Periodically, I write a post or say something in a sermon or lecture that makes people uncomfortable. Actually, it may happen a little more frequently than “periodically.”
That is a natural result of me doing what God has called me to do. As a pastor and as a truth-teller, I am required to speak God’s Word into situations that are not aligned with the truth. The fact that truth will confront the darkness and require repentance and adjustments means that the truth is going to hurt. Typically, people don’t like it.
Of course, some pastors are jerks. They like pointing out error in others.
But, we are commanded in Scripture to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). That means that I am to speak truth because I love the truth, love the Lord, and love the person(s) I am addressing.
Sometimes, my correction is not direct. It appears as a reflection on something I believe is wrong and will adversely affect Jesus-followers who will embrace the error. Just a few of these instances are when I wrote articles about Andy Stanley and replacement theology, or The Shack, or addressing books and movies that speak of people coming back from Heaven.
If I were trying to be popular, this is certainly not the way to do it. Our culture has created an 11th Commandment and it goes like this: “Thou Shalt Not Make Me Feel Uncomfortable.”
So, what does the Bible have to say about this? Should pastors be truth-tellers and address problems in individuals, the church, and the culture? Should they do this even when some Christians would rather that their pastor didn’t?
A Pastor’s Primary Task Is to Proclaim Truth
What would you say is the pastor’s primary task?
Fortunately, this matter was settled in the first century church and they elaborated the answer for us.
The pastors of the first century church in Jerusalem were confronted with a problem that threatened to take them away from what they perceived to be their primary tasks. So, they called the church together, gave a solution, and clarified the two primary tasks to which they had been called.
“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4)
The proclamation of the Word.
In fact, while so many contemporary churches value ministries of the church much more than the proclamation of the Word, the Bible is clear that those who preach and teach are worthy of getting paid well. Clearly, this is one of God’s priorities for pastors.
“Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17 – NLT)
It is unfortunate that many churches simply want a chaplain. They want someone who is always smiling and always making people feel good. The want a pastor whose sole task is to pander to the desires of the congregation and never, ever make them feel uncomfortable.
But God loves His people too much to give them such an impotent leader. He loves His people so much that He is working to make them more like His dear Son, Jesus. To that end, He has given pastors to the churches to speak truth and confront error (Ephesians 4:11-16).
While this is certainly not a pastor’s only task, it is his primary task.
Proclaiming Truth Will Not Always Be Easy
Why would proclaiming the truth be difficult?
Because sometimes the truth hurts. It points out where someone has erred in their thinking or behavior. It requires them to make an adjustment and probably repent.
And people (in the flesh) don’t like this. Listen to what the Apostle Paul told his protege, Timothy.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Take a look around you. This verse describes much of what is going on in our culture. There are plenty of so-called preachers who are giving their people exactly what they crave. They only say what is positive, encouraging, and will never make the listener uncomfortable with the truth.
So, what’s wrong with that?
As a former pastor of mine used to say:
“The Good News without the bad news makes the Good News no news at all. But, the bad news makes the Good News great news!” (Adrian Rogers)
If people don’t hear what is wrong with them, they won’t see the need for the remedy. Rather than embracing the Gospel and letting it create deep roots within their heart so that they bear fruit, they will be like the rocky soil or thorny soil mentioned in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. They will embrace the Gospel only superficially – their “faith” is not a saving faith and they will either abandon it or never take it seriously. They are no better off than demons.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19)
Before a patient is prepared to undergo a serious surgery, they must be convinced that they have a problem that demands it. And before someone will wholly embrace the cross, they must first realize they are a sinner in need of a Savior. Only then can they believe or even desire to believe in Jesus for salvation.
Further, a follower-of-Jesus will continue to need wrong thinking and wrong behavior pointed out as they are becoming more like their Lord and Savior. So, this takes us back to the necessity of pastors as truth-tellers.
Sometimes Proclaiming Truth is Confrontational
If a doctor truly loves his patients, he will tell them what they don’t want to hear but what they need to hear. He would be cruel and guilty of malpractice if he knew that one of his patients had a problem that surgery could remedy but he didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.
A pastor who loves his congregation must tell them what they may not want to hear but what they need to hear. He knows that they will stand before Jesus one day and give an account of their life. He wants them to hear Jesus say, “Well done!” So, even though it is sometimes difficult, he speaks truth to them.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul told another one of his proteges, Titus.
“I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.” (Titus 1:5-9 – NLT) (emphasis mine)
That last verse (which I underlined) is what it looks like to handle God’s Word properly. Preaching and teaching encourages what is good and confronts what is wrong. And, by virtue of the fact that some of the wrong is currently taking place, truth-telling will be confrontational.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Clearly, a pastor realizes that he, too, will stand before the Lord one day and give an account of his life. So, he had better be “handling the word of truth” correctly. That means that he studies it, and he proclaims its truths to others.
Proclaiming Truth is Part of the Stress of Pastoring
Pastors are human. They like to be liked.
They also have a family to take care of and those they must confront are paying their salary.
Whatever Timothy’s circumstances, he was discovering that being a proclaimer of truth was painting a huge target on his back. People would be resistant to his correction. So, rather than make the necessary adjustments that the truth required, they would attack the messenger.
That’s why Paul had to encourage Timothy. If Timothy wasn’t struggling with fear and anxiety, there would have been no need for Paul to write 2 Timothy 1:7.
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
In fact, I suspect that this might be why Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine. Apparently, Timothy had some stomach problems. Stress can do a number on our gastric system.
“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23)
So, if a pastor is trying to win a popularity contest, he will have to distort the primary task he is called to do. He will encourage and uplift his congregation but he will have to completely overlook the passages that command pastors to correct error in behavior and beliefs.
Listen to what Paul told preacher-boy Timothy. It is thought that 2 Timothy was the last letter Paul wrote before he was martyred. There is a solemnity that resonates throughout this book.
“I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5 – NLT)
So, pray for your pastor.
- Pray that he would have a Heaven-sent love for his congregation.
- Pray that he would be a student of the Word.
- Pray that he would be faithful to proclaim God’s Word.
- Pray that he would have the courage to “patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.”
- Pray that he would see fruit for his labor – lives changed and more conformed to the image of Jesus.
- And pray that there would be those who stand with him and back him up when he is targeted for speaking the truth.