Saturday, June 09, 2007

Holding Your Pastors Accountable
...being a faithful member in your local church

In light of the discussion the past few days here and at other blogs, I hope the repost of this article will be a helpful and beneficial word to you. May it strengthen your hearts in service to the Lord jesus Christ and His people.

To God be the glory,
Hebrews 2:9-18
(originally posted June 2, 2006)

"Is the Congregation to Hold Their Leadership Accountable?"

Polity is a term that theologians use to define how a local church's government is structured, functions, and characterizes its leader/laity relationship. Churches can take on many forms of polity. There are three that are the most common among churches: 1. some churches are pastoral lead by one man only - you could say this would resemble a dictatorship or what I call a "Protestant Papacy"; 2. others are strictly lead through congregational-rule or voting on all church matters very much akin to a democracy; and 3. those who govern by what has become known as elder-rule this is a plurality of godly leaders that the church affirms to lead them. It is the last of these that I believe is the most biblical, balanced and honoring to the Lord.

Though elder-rule is a good biblical concept, the term can be misleading and doesn't accurately represent the Scriptural heart of biblical leadership. Rule too many times suggests unquestioned authority, religious despotism, or spiritual heavy-handedness. However, the office and title of elder is quite different; it is one of servant-leadership. Paul says of himself in 1 Corinthians 4:1a, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ..." He uses a term for servant that suggests that he is appointed to the hardest of tasks, in the most difficult circumstances, away from the applause and adulation of men. He silences the sectarian admiration of the crowds in 1 Corinthians 3 by calling himself simply a servant; a bondservant of Christ. Peter emphasizes this as well and warns against an elder lording over the body of Christ when saying, "exercising oversight... nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:2b-3).

Guarding Against "Protestant Popery" and "Spiritual Abuse"
It is significant to note that a pastor of a church possesses no inherent authority over the church by virtue of office alone; it is only through that which Scripture affords him that gives him a position of authority. Where Scripture exhorts, he may exhort. Where Scripture calls for obedience, he is to call the church to obedience. Where Scripture edifies, he is to edify. And where Scripture commands, he is to command. But where Scripture is silent, he cannot be vocal and has no inherent authority. He may pray for the flock, he may give wisdom when weighing the facts or circumstances of a particular situation, he may counsel from the principals of the Word, but he possesses no authority. He, in other words, is to guard against spiritual abuse, by faithfully honoring and submitting to the Word of God by which he is thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And then in response to that truth, humbly serve the flock of God as an under-shepherd of Christ.

Spiritual abuse occurs when a leader uses his spiritual position to control or dominate another person absent from biblical wisdom, Christlike humility, and the clear command of Scripture. At the very least this is legalistic pride--the doctrines of men instituted, accepted and embraced as biblical truth, yet, outside the pervue of God's holy Word. At the very most it is absolute power corrupting absolutely; this is the "Protestant Popery" that all pastors, elders and even influencial evangelical leaders need to be on guard against. Again, there is nothing inherent in the office of elder/pastor itself containing special rule or authority that he can exercise over the flock of God. Apart from the Scriptures, he is impotent to govern. Therefore, his greatest influence in the church occurs when his life is humbly lived in submission to Christ, His truth, and His body; serving and caring for others as a faithful under-shepherd; adhering to the mandate of God's Word; "proving to be an example to the flock." Paul describes the pastor-servant's character when he says, "And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition" (2 Tim 2:24-25a).

