The Yeast of the Pharisees: Spiritual Abuse by Pastors and Counselors

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The Yeast of the Pharisees: Spiritual Abuse by Pastors and Counselors

The Yeast of the Pharisees: Spiritual Abuse by Pastors and Counselors was written by Edward J. Cumella, Ph. D. and originally Published in Christian Counseling Today 2005 Vol. 13 No. 1:35)

Spiritual abuse began in the Garden of Eden: Satan manipulated God’s words and convinced our earliest parents to follow him instead of God. This event epitomizes all spiritual abuse. 

Spiritual abuse is more about personality

Spiritual abuse occurs across denominations, in non-denominational churches, and across faiths—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, et al. It usually has little to do with the theologies of major religious groups and more to do with the personality of individual leaders. Spiritual leaders with personality pathology—especially narcissistic, antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, borderline, and histrionic traits—may become spiritually abusive. Because of emotional, relational, and cognitive problems characterizing these personalities, the Bible, theology, and church relationships can be distorted by such leaders to the point of serious harm. 

Christians believe that human beings have a spirit that connects us to God. As such, spiritual abuse consists of actions that distort or sever our relationship with God. Since identity derives from knowing who we are in relation to God, spiritual abuse harms self-concept and self-worth. Spiritual abuse also causes mental and emotional distress, and is therefore a form of mental/emotional abuse. In extreme cases, it includes physical and sexual abuse justified by the abuser as God’s will through the twisting of scriptures.

Spiritual abuse has debilitating effects

Spiritual abuse has debilitating effects and is thus a legitimate focus in counseling or pastoral care. Depending on its manifestation, spiritual abuse may involve actions—such as severe mental/emotional abuse or physical/sexual abuse of children—that professionals are legally required to report to state child protection agencies. When perpetrators of spiritual abuse are licensed or certified counselors/pastors, ethics compel reporting the perpetrator’s behavior to licensing boards or church/denominational oversight authorities.

Spiritual abuse is usually more severe in church than in counseling settings. Pastors are often accorded great respect and authority in critical life domains— marriage, sexuality, relationships, and finances. They lead communities that exert social pressures and offer belonging and fellowship. Abuse in these contexts affects most aspects of life. 

Spiritual abuse occurs on a continuum

Spiritual abuse occurs on a continuum. Some churches are virtually free of it; others are occasionally and mildly abusive; still others abuse frequently and with great intensity. Experiences of spiritual abuse are also unique to the individual. Some—such as those inclined to perfectionism, obsessions, anxiety, or self-derision—are more likely to hear messages as inflexible rules or condemnations. Others in the same environment and exposed to the same messages might not experience trauma. 

Spiritual abuse can arise in counseling offices, but is usually less severe than in churches, for several reasons. Counselors are rigorously trained to be person-centered, to listen, and to respect the beliefs and choices of their clients. Counselors are less commonly accorded the same authority as pastors, nor is counseling typically imbued with the authority of God. Counseling is temporary; counseling is commonly and easily terminated. But church membership can be seen as a lifetime commitment. Leaving counseling does not mean separation from family and friends, but leaving one’s church may.

Scripture addresses spiritual abuse best through Christ’s scathing words to the Pharisees (Matthew 23), who are perfect examples of spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse has 12 features

Authoritarianism. Rather than modeling and teaching obedience to God, abusive leaders expect believers to obey them. Councils of elders, deacons, etc., are expected to rubber stamp leaders’ intentions rather than provide accountability.

Coercion. Rather than respecting freedom and conscience, as God does, and offering messages that persuade based on scriptural integrity and reason, abusive leaders use strong-arm tactics to coerce believers into overruling better judgment and following their demands.

Intimidation. Rather than building up the Body in the bonds of love, abusive leaders use threats of punishment, excommunication, and condemnation to force people into submission and continued church membership.

Terrorism. Rather than inviting people to follow Christ with the Gospel of love and forgiveness, abusive leaders intensify believers’ fear, shame, and false guilt, teaching that problems in believers’ lives are due to the believers’ personal sins.

Condemnation. Rather than refraining from judgment lest they be judged, an abusive leader liberally condemns those who leave his church, outsiders, and those whom he defines as sinners. The message is that believers will join the ranks of the condemned should they deviate from the leader’s teachings or leave his church/denomination. Individual members become the scapegoat when something goes awry in the congregation. 

