Unfortunately, for some of us who are students of God’s word and think we have all our theological ducks in a row, our response can be heavy on examination and light on reception. Rather than being like the Bereans, who took what they were taught and gladly held it up to God’s word to verify its truthfulness, we can be more like an oversensitive car alarm that goes off whenever someone walks by, even though no one is trying to break in.
For most of my life, my pastors have been older than I am — significantly older. This always seemed right to me. As a child, then a teen, then a young woman seeking to grow in Christ, I welcomed the authority and wisdom of older pastors. But now that I’m middle-aged, I’ve begun to notice an alarming fact: the men whom God has called to shepherd me are occasionally my age or younger.
When I first began to notice this trend, I responded with a chuckle more than anything else: So this is what it’s like to grow up! You get older than the preacher. But the longer I’ve been either a peer or an older sister in Christ to my pastors, I’ve faced some peculiar pride-filled temptations.
Temptations related to pastoral authority are not unique to my circumstance, of course. Some of us may have a harder time with an older pastor, or a new pastor, or a less-experienced pastor, or a more-experienced pastor. For all of us on this side of the new heavens and new earth, authority — even good and God-ordained authority — can cause us to bristle.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, however, he commends an attitude toward pastoral authority far removed from bristling:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13)
How should Christians respond to their pastors? Respect them. Esteem them. Love them. To that end, consider three pitfalls to avoid as we relate to our pastors, so that we are able to show proper respect as we esteem them very highly in love.
Lay Aside Impossible Expectations
First, don’t let impossible expectations replace eager anticipation. When we come into any gathering with God’s people, whether the large gathering on Sunday morning or a smaller gathering on Wednesday night or a one-on-one meeting with one of our pastors, we bring expectations. These expectations are right and good if they accord with what the Bible teaches. We should expect our pastors to lead us in worshiping God, to imitate Christ in his character, and to instruct us in God’s word, not worldly ideas.
But when our expectations for how our pastors must act or behave center on our preferences or pet agendas, we likely will lose the eager anticipation we should have when gathering with God’s people. We also may find that an unmet expectation in one area breeds more and more expectations for what our pastors should do and how they should do it in other areas. What began as an unmet expectation for them to develop a certain type of counseling ministry has multiplied into unmet expectations for what committees they prioritize and what day of the week they take off.
Respecting our pastors means laying down impossible expectations and trading them for eager anticipation of all that God will do — both in our pastors and in ourselves — by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. God will meet us in unexpected ways when we forsake our own expectations, and receive our pastors as the men God has made them to be — imperfect and growing, but appointed over us for our good.