Alexander Strauch in his masterful book, "Biblical Eldership", gives these penetrating words of instruction:

"Following the biblical model, elders must not wield the authority given to them in a heavy-handed way. They must not use manipulative tactics, play power games, or be arrogant and aloof. They must never think that they are unanswerable to their fellow brethren or to God. Elders must not be authoritarian, which is incompatible with humble servanthood. When we consider Paul's example and that of our Lord's, we must agree that biblical elders do not dictate; they direct. True elders do not command the consciences of their brethren, but appeal to their brethren to faithfully follow God's Word.... They guard the community's liberty and freedom in Christ so that the saints are encouraged to develop their gifts, to mature, and to serve one another. "
In the great fourth chapter of Corinthians, Paul crescendos this unparalleled section on biblical ministry at verse five with these lucid words, "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord; and ourselves as your bondservants for Christ sake." He preaches not himself - how refreshing that is considering the times we live in; but only Christ Jesus as Lord. We call Him Christ because He is the sufficient Messiah who once for all atoned for our sins; we call Him Jesus because He is our Savior; and we call Him Lord because He is the one true Sovereign over all. In light of that, Paul humbled himself to the church; he was their bondservant for the glory of Christ. Paul was unmistakably a servant-leader.

Strauch continues his sagest instruction,
"Christ's presence is with the whole congregation, not just the elders. Christ ministers through all the members because all are Spirit -indwelt...." "As Christ's undershepherds and God's stewards, the elders are under the strict authority of Jesus Christ and His holy Word. They are not a ruling oligarchy. They cannot do or say whatever they want. The church does not belong to the elders; it is Christ's church and God's flock. Thus the elders' leadership is to be exercised in a way that models Christlike, humble, loving leadership. In the local church, there are no rulers who sit above or subjects who stand below."
We usually think only in terms of Pastors, Elders, and Deacons holding the congregation accountable before the Lord (and rightly they should); but are you aware that the congregation has just as much a holy and necessary duty to hold the leadership of the church accountable to the Lord and His Word as well? Surprisingly, we do.

This article addresses five important areas of encouragement to church leadership that the body of Christ is responsible to do. No question, servant-leaders (pastors/elders) are held accountable for what they model and the way in which they teach and lead. This is why there are very specific qualifications for the two offices (elder and deacon) of leadership within the church (cp, 1 Timothy 3:1-10). But the congregation has its biblical role as well; and if we fail in our task, we are just as contributory to spiritual malpractice as the pastor/elder would be by abrogating his duty as an under-shepherd of Jesus Christ.

Let's look at these five responsibilities of the church to its leadership.

1. Edify Through Prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-3) "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior."

Paul commands Timothy to pray "for all men." This is the Apostolic instruction to young Timothy in fulfilling his biblical duty as a pastor to be given over to "the ministry of the Word and prayer" (Acts 6:6). But this also applies to the body of Christ in general. 1 Timothy is the handbook on ecclesiology - how we are to conduct ourselves in the house of God. Part of that public worship is for believers to offer prayers for all people, including magistrates, all in authority, church leaders, our unsaved friends, neighbors and family members. This would also include praying for our enemies, those who are persecuting us or harming us. It could also apply to believers who are trying to destroy anothers believer reputation or wound them in some fashion due to envy, jealously, bitterness, or malice. We are therefore to pray "for all men" showing no ought of prejudice against or favoritism for any man that would limit the generosity of our hearts in prayer. When we encourage our pastors to do "pray for all men" as a matter of public worship and example to the church, it can serve as a gentle word of encouragement, thanksgiving and exhortation to them.

Prayer is the life-breath of the Christian. It signifies great dependence on our Lord for all things; conforms our will to His; gives us strength in the journey; protects the unity of the Spirit; keeps guard over an anxious heart; causes us not to faint in service to the Lord; brings glory to God; honors the Lord's command; and develops humility and meekness in the believer of Jesus Christ. We are to "with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18).

We are to be men and women of prayer for our pastors, elders, and deacons. Have you prayed faithfully for the leadership of your church? It is a privilege and a duty we should not take lightly. We should be "marching on our knees for those given charge over our souls. For the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much" (James 5:16). Paul asked for prayer on many occasions, 2 Thessalonians 3:1 says, "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you." In 1 Thess.5:25 Paul encourages, "Brethren, pray for us." And in 1 Thess. 5:13, 16-18 he says, "and that you esteem them [your pastors and elders] very highly in love because of their work; 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Even the writer of Hebrews gives this strong word of exhortation, "Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things" (Hebrews 13:18).

