Don’t Make Your Pastor Groan

The stereotype of the pastor who “gets no respect” is regrettably a real thing.

When we think of submission, we often think in terms of ruling and overruling, of conflict and wielded authority. I want to encourage you to think of obedience and submission differently in this context. Certainly, it does mean that when sin is evident, when you are in need of confession and repentance, you ought to obey your leaders’ rebuke and submit to their biblical discipline. But assuming such a circumstance is not the case, think of obedience and submission this way: encouraging your leaders with faithful graciousness.


It is hard to pin down what is difficult about pastoral ministry for people unfamiliar with it. Many laypeople see their pastor once or twice a week during Lord’s Day worship or a church activity. A few may see him more frequently if they are involved in volunteer ministry or are being discipled or counseled personally by the pastor. So while we sometimes joke about the congregation that thinks their pastor works only one day a week—and even then, he’s just talking—the stereotype of the pastor who “gets no respect” is regrettably a real thing.

And this is difficult to talk about for pastors. It is difficult to explain to their own congregations how pastoral ministry can be so difficult. It can be and often is a great joy. But it is difficult in ways that are hard to express, because doing so runs the risk of appearing as complaining, shaming, or nagging. The pastor may find it not difficult at all to exhort his congregation in submission to God, faithfulness in service, and joy in discipleship. But exhort them to submit to himself and his fellow elders? In faith? With joy? Well, that’s something else entirely. Out of all the biblical texts the Christian may hope his pastor neglects to teach, Hebrews 13:17 may sit near the top of the list:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

We may assume, based on all of the Bible’s instructions on such matters, that the author of Hebrews is not instructing Christians to submit to sin. This caveat is embedded in all the New Testament’s words on our submission to each other. So let us set aside immediately the “but” we want to bring up about immoral or abusive leaders. Set aside as well the image of the perfect pastor custom-tailored to your way of thinking, quite easy indeed to submit to. Think instead of the imperfect, unpolished, ordinary pastor. Think of your pastor. Think of your leaders. Hebrews 13:17 says to obey them and submit to them.

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