In yesterday’s Morning Manna I mentioned the fact that I do not prepare sermons to address the needs or problems of specific individuals. As every preacher has experienced, sometimes people will say, “You were preaching directly to me”, and we know what they mean and that’s great. But occasionally someone will actually accuse us of attacking them personally. Most preachers are not guilty of that, but sometimes it does happen. I can’t honestly say I have never been guilty, but that was many years ago and very foolish on my part. Although far from perfect, that’s something I refuse to do.
So, it was with this in mind that I just happened to run across a brief statement made by J. C. Philpot many years ago. It served as a good reminder for me. Perhaps it will be of help to someone else. Philpot wrote:
A pastor has no right to turn the pulpit into a
coward’s castle, and from there attack those
in the congregation, whom he is afraid to meet
face to face privately.
It is cruelly unfair to attack an individual who
cannot defend himself—to hold him up, as if on
the horns of the pulpit, before the congregation,
(who generally know pretty well who is meant),
and to condemn him without hearing his side,
with the pastor being the only judge and jury.
Now, while I agree with this, I feel compelled to say a few words in defense of pastors–perhaps the most misunderstood people on earth. Things are not always as they appear. Just because the pastor’s sermon hits you right between the eyes it doesn’t mean you are his target. Guilt will make you feel that way. Before you criticize him try confessing your sins. In extreme cases, such as church discipline, it might be necessary for the pastor to address issues in your life. Again, if that’s the case, confession is the solution.
However, in some instances, I think very few, pastors are guilty of using the pulpit as a whipping post for certain individuals. He might even speak out of anger rather than love. He might be totally wrong. So, how do you handle a case like that?
First of all, try to put yourself in his shoes. Although it is impossible for you to understand the pressure he is under you can at least try to be understanding. He is only human, with the same kind of feelings and emotions as everyone else. In his position it is easy to be disappointed and get discouraged. He is not above acting out of character once in a while. Don’t we all? Besides, he has the welfare of the whole church on his heart. When he feels someone is a threat to the church–its testimony or ministry, he gets concerned–sometimes overly so.
Whatever the case might be, the first thing you should do is pray for him. If you aren’t praying for him what makes you think you have the right to criticize him? Secondly, refuse to speak evil of him to others. His failure doesn’t give you the freedom to gossip. Third, in some cases, when his guilt is evident and you’ve tried everything else to resolve the problem, it might be best to meet with him and discuss, in a civil manner, your concerns. You might be surprised by what a good heart to heart talk can accomplish. If you’re still not satisfied, keep praying and leave the matter to God. He knows how to correct His children, and He doesn’t need your help.