If you desire to minister to your leadership and hold them accountable to what God has called them to do, it begins with praying for them. If you haven't been praying faithfully for your pastors or elders, begin today and let them know that everyday you are lifting their work, life and needs before the Lord. It will bless them beyond measure.

2. Examine Their Message (Acts 17:11-12) "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men."

The second great honor for every Christian in holding the leadership of the church accountable is to examine what they are teaching with the Word of God. In other words, we should be discerning as God's people with the words and content that anyone may teach. We should be effective "Bereans;" guarding the trust and truth by lovingly holding our elders accountable to its veracity. Loyalty should always first be to the Lord and His Word; never to the man, but always to the Master. If your pastors are cutting it straight rightly dividing the Word of truth, a workman unashamed approved unto God, then you can rejoice in the Lord for them and their ministry in your life.

But because we are fallen people saved by grace, we need to stay open to the constructive criticisms of others - especially those who are teachers of the Word (James 3:1-2). It is possible that a pastor might even unwittingly be skewed or abhorrent in what he is teaching from the Word and needs the gentle yet faithful evaluation from the congregation.

In the above text, Paul called the Bereans of "more noble character" because they examined "whether these things (what Paul taught) were so" through the lens of truth--the Word of God. Implicitly, he not only thanks them, but admonishes them to do so. He strongly invites and welcomes scrutiny from those in the church. What humility; what teachability; what accountability. Remember beloved, error never wants to be challenged; truth will always desire examination. (Cp, Galatians 1:6-9).

the example of Paul
Think of it, here is Paul, the greatest pastor the church has ever known, writer of thirteen of the twenty-seven N.T. books; considered himself the chief of sinners and the least of all the apostles, but in reality was the greatest Apostle of the church; he spoke in divine revelation; communicated in infallible truth, did signs and wonders of an Apostle; saw the resurrected Christ in the flesh; and was appointed by Christ Himself for ministry. With credentials like that you might think there would be cause for boasting or an attitude of "don't you know who I am..." but not with Paul. In utter meekness he says, "examine what I say with the Scriptures." Oh how refreshing that is and how tragically absent it is from most pulpits today.

I have had pastors say to me on occasion, "who do these people think they are challenging me from the Scriptures? They have never been to seminary; they are not as studied as I; they are really ignorant of a deep knowledge of the Bible and, yet, they are trying to scrutinize me?" Listen, locking a man up in a seminary for four years, training him on key areas of language, church history, systematic theology, practical theology, and general Bible knowledge doesn't necessarily make a pastor or produce an under-shepherd at the end of the day. Most will acknowledge, even in the best of scenarios, that the process is flawed and needs to be reexamined. In some very fine seminaries that I have been privileged to sing or speak, a lot of young men have gone from those learned institutions only to split a church within their first year of ministry. In other words, shepherds are born not in classrooms; but in the crucible of God's sovereign choosing from within the local church. Seminary education is important; but it is only one dimensional. Pastors may say from the stage, hold me accountable to what I teach; I desire to be truthful in all that I say. "Love believes all things"; so we take them at their words and fine words they are. But when you have to ask the pastor to rethink a position or prove from the Word of God his sermon to its veracity, you might be met with almost an offended look as opposed to a welcomed one. I have seen and experienced this first hand.

Dear men of God, if you have faithful Bereans in your church constantly plying you with questions, constantly examining you with the Word of God, constantly offering you from the well of careful learning a word of circumspection, don't recoil at those parishioners and treat them as gadflys, but thank the Lord for them for you are blessed. You might be tempted to say to some "lighten up back off give me a break." But please don't! I know that some elders look at people like this as being a nuisance, but they are really just fulfilling their biblical duty to you and let them do this with joy. Paul says, "And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

3. Encourage Godly Character (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-8)
1 Timothy 3:1 "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach."

Titus1:6 "namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict."