Classism. Christ was no respecter of persons. Abusive leaders are preoccupied with power, promoting church hierarchy, referring to and treating people according to their titles and roles. Those lower on the hierarchy are taught that their needs don’t matter. 

Conformity. Abusive leaders have the greatest hold over inexperienced, naïve, and dependent individuals who are seeking a strong leader. These individuals suppress their objections to the leaders’ teachings for fear of being shamed or ostracized. Hence, abusive churches often appear unified, but beneath the surface there is discontent, anguish, whispers, rumors, secrets, and a desire among many to leave.

Manipulation. Rather than taking scripture in context, interpreting the Bible with the Bible and according to long-held Christian beliefs, abusive leaders twist scripture to convey their personal opinion rather than God’s intent. 

Irrationality. Because scripture is manipulated, one interpretation may contradict another. Interpretations may contradict reason and obvious reality. This requires suspension of critical thinking. Some abusive leaders claim to receive direct messages from God about their church or individual members, but these messages typically deviate from Scripture and reality. 

Legalism. Rather than treating others with love, grace, and forgiveness, as Christ commanded, abusive leaders offer little grace. They communicate instead that one’s worth and the amount of love one deserves depend on performance and status in their church. Abusive leaders expect believers to make heroic financial, time, and emotional sacrifices for their church and its members.

Isolation. Rather than respecting family ties, community obligations, and friendships, abusive leaders are concerned that such influences will interfere with their control over  believers, so they encourage isolation from family, friends, and the outside world, and wage war against the outside world as a sewer of sin devoid of anything redeeming.

Elitism. Rather than modeling and encouraging humility, abusive leaders beam with false pride and teach the same to believers. An attitude arises of, “We’re it! We’re special! Everyone else is condemned!,” partially compensating for the shame and worthlessness that believers feel because of other experiences in the abusive church. The leader instills that believers must protect the church’s image at any cost. 

Ensnarement. Rather than promoting maturity among believers, abusive leaders inevitably promote self-doubt, guilt, and identity confusion, since believers struggle with the contradiction between what their conscience and reason tell them and what they are being taught. This ambivalence, coupled with fear of condemnation and loss of direction and fellowship, make it difficult and painful for believers to leave abusive churches.

Think about a cult, for at its most severe, a spiritually abusive church is a cult. It has so diverged from solid Biblical teaching and grown so warped in the authoritarian rule of one man, that it has become a place of idolatry where God is no longer worshipped. “Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough… Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…” (Galatians 5:7-10, Matthew 16:6). 

Assessing religious abuse

Assessment is simpler when clients already define their religious experiences as abusive. When clients do not recognize their possibly abusive experiences, cautions apply: 

Respect adult clients’ religious choices. Labeling religious experiences as abusive may interfere with religious autonomy. However, therapist authenticity, integrity, and responsibility require that possible religious abuse be addressed openly. It may be useful to assist clients in articulating the issues to arrive at their own conclusions about abuse. Remember, not everyone experiences the same events in the same manner; seemingly harsh religious experiences may not traumatize everyone.

Regarding children, utilize an objective standard of abuse. Most authorities agree that religious abuse has definitively occurred when the experience has led to serious and diagnosable behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. Short of this, it is inadvisable to use the word “abuse” to describe religious experiences. 

A psychometrically valid and reliable questionnaire may be useful in this assessment, such as the Remuda Spiritual Assessment Questionnaire (, which contains a factor score measuring spiritual abuse. It is short, easy to use, with either paper and pencil or computerized administration, and free of charge to healthcare professionals.

Treating religious abuse

It is not possible in this overview to detail treatment for spiritual abuse. Detailed treatment resources appear in the bibliography. However, there are some basics. Common issues arising among clients in recovery from spiritual abuse include betrayal of trust, learning anew whom to trust, fallout with and forgiveness of God and family, grief over lost years, and understanding grace and God’s loving nature. Those who have experienced spiritual abuse often evidence the following additional difficulties: 

• Feelings of worthlessness as opposed to dignity and self-respect
• Efforts at control as opposed to an ability to surrender trustingly to God
• Shame vs. self-acceptance
• Guilt about vs. recognition that past sins have been forgiven
• Anxiety about performance and punishment vs. peace
• Moral rigidity vs. grace and unconditional love
• Isolation and secrecy vs. a sense of belonging and ability to be authentic with others
• Addictions/compulsions vs. healthy boundaries and coping skills
• Confusion vs. clear understanding of the Gospel and nature of God
• Hopelessness vs. a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction

