The basics of a pastor maintaining a healthy relationship with his congregation are not complex:
- Preach a decent sermon (2 Tim. 4:15).
- Love and visit your people (1 Peter 5:24), and pray for them!
- Be visible in your community (1 Tim. 3:7).
When things aren’t going well, sermons can become temptations to deliver subtle or even veiled messages to antagonists, visitation (even of shut-ins) can slow or cease and pastors may begin to absent themselves from the community (church and beyond), which they may perceive as unsupportive or even threatening.
Likewise, being a healthy congregation with respect for the pastor is simple too:
- Love and care for your pastor (especially pray for him!).
- Openly address concerns and be clear about expectations, starting with the list of passages in the ordination/installation rite. (See LSB Agenda, pgs. 160165.)
- Confront and call to repentance members of the congregation who are disruptive and undermine the ministry of the congregation, especially through gossip and lack of charity.
All this is quite simple, but it all becomes very complex in real life, as we’ve all seen.
It does happen that a pastor may be called to a congregation that has a history of poor practice based on a weak or even wrong doctrinal understanding. Let’s be honest. Our seminary graduates are taught the position of Synod (and we believe the Scriptures and Confessions) that non-LCMS members should not ordinarily be communed. But a graduate may well be called to a congregation that has been communing non-Lutheran folks every week at the rail for decades! It’s a touchy subject. If a young pastor doesn’t have the best people skills, is a bit insecure and elects to try to change things too soon, it’s likely to be a disaster. Both seminaries have been working very, very hard to prepare students for these and many other challenges. Part of that preparation is helping graduates to understand themselves and how they are likely to react to challenging and potentially conflicted situations. Not only new pastors, but experienced pastors get into problems in congregations when they push forward change too quickly. As a Synod, walking together, it’s particularly important as a congregation is preparing to call a pastor that the circuit counselor, vacancy pastor or even district president let the congregation know (very charitably, to be sure) that its practice in this or that area needs to improve before they call a new pastor.
Satan absolutely loves it when he can twist and distort the relationship between pastor and people. If he can set people a-gossiping, if he can get them to lambaste their pastor, especially to people outside the church, he’s giddy with delight. He knows that no disgruntled congregant is going to be doing any inviting to church, much less evangelism. Griping is much more pleasing to the flesh. Satan knows that if he can bring enough angst to a pastor’s life, wife and family, he might even pick off the shepherd and cause the sheep to scatter for good! If the old devil can cause an impatient pastor, who needs to grow in his knowledge and application of the Scriptures, to bring the hammer down and lead by coercion and not conviction, it’s a short trip to congregational chaos. If Satan can get a pastor to wrap himself in the church’s confession while being absolutely unwilling to confess that he’s not Jesus and could have acted more patiently, could have been a much better teacher, could be much more diligent in visitation, could improve his preaching skillsthen the trap’s been sprung, and the devil is laughing all the way to hell.
Pastors and people, check out the ordination and installation rites in the LSB Agenda (pgs. 160181). Pastor, the first word of the first verse spoken over you is “Go” (Matt. 28:19). That one word is enough to cause me lamentation in my own ministry. How I’ve failed! People, on the basis of Heb. 13:17, you promised that you would support your pastor “by your gifts and pray for him always that in his labors he may retain a cheerful spirit and that his ministry among you may be abundantly blessed.” How have you failed? Repent. Believe the Gospel. Resolve to do better by the grace of God.