The verses listed above are lengthy, but this third area of accountability is so vitally important that we need to read them again and again. Godly character in the ministry is essential and it is our duty to prayerfully be encouraging our pastors to live out by example all that the Holy Spirit has called and required them to be in their personhood daily. Pastors, like you and me, are sinners saved by grace; and it is only by grace that any of them can adhere faithfully to the qualifiers listed above. They are to be above reproach in life and doctrine. That means, free from accusation. It doesn't mean perfect; sinless; without faults; without issues. But it does mean that they are free from accusations of a disqualifying nature.

Most pastors have tremendous issues, but feel trapped that they can't be honest about them for fear of losing their position, respect, or influence among God's people. Balance is such a key ingredient in ministry... isn't it? I.e. - one man may be gifted as an expositor in the pulpit, but is absolutely inept with relationships. Should he be disqualified from serving as a pastor? Of course not. Another man may be a gifted discipler/counselor - a Barnabas, but be very weak in areas of administration. Should he be disqualified from ministry? Surely not. Even another may have an excellent gift of helps - a more hehind the scences quiet ministry, but his pulpit giftedness in the Word is less than to be desired. Should he still be allowed to serve? Absolutely. We all tend to measure a pastor by one thing--his ability to teach and preach. And while that is an important area of ministry for the elder (1 Tim. 3:1-7); it is not the only thing by which a faithful man of God should be evaluated. Let's be honest here, there are not many R.C. Sproul's, John MacArthur's, Mark Dever's, Steve Lawsen's, John Piper's in the world today. They are the rare exceptions as Bible teachers and preachers. So the average pastor in the church doesn't need to be them; but he does need to model Christlikeness in life and doctrine as he faithfully serves the people the Lord has sovereignly called him to serve.

We need to give grace to these dear men, beloved, for none of them do it all well or even biblically - not even the most gifted. They are still "under construction" in the fires of sanctification as you and I are. They need God's grace to mold them and correct them in areas so as to become more effective and better under-shepherds of Jesus Christ to His people. I am not suggesting we tolerate any patterns of sin... far from it. What I am suggesting in matters of character and ability that we are not to nag or nit-pick at our leadership for that would be unkind, unprofitable and unloving to them (cp, Heb. 13:7, 17)). We are to encourage them in godliness and to maintain a good reputation within and beyond the walls of the church. We are to encourage them to faithful teachers of God's Word and examine what they are teaching every week. It is our duty to do so. Paul says, "test all things and cling to that which is good..." Let your pastor see you studying the text as he preaches; giving a helpful word of encouragement to him when he has preached faithfully God's Word and that same Word is lived out in him.

IOW, every part of the body of Christ in a local church should continually encourage their pastors to "watch their life and doctrine closely" (1 Tim. 4:12-16); to be an "example to all the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity" (2 Tim. 2:22). To "preach the Word in season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:1-5) and to avoid the temptation of giving sermonettes for Christianettes. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Proverbs 27:6). Amen?

4. Entreat Their Shepherding (Hebrews 13:17) Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

In Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch says,
"Scripture also expressly commands the congregation to obey and submit to its spiritual leaders (Heb 13:17, James 5:5).....The requirement to submit, however, is not meant to suggest blind, mindless submission. Nor does it suggest that elders are above questioning or immune from public discipline (1Tim 5:19ff). The elders are most assuredly answerable to the congregation, and the congregation is responsible to hold its spiritual leaders accountable to faithful adherence to the truth of the Word."
There are three overarching duties that the elders are to have: prayer, ministry of the Word, and to shepherd God's people. All other duties fall under those three general headings. The one of shepherding is of vital importance; it is the hardest to do and the most neglected. We are to honor, submit, obey, and give preference to the counsel and leadership of the elders of the church. We are to hold them in high regard and reward with double honor those who are faithful in sound doctrine and the discipleship of God's people (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Timothy 5:17-19).