Regardless of spiritual abuse history, spiritual interventions are contraindicated when clients don’t want them, are psychotic or delusional. If spiritual interventions are warranted, inform clients at treatment inception that you may use spiritual interventions and obtain informed consent. Spiritual interventions are most effective once trusting therapeutic relationships have developed. However, Christian counselors should express a commonly understood Gospel truth, including Christ’s atoning sacrifice, forgiveness rather than punishment, and God’s unconditional, unmerited grace and love rather than legalism, performance, or the need for perfection.

Primary spiritual interventions include:  teaching spiritual concepts; bibliotherapy; prayer; spiritual imagery and meditation; forgiveness; counsel from pastors or spiritual directors; encouraging involvement in a healthy faith community; cognitive restructuring focusing on the nature of God; a mature understanding of suffering, self hatred and perfectionism as obstacles to receiving God’s love; and an application of clients’ values to their own lives to reduce cognitive dissonance. Self-help groups, such as Christian Recovery International, may be recommended.

It may be necessary to guide clients toward finding a healthy faith community. The four F’s suggest that healthy faith communities offer:

• Food: sound Biblical messages promoting personal growth and maturity
• Fellowship: supportive relationships
• Fit: commonality with other members
• Fruit: service to community and one another

It is a sad commentary about the modern church that abusive Christian leaders are so pervasive that we must write articles like this and give them prominence in order to warn the faithful. Yet it is also true that perverted pastors, false prophets, and evil leaders have always existed in the history of Israel and the Church. And most importantly, if we cling to God and stay vigilant, He promises to make the way straight for us. 

Copyright © 2006 Christian Counseling Today. (Originally Published inChristian Counseling Today2005 Vol. 13 No. 1:35)
Edward J. Cumella, Ph.D., a Licensed Psychologist, is Director of Research and Education at Remuda Ranch Programs for Anorexia and Bulimia, Inc., the nation’s largest inpatient eating disorder facility. He presents frequently at national and international conferences and has published at least 50 papers on mental health topics, including spiritual abuse. 


Arterburn, S., Felton, J. (1993). Faith That Hurts/Faith That Heals. (Reissue ed). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Arterburn, S., Felton, J. (2001). Toxic Faith. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press. 
Bawer, B. (1998). Stealing Jesus. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Blue, K. (1993). Healing Spiritual Abuse. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Chrnalogar, M. A., Howey, P. M., Martin, S. D. (2000). Twisted Scriptures. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Enroth, R. M. (1992). Churches that Abuse. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Enroth, R. M. (1994). Recovering from Churches that Abuse. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Johnson, D., VanVonderen, J. (1991). The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers. 
VanVonderen, J. (1989). Tired of Trying to Measure Up. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
VanVonderen, J. (1995). When God’s People Let You Down/How to Rise Above Hurts That Often Occur. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

What does God require of a church leader?

What does God require of a church leader?

What does God require of a church leader? In the New Testament, God required his offices (deacon and elder) be filled by believer-priests who manifest the right equipment (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:11, 28; Eph. 4:11f), the right motivation (Phil 2:13; 1 Tim. 3:1), and the right qualities (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Ti. 1:5-9).

Who and what are "officers" of the Church?

Who and what are officers of the Church?

In our day where autonomy and independence are the high marks of a real American, the idea of office is scorned; particularly with reference to the Church.

Typically the argument against special office in the church is an appeal to the priesthood of all believers. This supposedly justifies the oft comment that there is no clergy and laity in Scripture, therefore none should exist in the Church. From that follows the view that each individual is free to exercise his Christian faith any way he deems fit without any sense of accountability to anyone, “but God.”

Yet, is this really a biblical view? It is true that the Old Testament priesthood has been completely fulfilled by out High Priest Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). Heinrich Bullinger in 1561 wrote, “The apostles of Christ do term all those who believe in Christ priests; not in regard to their ministry, but because that all the faithful, being made kings and priests may through Christ, offer up spiritual sacrifices unto God (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). The ministry then, and the priesthood are things far different one from the other. For the priesthood, as we said even now, is common to all Christians; not so is the ministry. And we have not taken away the ministry of the Church because we have thrust the popish priesthood out of the Church of Christ” (Brown, edit. Order in the Offices, p. 11).  Bullinger says it well.

