I pastor a church in the Bible Belt. That means that a good number of people think they are Christians because their families have always gone to church. Due to that fact, church membership can often be viewed like membership to any other type of civic organization out there.
The common way to operate is if you don’t like the services you are receiving, pressure to get a different type of amenities or take your membership somewhere else.
It happens at the country club, the civic organization, and the local church.
Due to many of us not having voices in many areas of our life (jobs, government, etc.), we often try to find places where we can assert our authority or influence. That’s why churches are such an easy target. Many people join a church and then see clearly what to change to make it more pleasing.
The common way for pastors to protect against this mindset is by warning against being led by preferences. Just because one person wants something doesn’t mean that it needs to happen. A church can’t be built on the preferences of a congregation. They will never line up together in the first place!
In a church, we should seek to please Jesus over any one person in the congregation.
Since I’m a pastor, that’s easy for me to say. It’s very simple for me to preach. No member’s preferences can dictate the church.
But what if the pastor’s preferences become the priority?
As a pastor, I can easily dismiss someone’s pushy suggestions as based on preferences and warn others about a divisive spirit, but what if I’m guilty of the very thing I’m criticizing? How can I ensure that the pastor’s preferences don’t become priority?
What if my desire for the church isn’t biblical just preferred? From my position behind the pulpit, I have a bigger megaphone to baptize my desires into spiritual-sounding directions. It’s a dangerous opportunity.
I could criticize members for their preferences while holding mine up as God-given. But can I be sure about methodology? My thoughts, no matter how informed or impassioned, are not canon.
To those disgruntled members raising their voices, I can insinuate a dangerous divisive spirit. It might be true, but how is my leading not the exact same thing?
What if the very thing I preach against in the hearts of members is the very same preference-based bias that rests in my own desires.
Now, if I’m leading biblically, I get it. God has called me as pastor to oversee our people, but I should never make my opinions to be at such a level that if someone disagrees with them, they are being divisive, worldly, or immature. I guess someone could say that against me as well if my decisions are solely based on my personal preferences.
I could be in danger of practicing what I preach against.
God has called me to shepherd HIS flock (1 Pet. 5:2), but he is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). His Word is unfailing, but my thoughts need to be discerned.
Any member of a local church should submit to their spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17) because pastors watch over their souls. But you cannot take from that verse that any methodological leading is undeniably authoritative.
I can’t just get rid of a program because I’m tired of dealing with it. I can’t criticize one ministry while allowing the one a family member of mine enjoys. I shouldn’t oppose one but allow another because of not wanting to lose favor with church members I esteem.
I want to lead with boldness according to the directives that Christ gives me, but I do not want to bully myself to criticize an action in members that I discreetly do myself.
Pastors, lead. But don’t lead in such a way that your preferences become a priority to the detriment of the church.
If it’s God’s truth regarding the message, don’t shy away.
If it’s your opinion regarding the methodology, keep those minds and those hands open.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.