the business of the pastor
By definition, one of the titles of the elder is overseer (1 Timothy 3:1). The Greek word, episkopos, literally means to "look intently into the life of another" (1 Tim. 3:1); or "the careful watching over the soul--tirelessly keeping to one's post, forsaking rest or sleep to be a faithful watchman, as one who will give an account before the Lord of how they have looked after another believer in Christ" (Heb. 13:17). This selfless service to the body of Christ characterizes the under-shepherd of Christ more than any other singular thing. Good sermons, though important, are relatively easy to prepare in comparison -commentaries don't talk back to you, argue with you, cry with pain over the burdens of the day, stress you, wake you up at 2:00am with another issue to settle from someone's home, or having to walk through the discipline of one in enjoying unrepentant sin, etc. This is where you separate the men from the boys in pastoral ministry. If the pastors investment into the lives of God's people primarily or singularly resides around only sermon prep and exposition, then they have become nothing more than well-equipped "biblical motivational speakers." "Preach the Word" doesn't mean, "I don't have to shepherd the flock." Both are vital: sound doctrine preached; godly shepherding and discipleship tended to.

Or what if the pastors/elders are only there for the congregation during times of crisis, it doesn't truly reflect the heart of the Lord for ministry, does it? Even unbelievers will demonstrate human kindness, care, and love for another stranger in times of great turmoil. 911 demonstrated that, didn't it? The most wicked of men will even die for a cause or sacrifice their lives on a battle field, won't they? But the under-shepherd of the Lord is not just about crisis management. In fact, if a pastor finds himself just going from crisis to crisis in his church, it is a telling mark that he is not invested with his people. If someone dies in the church or has been in a terrible accident, a faithful shepherd will be there-for that matter anyone would. But that emergency presence doesn't prove his life or calling. What really marks the man of God and maturity of the leadership of any church is how are they pro-actively invested in shepherding the flock of God when there is no crisis-in the daily pots and pans of living. That is the distinguishing feature of the true overseer in the Lord. This is exhausting service; this is tireless expenditure of life for another; this is the hard-working farmer of 2 Timothy 2:6; this is the ministry!

Question: When was the last time you received a phone call, a letter or note, an impromptu visit from the pastors/elders of your church when there was no crisis and without you prompting it in anyway whatsoever? Sadly, I would say for most people the answer would be never. Failure in ministry usually occurs at the most fundamental levels and this is without question the weakest link in the chain for any church leadership.

he smells like sheep
When I was in New Jersey ministering in concert at a tremendous Pentecostal church a few years ago, I asked the head of the elder board to tell me about their senior pastor... what is he known for in his ministry. Without hesitation he said two things I have never forgotten: 1. he is faithful expositor of God's Word; and, 2. he smells like sheep. What a great way to identify that this man was ministering faithfully among God's people-he smells like sheep. He didn't smell like a board room, a class room, a golf course, etc. He smelled like the ones he was ministering too. That's it friends. Oh for leadership that will invest pro-actively in the care, discipleship, and needs of the flock of God. Two books I would highly recommend you reading on this important subject and even consider giving to your pastors are: 1. Pastoral Theology by Thomas Murphy; and, 2. The Genius of Puritanism by Peter Lewis.

Oh to have pastors that can have these words carved above the doorposts of their study by those they are ministering to, "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another" (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

5. Exhort the Unfaithful (1 Timothy 5:19-21) "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality."

Dr. John MacArthur has summed up so powerfully this duty to discipline and rebuke those in leadership when they are in sin from his N.T. commentary on 1 Timothy. Listen with fear and trembling to his words:
Elders are to be protected from false accusations, but are not to receive immunity from true ones. Those elders who continue in sin must bear the consequences. Paul does not mention here any specific kinds of sin. Any sin or pattern of unrepentant sin that causes an elder to violate the qualifications listed in 3:2-7 would be grounds for rebuke in the presence of all. There are no elaborate steps of discipline to be followed. An accusation is made and confirmed by two or three witnesses, then investigated; if found true, the elder is to be publicly rebuked. The Greek word for rebuke means to expose, to bring to open conviction, to correct, or to reprove. There are no exegetical grounds for limiting all to the other elders. It means everyone, elders and congregation. A sinning elder has nowhere to hide.

