Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.
“Trust God and trust His people.” This is some of the best advice I ever heard on pastoring a church or in dealing with my fellow Christians. The Lord leads His people by His Spirit to understand and apply His truth, and even pastors are not “Lone Rangers” for Christ, but individuals called to love and feed the sheep of Christ.
Certainly there are times and moments when the people of God may go the wrong way, and perhaps even need a strong rebuke, but we never approach our brother or sister in Christ without the knowledge and assurance that the Lord leads His people and can change their hearts. We rebuke in love and in the confidence that God can bring about spiritual change in those who have accepted Christ and are indwelt by His Spirit.
I have recently been involved in a conversation with a pastor who has been asked to resign his church, and I believe the basic problem was that though he trusted God, he did not really trust the people. Rather than appeal to the Christ in them, he sought to make progress by going around them, by telling them his vision for the church, and not leading them to find God’s vision. Of course, the real question was that since he did not believe that God could lead the people in his church to see the will of God, just how deep was his faith in God?
Wherever we serve the Lord, we discover that He is at work in people’s hearts and lives, changing attitudes and directions and values. The pastor and other church leaders are not to lord it over the people entrusted in their care, but to seek to be examples, trusting that the Lord is also working in the people. The traits of those whom God will use in His work are courage and vision but also humility, gentleness, and tenderness. We are all, after all, following Christ, and our Lord made Himself vulnerable to His disciples, even to the point of allowing Judas to betray Him.
“But,” someone will object, “Judas was not a true believer! We cannot trust our souls to non-believers!” Christ never trusted Himself to any man, because He knew what was in man (John 2:24-25), we should not be naïve about human nature, yet Christ also knew what God was capable of. There is a point to being protective, of not putting people in positions they are not spiritually qualified to hold – Judas was not one of the inner circle of Peter, James, and John – of not entrusting our deepest thoughts or the major decisions of the church into the hands of morally compromised people.
Yet Christ did not always withdraw from the scenes of conflict, but also, literally, put His life in the hands of His followers. His rebukes to the religious leaders were done in the hope of their repentance. “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7). To do and to act otherwise would be to act contrary to the spirit that Christ taught us to have in the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30) – in dealing harshly with the difficult people we will do damage to innocent people. If, on the other hand, harm is done to the faithful servants in the process, it is allowed by God in the hope that people will repent.
The only hope of our transformation as the people of God is the moving presence of the Spirit in our hearts and lives, and He lives inside each believer. The wisest and the most devout should be the leaders of the congregation, but we should also trust that God is seeking to change the hearts of all His children. In my opinion the great secret to pastoring a church is to seek always to follow Christ and to appeal as well to the Christ who indwells His people, trusting Him to lead all to understand His way and His ways.
Lord, let us follow You as You lead us. Give us wisdom that is beyond our years of experience and learning. Teach us to put aside our fears and trust in You and in Your Spirit’s work within human lives. Amen.