9 Minute Read

Today’s Bible Reading:

2 Samuel 14:1-15:22
John 18:1-24
Psalm 119:97-112
Proverbs 16:8-9 

Today’s Bible Verse(s):

2 Samuel 15:6 (NLT): “Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.”

Reflections on Today’s Bible Verse(s):

Mental Awareness Month is observed in May. I am not aware of a Mental Awareness Month in which so many people were struggling like they are right now. However, I hope you don’t mind if I focus primarily on pastors since those men, and their wives are so dear to my heart.

To begin with, I realize that I am writing for a very scattered audience. As May draws to a close, people from 83 different countries have visited my website so far this month. While over 1,400 views were from readers in the United States, 853 views came from countries outside the U.S. borders. However, regardless of your country or language, if you are a Christian and you are a pastor, or you attend a church with a pastor, you can be sure that what I will describe in this article isn’t simply an American problem. It is a human, worldwide problem.

Countries from which viewers checked out at least one article on my website during this month of May 2021.

If you are a pastor, you are well aware of the pressures of ministry. A pastor/friend once told me of the time he led a Christian para-church organization (before he became a pastor). He said that he observed that pastors often seemed tired and sad, and he looked down on them for not having “the joy of the Lord.” Then, he became a pastor and understood why those pastors were struggling. Another pastor/friend was a policeman in a large city for 11 years. He told me that pastoring, in many ways, is a lot tougher than being a cop. The struggle is real, men. You are not alone.

If you are a pastor, please watch this next 48 minute video. I listened to this (via podcast) yesterday morning, and it was so validating and helpful. If you are NOT a pastor, consider watching it anyway, especially if you want to understand your pastor’s struggles so that you can pray for him and look for ways to support him.

Finally, let’s briefly look at the verse I have chosen for today. Second Samuel 15:6 describes one of the many pressures that pastors often face behind the scenes. From my own experience and after conversing with multiple pastors, I am convinced that there is almost certainly at least one “Absalom” in every single church. I could spot many of them even when I was a child.

2 Samuel 15:6 (NLT): “Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.”

Pastors have an unimaginable weight upon their shoulders that pushes many of them into some dark emotional and spiritual places. They smile in public, but they struggle in the shadows. (Click here to read one of the more popular articles that I wrote on this topic.)

One of the many struggles a pastor will face is the “Absalom” in their church. An “Absalom” is a man or woman who isn’t experiencing the weight of ministry but feels like they can lead much better than their pastor. They are content to sit in the passenger seat of the car but they will fight the driver for the ability to steer the vehicle. They want to lead without the pressures of leadership.

What are some of the things an “Absalom” will do in a church to “steal the hearts of all the people?”

  • They strategically meet needs in the congregation that the pastor is unable to meet and thereby gain a growing loyal following.
  • They try to gain control of groups in the church that they believe can be swayed to follow them such as the wealthy, the older influencers, discontented church members, the leaders of committees/ministries, a large family in the church, the new members with perceived potential (all others are ignored), etc.
  • They carefully undermine the pastor’s decisions in private on phone calls, in private meetings, on the church parking lot, etc.
  • They wait until the pastor is in a public setting to call one of his leadership decisions (or even his competency) into question so that others can see the exchange. The Pharisees often attempted to do this with Jesus.
  • When they frequently(!) speak up in church meetings, they don’t typically speak for themselves (as everyone else does) but as a spokesman/woman for the church. They want to gain a following, presenting themselves as a leader and hoping the church will side with them rather than the pastor.

A book that I will never write could be filled with stories of the multiple power-players I’ve had to deal with behind the curtain of ministry. Some of those “Absaloms” presented a good image of themselves in front of people, and they had a growing following, but I saw who they really were behind the scenes.

What those men and women did was completely against God’s will as long as the pastor was leading in the way that the Lord was leading. The Lord has set the pastors as leaders over the church. As the pastors are led by God’s Spirit, those under their authority should see obedience as the default (Hebrews 13:17), but only so long as everything is in line with Scripture.

Undermining a pastor’s authority is no small thing and, according to Hebrews 13:17, it robs the pastor of happiness and brings on the mental unhealth that so many pastors are currently struggling with. To maintain their mental health, pastors should consider living by the principles of Romans 12:17-21.

If you are a pastor, please take heart. Stay in prayer. Do the right things for God’s glory and the benefit of your congregation. When an “Absalom” arises in your church, you may want to address him/her. But be sure to pray that your church can see him/her for what they are and not follow them.

But, if the “Absalom” prevails and you find yourself looking for another church to pastor (just like David fled from Jerusalem), realize that God has taken notice. Just as God dealt with Absalom, so the Lord will make things right one day.

YOUR FEEDBACK: What are some of your observations after reading this article? Have you observed any “Absalom” in your church? What do you think motivates them to behave like they do (Absalom felt like he was treated unjustly for dealing murderously with his sister’s rape and was then ignored and marginalized by his father, King David)? How have you observed that “Absaloms” try to manipulate the hearts of the congregation away from the pastor and toward themselves?

Matt Ellis is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida (fbcpolkcity.com). His latest book is God’s Grace in the Real World. Connect with him on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Kristina Paparo on Unsplash