The ministry is thus a two-edged sword. Those who serve faithfully are to be honored and protected, but those who sin are to be publicly rebuked. One of the purposes for that public rebuke is so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. When one elder is publicly disgraced because of sin, that puts a healthy fear into the hearts of the others. It also puts that same fear into the hearts of the congregation (cf.. Matt. 18:17). Godly fear, along with love, is a proper motive for avoiding sin and obeying God (Deut. 13:6-11; 17:12-13; 19:16-20; Acts 5:5-11). Proverbs 9:10 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Second Corinthians 7:1 admonishes believers to "cleanse themselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (cf.. Acts 9:31; Eph. 5:21; Heb. 12:28; 1 Peter 2:17). Such fear is not sheer terror, but rather a sense of the ominous reality of God's hatred of evil.

The church needs to decide whether to protect man's reputation, or God's? Those who repent are to be forgiven and accepted by the congregation. That does not mean, however, they are to automatically be restored to ministry. Depending on the severity of the sin, they may be permanently disqualified.

The church must maintain these principles regarding sinning elders without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. No one is to receive preferential treatment. The rebuke of sinning elders must be done with accuracy and integrity. There must be no effort to protect those who are famous, specially gifted, or popular, nor to expose those who are not.

Notwithstanding John's powerful words above, this is not easy to apply or do. We can make the dogmatic statement on paper, but in reality where real people's lives are at stake, relationships are strained and emotions running high, it can be a different more difficult thing altogether.

a cautious discipline
One word of caution here: Every little sin or character flaw that a pastor might have is not what's in view here. Paul is giving general principals understanding that the kind of sin, its pattern and severity will govern much of what kind of discipline and rebuke is enforced. In some areas where the failings of the elder is not one of great severity (say as it would be with sexual sin) the discipleship of the pastor in bringing him to a place of a more proven character might be in order (as opposed to immediately moving to a public rebuke). This would demonstrate humility, submissive, repentance and restoration. We must all use godly wisdom; evaluating each case on its own merit. And like with the congregation, the purpose of confronting a sinning elder is not for a witch-hunt, powerplay, personal revenge or retribution. It's goal is always to see a man living holy before the Lord, honoring Him with a repentant life, and ultimately fit for the Master's use (2 Timothy 2).

"the Peter principle"
Here is an interesting example. Listen to the account of Peter when he was publicly rebuked by Paul for distorting the true gospel out of fear for those of the Circumcision.
"But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to [Peter] in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 "We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. 17 "But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!" (Galatians 2:11-17).

Peter was preaching a false gospel motivated by his personal fear of the Circumcision (similar to his fear of the crowds when denying Christ). Would you have him as your pastor? Would you dismiss him or disqualify him for heretical teaching or let him stay in ministry? Would you have disrobed him or challenged him as to his apostolic authority and credentials? Or maybe just put him on a probationary period of testing before he was allowed to be a spokesman for the Lord and His gospel in public ministry again? Sobering questions.

Interestingly, Paul does none of that; he rebuked him and Peter repented. Again, I am not suggesting that we tolerate sin or lower the standard of pastoral qualifications. But we do need to apply the wisdom of "grace and truth" in every situation before rashly dismissing a man, either temporarily or permanently, from ministry as a pastor.

In Conclusion:
As you can see, mutual accountability is vitally important in the body of Christ. Pray for your leaders, examine what they teach with God's Word, encourage them in godly character, invite them to speak into your life and family, and, if necessary, rebuke and discipline a sinning pastor so that all may live in the fear of the Lord.


Timotheos said...

As a pastor, I appreciate your insights.

Having sat under the ministry of a man who was unapproachable, I still feel the sting of an unaccountable elder.

Please pray for us 'shepherds,' for our humility, our teachable spirits and our dependence upon the Word of God.

