“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17, AV)
In my day, I have seen some pastors that truly lacked joy. Oh, they started out well, excited about their new ministry opportunities, but then things changed. What changed? For some of them it was the treatment by their parishioners. There is a difference between voicing your opinion and active opposition. Any pastor worth his salt, has a great love for his parishioners. When one of his parishioners, whom he loves rises up in obstinate opposition it really hurts. I know, because I have run into these types of things during my time in the pastorate.
I remember on more than one occasion, receiving some very nasty emails from parishioners. The complaints and personal attacks stemmed from a dislike for the style of music, a dislike of the strength of the Sunday sermon, an exhortation given pertaining to a specific issue in one’s life, a disagreement in the direction for the church, etc. On one occasion, a parishioner tried to get others in the congregation to have my pastoral credentials pulled by our denomination.
Unfortunately, this type of opposition can cause problems for the pastor in ministering to the sheep, which adversely affects the entire congregation. The problem is that pastors can get bogged down in dealing with obstinate people. They may be diverted from effective ministry due to emotional distress. The pastors, may respond to the emotional hurt by establishing relational barriers between himself and the parishioners as a defense mechanism. The obstinate one can also taint the opinion of others in the congregation creating division. The obstinate opposition will steal a pastor’s joy and adversely affect his ministry in the congregation. Ultimately, this detracts from the health of the church.
The Lord desires that the pastor’s calling be a joyful one and not a drudgery. When parishioners make it a drudgery, the congregation suffers and the church finds itself in a downward spiral. From personal experience, it is difficult for the pastor to stem the tide of this downward spiral, but he must. He must endeavor all the more to find his joy in the Lord and continue to love his people despite the obstinate actions of a few.
The congregation must rally around their pastor with prayer and encouragement, for the calling to the pastorate is a difficult one. Many in the pews do not understand the pastoral work and its responsibility. The author alludes to this when he stated “they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.” The phrase, “keep watch,” is the Greek agrupneo, which literally means to be sleepless. Parishioners do not understand how many nights pastors have lost sleep carrying a burden for those in their care. Moreover, parishioners must understand that the pastors carry a grave responsibility directly to the Lord for the souls of their parishioners. This is not to mention the spiritual warfare in which the pastors are constantly engaged in the work of ministry.
Parishioners, consider your pastors. Obey and submit to them. If you have an issue lovingly talk to them. Avoid stirring up a rebellion. Do not entertain an accusation against a pastor without two or more witnesses (1 Tim 5:19). Above all, make their lives and ministry a joy and not a drudgery. For when they joyfully minister, it will go well for you.