It is true there is no special priestcraft in the Church, making one person in Christ superior to any other in Christ. Every believer in Christ is equally called, justified, sanctified and glorified. Every believer stands before the throne of God in Jesus Christ, have all the privileges and duties in common as co-heirs and sharers in the ministry of love to one another.

However, God has set apart offices. To these offices, He gifts, calls, and ordains men for the good service, administration and order of His Church. Not every person in Christ enters into such an office. However, this does not necessarily mean that one who is gifted and called to that special office is superior to others; or that those who are not in such special service are inferior. The office from God “does not exist to give honor or privilege to a special class of superior individuals” (K. Sietsma).

The term “office” refers to a position which involves duty, service, and responsibility. In this general sense, all believers in Christ have a common office. In the general sense, all believers are to fulfill what all man was called to fulfill, and that is to serve God and one another.

In the more particular sense, office is the special gift and mandate from God to render Him service.  It is an institutional position of service, authorized by God, which has a special dignity and authority. The man is not the office; but a man may be called to that office. The office limits the person’s exercise of authority. “Office is the only justification and proper limitation of any human exercise of power and authority because no one has a natural right to rule over others. We owe no obedience to any other humans except by virtue of their office as mandated by God.”  (Sietsma, K. The Idea of Office. Ontario: Paideia Press; 1985).

In the Old Testament, there were certain offices instituted by God for the kingdom. There was the office of prophet (Deut. 18; 34:5; Josh. 1:1; 2 Kings 9:7; Jer. 7:25; 29:19; etc.). Still other officials were the priests (1 Chron. 6:32). Another office was that of elder, those who ruled God’s people (Ex. 3:16; 24:1; Lev. 4:15; Num. 11:16; Deut. 21:19) and were covenantal representatives of the people. Judges were appointed by God as prophet-kings until God appointed the office of king (Job 18; Jer. 25:9; 27:6; ).

As we enter into the New Covenant, these offices were symbols that pointed to the perfect Prophet-Priest-King, Jesus Christ. He fulfills the duties and terms of those Old Testament offices perfectly and completely as the Servant of the Lord. In Christ, those special institutions with their offices were fulfilled.

Under the renewed way of the New Covenant Jesus appointed men to an extraordinary office, called apostle (John 20:19-23; Eph. 4:11ff). These men were special emissaries of Christ who were selected and trained by Him (a qualification of a true apostle), empowered by the Holy Spirit, and commissioned to establish the New Covenant community. Their primary mission was the declaration of the Word of God to establish His Church. The apostles then selected gifted men to assist them as servants of God and His Word (eg. Acts 13:5).

Officers in the New Testament Church are Christ’s servants who primarily administer the Word of God and the rule of Christ to His people (1 Cor. 4:1; 12:28ff;  Rom. 12:7-8; Eph. 4:11ff;  1 Tim. 1:11). One office ordained by God to rule His people in the Old Testament that carried over into the New is that of elder. There are three terms in the New Testament which are used interchangeably that refer to the same official position: presbuteros (elder), episkopos (overseer), and poimen (shepherd) (re: Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). God governs His Church today through elders (of which there are two types: one who rules primarily as minister of the Word and mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:17b; 1 Pet. 5:1ff), and one who teaches, but primarily rules (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17; Titus 1:5-9;  Heb. 13:7, 17, 24; 1 Pet. 5:1ff). Another office, but not a ruling office is for the specific and spiritual ministry of mercy to those in need. We call this the office of deacon (Acts 6; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13).

The elder is to govern God’s people. This means elders have jurisdiction in three ways:

(a)    to have charge (1 Thess. 5:12-13), which also means to lead (Rom. 12:8); manage (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12), and rule (1 Tim. 5:17); 

(b)    to guide (Heb. 13:17) which is the term used for a political ruler or chief speaker (Acts 14:12 cp Heb. 13:7, 17,24);

(c)     to have authority over (Ti. 3:1-2) “the right to govern and to make policy which determines the direction and emphases of the church according to the Word of God to build up His people (2 Cor. 13:10).

