Is a pastor to shepherd those who despise him in his church?

This becomes a most troubling question for every pastor.  We love to care for those who love and support us.  We learn to develop tough skin for those who attack us.  But shepherding those who are difficult or attack us…that is a another story.  This may seem like an impossible task, but Richard Baxter reminds us of our responsibility:

“So you see it was then taken as a duty to look upon every member of the flock by name, even if it should be the meanest servant-man or maid…A faithful pastor should have his eyes on them all.”

 What is implied by Baxter here is not just a knowledge of our people, but a faithful pastor has his eyes on them for the purpose to know how to best shepherd them.  Although I recognize this may be one of the hardest tasks we carry as pastors, we must be faithful to shepherd ALL our people God has entrusted to our care.  Because of this, here are a few tips that might help:

1) Read Hebrews 13:17 daily and be reminded that God has entrusted the souls of those people to you.  You will give an account to the Cheif Shepherd for them.  On that day you will not want to fire these words of defense to our King, “But Jesus, they did not like my preaching!”

2) It takes very little time to hurt or offend your people, but it takes a long time to earn their trust. You have to allow time to build a relationship with each church member where they see you as their shepherd.  It does not magically happen the moment they slip a title on you and pay you a salary (I am amazed at the amount of first time pastors who think this).

3) You may be dealing with unconverted people in your church.  Please receive this with caution.  You cannot know this until you have spent adequate time doing what Baxter exhorts us to above and to do so for years.  There were several in my church I was tempted to label “unconverted” when years later only revealed I had not grown to know and understand them as I should as their shepherd.

So then, keep your eyes on every one of your people knowing it is what a faithful pastor does.  Several who wanted my head in our church 5 years ago are still at the church and I have a warm, good relationship with them.  Those relationships, because they once despised me, are now some of the most precious to me.

Posted in Oversight of Souls, The Pastor's Soul
11 comments on “Is a pastor to shepherd those who despise him in his church?
  1. Brian, what would you advise for a young woman who is so angry with her husband, me and virtually any other male right now, that it renders it nearly impossible to shepherd her? I’ve attempted a few times, but I am put off at each attempt. It has gotten to the point where she is accusing me (privately, at least) of “preaching to her and against her.” Each time I contact her, some other word is taken wrongly or used against me. I really don’t know how to shepherd her (I do pray for her; that much I can do without her wrongfully using my words).

    • briancroft says:

      Sometimes praying and giving kind words back to her is how to care for her in this season. You have to wait for your opportunities to communicate love and care, which the Lord in HIs grace will bring in His time. When a loved one dies in her family, or she is in the hospital and scared, you might be surprised how much she will receive you care in those moments. Great question.

  2. Henry Jansma says:

    Your insights are sound and important to make Brian, but I think you have missed Baxter’s meaning in your quotation which weakens your argument a bit.
    The quote you use from Richard Baxter is NOT about “meanness”, in the American sense of unkind, spiteful or aggressive behavior, but in the English sense of poor in quality or appearance; shabby.
    Baxter particularly uses it here in what is dated even in England now to mean of low birth or social class.
    His point is we are to minister to the poorest of the poor.

    • briancroft says:

      Great point, Henry. Thank you. I realize I could be mistaken on my context, so thank you if that correction is needed. Even in that context, I think my point can be pulled from it as the imperative is to care for those most would not want to care for or think we should not care for as pastors. Additionally, my hope is that Hebrews 13:17 would be the strength of my argument more so than Baxter, even though I realize my quote is central in my post.

      Thanks for the sharpening. I am grateful for it.

  3. Scott says:

    Brian, your blog is a continual source of encouragement and instruction for me. What is our responsibility to those who have said that they are leaving the church and going to another one? Technically, they are still members of the church, but are attending another and pondering whether or not to become members there. What do you think is the best approach to the issue?

    • briancroft says:

      Good question. It is best if we can be involved to help them find where they go next. We have a couple in our church now seeking another church for various reasons, but I am in good conversations with them about how that is going and trying to shepherd them through it. Most of the time, however, those who leave do so upset with you or things in the church that prevents a healthy relationship with them. As long as I see someone leave who is trying to find the next place, we will keep them members for a time and be patient with them. If someone leaves under a cloud and they are clearly not looking for another church, then it is approached more like a discipline issue.

  4. BOGDAN KIPKO says:

    Brian, thank you for this post. This is great information and is perfect theoretically, but at the same time — it can be quite difficult to implement this practically — when you are deep in the trenches of local church ministry.

    Every situation is so unique. I think these difficult situations — when we absolutely see no solution — this is the time when we most desperately call out to God to intervene and have His Spirit lead us — God wants us to give him glory — and we do that — when we see Him do the impossible — to our shame, we are most passionate when the situation is most pressing.

    Thank you again for the post.

  5. Deb Brewer says:

    Brian, I was searching for guidance on betrayal by fellow believers and found this blog. Maybe you can give me some insight as to how my family and I should move forward in our church.

    My family has been active in our church for over 4 generations and 2 years ago, the church hired me to manage the church office while the church was in transition (waiting for a new pastor). I felt the pull of God gently telling me that I am capable and selected to take on the task. The office was in dissarray for 10 years and after many countless hours…..the office functioned as it should….and the administrative life of the church was moving forward.

    The new pastor arrived and this was her first appointment and right out of seminary. She is 27. I embraced the fact that we were receiving someone with so much vital energy and I was eager to minister with her, to learn with her, to be her left hand. Things were just that for the first year and then things began to change. She became comfortable in her position i the church and local community to which our relationship changed to a more formal dynamic. We were no longer team players and close sisters in Christ. She was now my boss and it was imminent that she was dealing the cards. Many times I humbled myself and chose not to make rift for the sake of saving the relationship. She obviously had extreme stress that she could not bear and projected on those around her. Although my family was very involved in running the church (my husband is the finance chair) and my boys active in programs, I could take no more and ended up blowing up at her one day as she spoke to me in such a derrogative manner. This was the daily climate of the office for the past year. I held alot of responsibility and set high standards for the completion of daily workflow.

    I’ve since resigned from the church after that nasty confrontation and the Pastor/parish council met with me to decide if I should continue my work there. The council berated me in front of her, telling me that I should know my place, not to bring any additional stress upon her and that if her projected stress is too overwhelming, that I should be like every other employee and take up drinking as a means of coping. I was horrified laster to find that the council would only reinstate me if I signed a reprimand letter. Albeit, the pastor not once defended me to the council or reprimanded them for their unethical practices.

    We stepped away from the church for 2 months now….few people know of what happened and have chosen to look the other way. My children know nothing of the magnitude of this rift and my husband and I have decided to sacrifice and stay at the church for our children.

    How do I sit in that pew, choir chair, committee chair after this blind-sided betrayal? She will most likely move on after ordination, as our district moves pastors every few years. I’ve pretty much lost faith in my church community and am so hurt by how the pastor never shepherded me and will not going forward. Any advice? Thanks.

    • briancroft says:

      Thanks for your question. Because of the nature of this situation, it would be wise for me to not comment on the blog, but feel free to email me at the address in the contact info and we can discuss it a bit further there.

  6. Deb Brewer says:

    Obviously my post has halted all communication on this blog issue and I apologize for bringing real strife within the church up front. This is just another testament to the fact that ignorance is bliss.

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