A Day When Pastoral Failure Is Finally Liberated

All of those sermons about — love, care, concern, and the church being a family — back when the church did not have to deal with Covid and the present social-political upheaval — sure sounded better then than what we see now.

Only two years ago, those sermons were believed to accurately represent what it meant to be a member of the church and/or reflect how the pastor cared for his people.  He was the shepherd with a heart for God’s people.  If anyone cares, it is the pastor! — He’s the under-shepherd who cares for his flock.

That was the expectation which was presumed to be the actual response of the pastor when difficult times came into our lives.  Those expectations were taught as being biblically founded, appropriate, and reasonable by both those who shared leadership and sat in the pews!

However, theological and pastoral liberating “cloaks” now mitigate any pastoral failure!

√  Ministries and pastors are theologically liberated from failure by raising doctrinal banners.

“We believe in the deity of Christ. Many churches no longer believe that. We are standing on the Word and promises of God.”

“We need a revival in America — and in the church today.  Churches are under attack today and our society is in shambles.  Christ is the only hope of America.”

Those kinds of affirmations are enough to dismiss most any and all pastoral or church failures, short of the black and white unacceptable moral failures.

Sadly, I’ve heard it said by those who admit that their pastor is self-centered and cares little for God’s people.

“I know — and we even know personally — how little he cares for God’s people and those in the church.  Yes, it is all about him, not about others.  But, he preaches the Bible.”

There is an acceptable separation between saying and doing.  Apparently, “doing” is not part of what a pastor is saying (non-verbally) or part of what the Bible teaches.  

However, “doing” is actually part of the Bible’s teaching and is part of teaching!

Sometimes it is the “bibliological banner” that is raised above all other truths, doctrines, or practical principles of Scripture. . . .

“We are a church that preaches the unadulterated Word of God without compromise. We believe that the Scriptures are God’s solid rock of wisdom and understanding!”

“We are committed to expository preaching — line by line, precept upon precept.  We don’t vary or equivocate on what the Scriptures teach!”

That will get a hearty “AMEN” and cover many a good reason to question what is actually happening when it comes to the church and/or with God’s people.


√  Ministries and pastors are pastorally liberated from failure by calling up the role, position, and/or office of “pastor.”

What was a legitimate biblical admonition — “receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses,” is now . . .

“Examine little to no concerns or issues that arise — Talk to few, if any, about what or why — Quiet or cover all disagreement — Allow no one to speak to those in leadership — Receive not an accusation no matter how many people have left the church — Respond to as little as possible . . . “

At times, pastoral liberation is endorsed by framing what has ( or had not been done) as needing a vote of confidence on either keeping or dismissing the lead pastor. There is a liberating quality to setting up that “either-or” response. 

It is made to seem that any criticism of a pastor is only a push to have him voted out by the congregation.

It is made to seem that any criticism of a pastor is unloving or unkind —  Don’t you realize that pastors are facing “burn-out” in ministry?  Such questioning is harsh and ungracious.

Church leadership “circles the wagons” to protect the pastor from what they think is the intended purpose of criticism — dismissal.  Instead of seeing such criticism as an opportunity to seriously help to correct course, they view criticism as a movement designed to “fire the pastor.”

Again, the options are not either-or: Keep or Fire. . . . Support or Dismiss . . . . or He is a Good or Wicked pastor.

The practical and evaluative options that ought to be considered are far more realistic and expansive than that . . . .

  • Remarkably Selfless
  • Sincerely Caring
  • Inconsistently / Selectively Caring
  • Sporadically Considerate
  • Pastorally Aloof
  • Generally Selfish
  • Repeatedly & Genuinely Self-serving

To bring to light an issue of legitimate concern, or to bring up the failure to serve and love God’s people, is — “You are sowing discord, and/or trying to get the pastor fired!”

There is no middle ground!  Could it be that some are pushing the leadership to do what they are in a position to do and have been elected to do, representing God’s people?  Those leaders are in a position to examine and discuss such concerns, and have a small enough venue to speak boldly and frankly about the pastoral actions and ministry directions!

Seemingly, the application of such biblical passages as . . .

* The Prodigal Son
* The Lost Sheep
* The Ninety and Nine
* The Good Samaritan
* “if you have done it to the least of these”
* “especially those of the household of God”

. . . . do not bear much theological or pastoral weight midst the proffered liberating excuses of pastors when failing to show care, sympathy, concern, or compassion for people.

  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

Yes, “There is no perfect pastor..”  Yes, “There is no perfect church.” HOWEVER, the choices are not “perfect and imperfect.” Again, the choices are not either-or. They are — Excellent-great-good-average-weak-poor-terrible-toxic.”

We live in a day when it is Theologically and Pastorally Liberating to fail in ministry, reaching those who need Christ, and in ministering to God’s people.

No longer does the weight of biblical reasoning and common spiritual sensibility, which naturally flows from any discussion or reference to the love of God, of the incarnation (God moving into our neighborhood), demand a far better response by the church’s leaders, nor does it result in any meaningful consequences midst obvious pastoral failure!

What was once “amen and amen expectations,” when what was theologically and pastorally unacceptable and rightly rebuked, is now allowed to slide through as . . .

  • “oversights”
  • “human error”
  • “ministry mistakes”
  • “It’s Covid.”
  • “It’s a terrible failure, but it’s only a one-off.”
  • “Ministering to God’s people is difficult.”
  • “We all fail and have failed.”

We do live in a day when pastoral failure has been liberated from the most reasonable level of appropriate expectations and consequences.

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