Some have argued that there are three particular offices in the NT Church in the manner or pattern of the OT prophet, priest, and king. The prophet would be the prototype for the minister of the Word of the Faith, the king as the forerunner to the ministry of loving oversight (elder), and the priest as that which has now become the ministry of mercy and hope (deacon).

While there has been considerable debate regarding this, it is nevertheless true that God has ordained certain offices for the spiritual government of His Church and has called, gifted and ordained men to those offices in service to Him (1 Cor. 1:4-15; Ti. 1:7) for His people.

Spiritual Abuse: Shepherds – or Fleecers – of God's Flock?

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Spiritual Abuse: Shepherds – or Fleecers – of God's Flock?

[This article was written by June Hunt , Special To Christian Post | Jun 30, 2012 12:20 PM]

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors. 

"Will you continue to stand by and let your church drown financially?"¹

So began an ad for "Financial Empowerment Seminars." The target audience: church members wanting to invest profitably, while also benefitting their churches and communities. The seminars were led by a man who now faces federal prosecution by the SEC for defrauding investors of more than $11 million in a Ponzi scheme. Meanwhile, these "investors" need to rebuild not only their financial security, but also their emotional security, especially after being betrayed by "spiritual leaders" who were found to be spiritual abusers.

This new term "spiritual abuse" may not be something you're familiar with, but you may have heard about it or seen its effects in the life of someone you know … or you may be recovering from it yourself. (It is possible to be in a spiritually abusive relationship … and not even know it.)

Spiritual abuse is an umbrella term primarily describing three different kinds of harmful acts: (1) mistreatment: a person in spiritual authority mistreating another person; (2) manipulation: the use of religious words or acts to manipulate someone for personal gain or control; and (3) Scripture twisting: any intentional misuse of Scripture in order to twist the truth. Works of a spiritual nature can look noble, virtuous and inspiring, however, as the old saying goes, "Looks can be deceiving." Or, to quote Proverbs 16:2 (NIV): "All a person's ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD."

Although spiritual abuse is a relatively new term, its practice has persisted ever since the serpent in the Garden of Eden distorted and outright lied about God's words to Adam and Eve. In doing so, he managed to create doubt in their minds regarding the character of God and His relationship to those He had created.

The result, of course, was that they found the thought of becoming like God more appealing than remaining dependent on God. That thought led them to trust Satan's words rather than God's words, and their descendants have struggled with this same problem ever since. The serpent said to Eve, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?' … 'You will not certainly die …. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'" (Genesis 3:1, 4-5 NIV).

The serpent skewed God's words and seduced the first couple into taking the fatal bite!

At the core of spiritual abuse is excessive control of others. Spiritual abuse is acting "spiritual" to benefit oneself by using self-centered efforts to control others. Some common examples of spiritually abusive relationships include:

• Church leaders who use guilt or greed to compel attendance, financial giving or service
• Spiritual leaders who take emotional or sexual advantage of others in the name of "comfort or compassion"
• Religious people who accuse those who disagree with them of being rebellious against God
• Ministry leaders who demand absolute, unquestioned obedience no matter what … whether reasonable or not … whether biblical or not

Jesus taught about domineering, spiritual leaders who wield their authority and "lord it over" the people.

"Instead," He added, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45 NIV). Spiritual leaders are called to be servants, not dictators – to be sacrificial toward their followers, not to be exploitive of their followers.

How well I remember a recent caller on Hope In the Night who said she had donated all of her assets – $70,000 from her home – to help build a church. Later, she learned the spiritual leader had used the money to buy a comfortable home … for herself. Then the caller somehow became the scapegoat for problems at the ministry, even being blamed for the unrelated deaths of the leader's two relatives.

Illegalities aside, such spiritual abuse is blatant manipulation. No wonder this naïve, new Christian vowed to never darken the door of a church again!

If you are trying to determine whether or not a particular group may be spiritually abusive, consider the following questions:

 ___ Do they exalt someone as an irrefutable authority in the group?
___ Do they demand your absolute allegiance?
___ Do they discourage your questions?
___ Do they shame people publicly?
___ Do they insist on making major decisions in your life?
___ Do they have a long list of rules related to dress, hairstyle, diet or activities?
___ Do they judge those who do not keep their list of rules?
___ Do they consider themselves the "only true church"?
___ Do they consider those who leave their group "apostates," "backsliders" or "doomed"?
___ Do they teach that godly people should give more financially so that they will receive more?