Thanks in advance,


Mike Miller said...

This was great, Steve. With all the debate over pastors/elders within the SBC today, there is a lot of confusion. I've seen a lot of laypeople and pastors/elders alike who misunderstand the concept of elder as being one without any congregational accountability. I am a pastor, and in my prayer journal, I keep a copy of the anonymous layman's advice on how to treat your pastor that MacArthur included in the last of his FAQ's in his book Rediscovering Expository Preaching. I like to read it occasionally. It's kind of long, but if anyone would like, I'll post it here.

SJ Camp said...

Thank you for your encouraging words and YES... please post the "anonymous layman's..." here. For something this good we will tolerate the length :-).

Grace and peace to you brother,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

Mac said...

Excellent article, Steve. This is a wonderful explanation of biblical leadership.

I attend a fellowship where there are no elders or leaders...just a pastor. The issue with this is not that he is abusing power or doing anything that we know of that is immoral or wrong. But there is clearly a lack of opportunity for others to excercise their gifts.

Under your third point, you mention extending grace toward various weakness that a leader may have. In the case of our church, the body suffers from his weakness if no one else is allowed to 'be strong' in that particular area. I don't mean in a manner that usurps authority or position, but is allowed to offer counsel or help to cover a pastor's inability to, say, make administrative decisions.

It appears that he sees needing help from others as either a weakness, or a challenge to his authority.

I have worked in ministry around pastors for many years, and have yet to find a pastor who handles even the most gentle of criticism very well.

jen said...

Mr. Camp, I simply can't thank you enough for this post. This subject touches my family's life in a very personal way. I have written a post about our story(quoting yours in part and linking here).
Thanks again!

Mike Miller said...

Here it is, from MacArthur's Rediscovering Expository Preaching (pp. 348-49):

Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.

Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.

Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.

Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!

Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day—“Sir, we would see Jesus.”

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.

Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.

And sit down before him and listen to the only word he as left—God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.

Mike Miller said...

Just another note. I happened to read this post this morning before church. I had already written my Sunday School lesson for college students from 2 Peter 2 (about false teachers), and the lesson included an encouragement to my students to examine everything they hear in light of Scripture. I told them (as I have told our congregation many times) that they need to examine everything I say to make sure that I am doctrinally sound. I don't want to preach false doctrine!

Well, it just so happened that after my sermon, a young man who was not in that Sunday School class approached me and said, "I know this is a small thing, but I feel I need to correct something you said today." Now, the good news is that it wasn't a doctrinal matter, but just a definitional matter that probably no one other than this particular person even noticed. But I thanked him and praised God. I want to be correct in everything I say, and I am grateful for men like this who are willing to graciously help me be the man of God I so desperately long to be.

Of course, there are those who are not doctrinally sound who like to correct as well. I only see that as an opportunity to teach them. For the most part, almost every comment I have ever gotten has been given graciously, and even the ones that weren't were at times helpful to me.

Telika said...

This was a very good, very insightful article. I also love your music. I heard about your blog on 90.1 wmbi today. God bless!
and please visit my blog I talk about everyday situations and how I use the word of God in my everyday life. It's much shorter then yours but I'm proud of it. It would be such a blessing to me if you were to visit and comment!
much love

SJ Camp said...

To Mike, JoythruChrist, Scott, Timotheos, and Telika:

Thank you all for your very encouraging words, insights and additional quotes. Mike, I have that as well in my iPaq. John didn't author it, but it is a very, very powerful reminder of the duty of the servant-leader in Christ... amen?

May the Lord keep us broken vessels, fit for His use in all that we do.

And may we pray for our pastors--remembering they are sheep too still in process as we are.

Grace and peace,
Heb. 13:17

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't this post get 176 comments? It should (but I won't do it myself, I promise!) Not only does my church need to hear stuff like this, I need to hear it everyday. Thanks, Steve.

SJ Camp said...

return to righteousness:

I don't allow anonymous posting here. When I clicked on your "nic" for your profile, there was no biographical information listed. Please fill out all bio information.... I want to know whom I am dialoging with here.

