This subject is difficult for me because the very thought of it makes me ill. If you have experienced, or are now experiencing, a situation where a congregant or a group of congregants try to undermine your authority as a pastor, you are not alone. I would imagine it happens in most churches at some point.
Let me first say that the pastor’s authority should be balanced. I have known pastors who had a CEO mentality, and I have known churches where people beat up their good-natured and loving pastor just because they could. I don’t do well with a CEO pastor, and I detest situations where a pastor is bullied and abused. The church doesn’t belong to the pastor, and it doesn’t belong to the members. It belongs to God.
I would also say if you ask people within the church if they believe God calls a person to pastor a particular church, they would say yes; if you ask if they believe God tells a pastor what to preach, they would also say yes. Yet some of those same people have no problem going behind a pastor’s back to undermine the authority God has given to him.
Jesus spoke about this in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:11-12 says, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” part is difficult, but Jesus knew people would persecute preachers when He said this.
In my denomination, we have a democratic form of church government, which includes regular church-wide business meetings. I have known people who have not darkened the door of a particular church in years to show up for business meeting and join in with a group trying to come against the pastor just because their names are on the roll and they still have voting privileges.
In 2 Timothy 3:8, Paul said, “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith.” Jannes and Jambres are not mentioned by name in the Old Testament, but according to Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, New and Enhanced Edition (Youngblood 2014, 568), legend holds that Jannes and Jambres may have been two of the Egyptian magicians who attempted to undermine Moses by trying to duplicate the miracles God allowed him to perform.
There is no one correct way to handle situations of people trying to undermine you. But here are some thoughts:
- Focus on what God has called you to do. Keep preaching the messages He gives you, and remain faithful. In Acts 5:29, Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
- You may be a good-natured pastor, but that doesn’t mean you have to take a beating or be someone’s whipping post. Yes, Jesus handled some situations as a lamb, but he also called the religious leaders a brood of vipers and hypocrites. He pronounced woes on them for their behavior ( 23).
- At some point, members and church leaders who support you must stand up to those people and tell them to be quiet. Peer pressure can work with adults too.
- Work to bring new people who are not caught up in such things into the church.
You may have to go through the fire. A disobedient group in your congregation may even get the strength to force you out of your position. But remember that God has your back. People do not live forever. If you remain faithful to what God tells you to do, He will handle the situation either in this life or the next. Take comfort in that.
Maleah Bell is a freelance editor and pastor’s wife. She and her husband make their home in Middle Tennessee.