How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man
How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Why Should You Pray for Your Pastor?
Praying for Your Pastor in Light of His Qualifications, Part 1: The Necessity of a Qualified Ministry
Praying For Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 2: A Holy Ambition and a Holy Life
Praying for Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 3: Self-Control, Family, and Money
Praying for Your Pastor According to his Qualifications, Part 4: Humility and Teaching
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 1: The Pastor as Shepherd Leader
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 2: Feeding the Sheep
Corresponding to their responsibility to feed God’s flock through the teaching of God’s Word is the pastor’s task of protecting God’s people from false teaching and false teachers. Multiple times throughout the pastoral epistles Paul’s command to teach the church is coupled with a charge to protect the church by correcting and rebuking false teachers. For example, in his letter to Titus, Paul includes competence in correcting unbiblical teaching among the list of an elder’s spiritual credentials. “[The overseer] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9; also 1:13).
Guarding their Sheep from False Teachers
When Paul left Timothy at the church in Ephesus, he wanted him to remain in that city and “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3). The apostle follows this instruction with a concise summary of pastoral ministry: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). Spiritual health and happiness is helped, not hindered, by pastors who are careful to guard their people from false teaching and false teachers. Why? Because unbiblical ideas about doctrine, once accepted and believed, will wreak havoc on a Christian’s spiritual life (1 Tim 1:6; 19-20; Gal 3:1-6). A pastor who genuinely cares for his flock will not only teach and preach, he will warn and correct and rebuke (see also 1 Tim 4:1-5; 6:2-5; 2 Tim 2:24-25; cf. Acts 20:28-31).
Protection from Sin through Church Discipline
Protecting Christ’s sheep also requires that a pastor lead his people in church discipline. Church discipline is designed by Christ to protect His sheep by guarding the local gathering from unrepentant sin. When sin is left to grow in the life of a professing Christian, its influence is like leaven—it gets into everything, and quickly (1 Cor 5:6). Soon, many members of a congregation can be infected by the immoral influence of a sinning brother or sister. When pastors are faithful to teach and lead their people in church discipline, they will do much to protect their people from sin and encourage their sanctification.
Church discipline is also designed to protect the sinning Christian. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:5-11 that discipline starts on an individual level as Christians, with love and biblical precision, rebuke and admonish each other for personal sin (Matt 18:15). This first level of discipline is part of our everyday Christian life, and serves to guard our brothers and sisters from the heart-hardening effects of sin (Heb 3:12-15).
But if a professing Christian continues to be unrepentant despite the faithful exhortations of their brother or sister, step two in the discipline process requires an increase in accountability. Jesus says that if they do not listen to the initial confrontation, “take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt 18:16). If this step does not compel the sinning Christian to repent and turn back to Christ, the next step is to “tell it the church” (Matt 18:17) which would start with informing the local leaders of the congregation of the situation. If the professing Christian refuses to listen to the church, the church leaders are responsible for leading their people in the appropriate response: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17). That is, the church is to assume that this unrepentant person is someone in need of evangelism with the hope that they might turn from their sin and be restored.
Such a response protects the sinner because it helps him see clearly the seriousness of his spiritual condition. Pastors who refuse to lead their people in church discipline by teaching and facilitation are not only hurting their people, they are harming the sinner who will never have the chance to see his precarious spiritual situation for what it really is and repent from his sin.
There are times, however, when pastors of a given congregation are called to bypass a multi-step process of church discipline. For example, if a professing Christian commits a sin of a particularly scandalous and public nature, immediate public denunciation and rebuke is required (see 1 Cor 5:1-12). If a divisive person continues to rend the unity of a congregation, the leadership is required to remove that person from membership after a second warning (Titus 3:9-11).
Pray for Your Pastor’s Courage
In order for a pastor to lead his people in church discipline, it should be clear from the above discussion that he needs courage. It is painful to deal with sin; it is simply much easier to teach on the more pleasant aspects of the Christian life and ignore sinful members than it is to bring the entire process of discipline to its required end. Well, it’s easier in the short term. Inevitably, pastors who neglect the unmistakably clear teaching of Scripture on this issue will only hurt their people and undermine their ministry. Most of the time, the underlying cause of pastoral neglect in this area is a lack of courage. If you desire your church to remain healthy and holy, pray for your pastor’s courage.