I have deleted your post (which, BTW, was massively incorrect) until until you comply with the rules of this blog. When you do so, you may return here as part of the conversation and I will address your nefarious assertions about the Apostle Paul.

Steve Camp
Col. 1:9-14

Jen Fishburne said...

Did you write this article just for me? :-)

After two years of attempting to work with my well-known pastor, I felt the Lord leading me to expose him for ecclesiastical abuse. Many people don't agree with what I have done, but God is using this public forum to change many people's lives, mine being the first.

Your article here was a confirmation that sometimes this is sorely needed. I wish it weren't so, but this statement you made is my goal:

"It's goal is always to see a man living holy before the Lord, honoring Him with a repentant life, and ultimately fit for the Master's use (2 Timothy 2)."

This is a great article and I will be linking to it from my site telling my story of ecclesiastical abuse. Thank you for taking a stand for the hard things. said...

Thank you for posting this, Steve. I think there are a lot of pastors who need to be held accountable--well, all of them do--but congregations either feel like their hands are tied or they don't understand the Biblical mandate for us to keep check on those in positions of spiritual authority. Hopefully with your blessing, I've posted your blog piece on my site at

Thanks again for your obedience to the Lord, Steve.

In His grip,
Chad Steenerson

Julie said...

I was searching for just this, to know what to do. I love our pastor but I cannot condone the spiritual bullying that is done to those who disagree with the drastic changes he is making. Our elderly and long time members are heart broken that working members of the church are leaving our midst. Every time someone questions the path he is leading the congregation he accuses them of not having their heart right with God. Your words have helped me in knowing that I am right in my thoughts.

Unknown said...

I thought this was very good and would like to copy it but when I try I can't get it to copy. Is it blocked for some reason. If so, could I copy it with your permission? Thank-you

Unknown said...

I thought this was very good and would like to copy it. I tried but was unable to do so. I was wondering if it was blocked for some reason. Do I need your permission to copy and use this? If so, may I have permission? Thanks

Brenda said...

thank you for sound biblical advise.
our local assembly is currently dealing with problems and some of our leadership are very adamant that the pastor is not accountable to the elders or any of the local body.

we very much need biblical principals in this matter. I was also trying to print and cannot.

Asking for permission to print.

Thank you so very much

~Brenda (

Brenda said...

thank you for this excellent biblical advise.

Would very much like to print it off.

May I have permission to print?

Thank you

SonoftheKing-D said...

Thanks for a thorough and thoughtful look at Leadership and accountability. I am a pastor who was recently "retired" early by the founding pastor who found fault with me. Having brought me in to replace him as pastor without elder approval he just as quickly "retired" me without the elder approval when not happy with my vision.

The church is still reeling. I had no recourse other than to leave. For the past 3 months I have floundered and asked myself why. I finally have come to rest and peace that the call of God is still real and tangible in my life - it is irrevocable. I have forwarded your article to the many members of the church I left to see if they may be able to work with this pastor. They have been asking me for an article such as yours. I do not believe I found it by mistake. I pray it will give them some insight and recourse to try and bring some accountability to the pastor.

We all must live with being accountable to someone. if not then the Protestant papacy - or 'cultism' is at the door and life in the church rises or sets by that one man's opinion and whim.
This is unhealthy and I have seen firsthand how bad it can get.

The problem is that many have tried to talk to this pastor but he just ignores them and does his own thing.

I am glad for the experience in hindsight as it has made me tougher and more thoughtful about my next ministry.

keep up the good work.
A son of the King - D

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your valuable insight into this much too common problem. I needed the confirmation I found here that my thoughts are correct and biblical. I know now that I must go forward. Thanks again for your encouragement.

Unknown said...

Excellent article Steve, The Holy Spirit spoke to me to minister on this topic. I was in search of scriptures relating to the accountability of Shepherds and found your blog. It truly is necessary to be taught in the churches. God Bless.