a way indicates he had seen it happen.

In a similar fashion, we have seen husbands lord it over their wives. “God made me the head of the home,” the bully says, “so that means you are to take orders from me.” It means no such thing, of course. In fact, Scripture says the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5). So, there’s a dichotomy here: The husband is the head, but he is to sacrifice himself for his wife and family. A faithful husband does just that.

Wrong ways to lead the Lord’s church

The great apostle spoke to “the elders among you as your fellow elder” (I Peter 5:1). These are pastors. Peter considers himself a pastor/shepherd also.

As “a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed,” Peter’s credentials are impeccable. He was with the Lord when He walked on earth and is in line to share His heavenly glories in the future.

Elders/pastors are to exercise oversight of the Lord’s church (5:2). The word episcopos (root of episcopountes, the word used here) refers to the overseeing assignment of the pastors (see Acts 20:28). A shepherd watches over the sheep, leads them to green pastures, is ever alert for dangers and threats, and has the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind at all times.

Do not lead the flock in the wrong way or for impure motives, Peter advises…

Not under compulsion but voluntarily. The KJV says “by constraint,” meaning the pastor is doing this “because he must.” There’s no joy but total drudgery, no inspiration but a harshness. Instead, the faithful overseer is glad to be preaching the word and tending the flock. He loves the people, loves the Lord and loves his calling.

Not for sordid gain, but with eagerness. He doesn’t do this for the pay. This is not just a job, not a vocation, and not a work he entered because it paid well. He is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and is thrilled at the privilege. Asked what he missed most about the pastoral ministry, a man said, “I miss the trumpets in the morning.” Ask any God-called and Heaven-anointed pastor. He knows what that means.

Not lording it over the flock, but being an example. And here we have the key passage for our subject today. The pastor is not to “lord it over” the flock. Jesus is the Lord and he isn’t.

Pastors are not allowed to lord it over the Lord’s church. 

Jesus said, “I will build MY church” (Matthew 16:18). It’s His church, His body, His bride. No pastor in his right mind (with his heart right!) would dare to insert himself between the Lord and His bride!

It is true that Hebrews 13:17 calls on God’s people to “obey your leaders and submit to them.” But that same passage says pastors “keep watch over” (overseeing!) “your souls” and will “give account.” Pastors will stand before the Lord and account for their stewardship and care for each sheep. A scary thought if there ever was one.

A pastor lords it over the church when he…

–makes decisions unilaterally for the church. He considers no one else’s counsel, believes God speaks only through him, and rules like a potentate.

–micromanages his co-workers and colleagues. He alone knows what is best and allows them no room for individual expression.

–feels threatened when someone disagrees with him. Usually reacts angrily and with harshness.

–forces those taking contrary positions out of office. “My way or the highway” is his mantra.

You get the picture.

Final question: What if you are a member of the bully’s staff (as a worship leader, student minister, etc.)? What are you to do?

I’m tempted to ask how this happened, how you ended up on a church staff with someone so difficult to work with. But I’m aware the answer is often: “I was here first.” The bully pastor came later, and might even be new. The church leadership—knowingly or cluelessly—brought in a pastor who would rule over the church with a heavy hand. And you are left to deal with it.

So, what should you do?

–Pray, pray, pray. Ask the Father all the questions bugging you. How to respond to the pastor today, what to do when the pastor asks you to do something you cannot or would rather not do, how to make your thoughts known to the preacher, and so forth.

–Get two or three or four friends in other areas to pray for you constantly. These could be members of previous churches or classmates from school. They should be able to keep a confidence.

–Don’t get territorial—as in “I was here first, and God called me to be minister of music and this is my job.” That attitude will get you a quick exit and a bad recommendation for the next church. Keep your eyes on the Lord and look to Him.

–Ask the Father about making this situation known to a key church leader, someone of great integrity and trust. If you do this in the flesh or if it’s handled wrongly, it could be interpreted by the pastor as you making an end-run around him and be considered disloyalty. A pastor who is a bully would see this as grounds for dismissal.

–If things are really bad—to the point that you are considering leaving, but would rather not—then try something bold. Go in to the pastor’s office and tell him kindly, gently, forcibly, assertively what he is doing and how it feels to you, and why it is wrong. You do this only when you have come to the point that “if worse comes to worse, all he can do is fire me.” I’d rehearse again and again, with my wife but mostly with the Lord, what I wanted to say to him. Then, go for it.

–If nothing changes and the bully continues to tyrannize the staff, get your resume up to date and share with your most trusted friends. Ask the Father who called you into this work in the first place to open up the next assignment for you.

For the rest of the post…

“It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together17.

May 2018
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