Notice Paul's words of warning: "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ … he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing." [And who is teaching these different doctrines? Those who are … ] "… imagining that godliness is a means of gain. … But as for you, O man of God, flee these things" (1 Timothy 6:3-5, 11 ESV).

Yes, flee! Having assisted others to leave, I can assure you that separating from a spiritually abusive group can be grueling because the leaders use fear, false guilt and shame to keep members from leaving. If you are in such a group, daily pray the following prayer: "For you are my rock and my fortress … lead me and guide me; you take me out from the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge" (Psalm 31:3-4 ESV).

Regardless of the difficulty, you must leave. Your spiritual life depends on it!

The original article can be found here.

June Hunt, counselor, author, radio host and founder of the worldwide ministry Hope For The Heart, offers a biblical perspective while coaching people through some of life's most difficult problems. June is the author of How to Forgive . . . When You Don't Feel Like It, © 2007 Harvest House Publishers. Learn more about June and Hope for the Heart by visiting Here you can connect with June on Facebook and Twitter, listen to her radio broadcasts, or find much-needed resources.Hope for the Heart provides spiritual guidance, heartfelt prayer, multi-media resources, and biblical wise-counseling. Call 1-800-488-HOPE (4673) to visit with a Hope Care Representative, 7:30 a.m. until 1:30 a.m. (CST).

Your pastor was a jerk?

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Your pastor was a jerk?  

(An open letter to encourage friends who were mistreated by their pastor).

Dear Friends,

I am so sorry you have to go through yet another injury inflicted on your souls, again by those who are supposed to give aid and comfort.  No doubt it is emotionally painful.  All the more since it comes at a time when you were seeking respite and help for the beatings and bruising you have endured by leadership in a couple previous churches.

There really is no excuse for your pastor-in-law (as opposed to your pastor-in-grace) to have avoided you during your trials, neglected you during your absence, and betrayed you during your move.  I know you were excited to join this new church, shortly after your stressful move.  Yet, there really is no excuse for the pastor of this new church to so quickly reject you.  Without evidence, you can only suspect that a negative report was given about you since the new minister went from a willing and ready spirit to receive you to advising you find another church, all within a couple days.  

Certainly, you haven't been the simple or ideal Christian family who fits the box (whatever that is), who is without any hint of flaws, warts, trials or baggage.  You have had far more than the average share.  Perhaps that is why some families don't have such problems - you apparently got theirs?

Now, lest I come across as yet another self-righteous, judgmental pastor, I can say that I relate to those two ministers.  Looking back in time, I too have avoided, neglected and evidently betrayed people.  The neglect came from trying many times to help but without any ounce of "success," so I gave up.  I admit ignoring a few people who so easily monopolized my life and tried so hard to manipulate me and my family.  Ignoring them was the simple but sinful way of handling them.  I have since learned my lesson.  The ones I have been accused of rejecting or betraying are those to whom I boldly spoke the truth (at least what I believed was truthful) and they took offense.  They've never tried to clarify what was said, never forgave me, and have never been willing to reconcile.  Very sad.  

From a pastor's viewpoint, I understand how easy it is to avoid people who are loaded down with trouble and trials.  It is so much easier not deal with other people's baggage.  I mean, some of them have baggage over the 50-pound limit.  Some of them have lots of heavy bags.  Lots and lots of bags. And I have enough of my own baggage.   So, I can relate to wanting a church filled with holy angels who neatly fit into my image of a perfect, peaceful, problem-free church.

However, the fact of the matter is those of us who are called to minister in the name of Jesus Christ are called to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.  Years ago, a pastor, who was a brilliant, earthy, former blue-collar worker, complained how too many of his fellow pastors never got dirty. No rough hands, tough skin, or dirt under their nails.  Of course, he was also speaking metaphorically.  He was right.  But that's the nature of pastoral work.

We ministers are called to get: 

  • into the trenches like soldiers (Phil 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:3-4),

  • down and dirty like farmers (2 Tim. 2:6),

  • tough and smelly like fishermen,

  • sore and exhausted like athletes (1 Cor. 9:24-25; Phil 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1), and

  • humiliated and abused like servants (Matt. 20:27; Jn 10:11, 15; Luke 10:34, 35).

Those are biblical descriptions, and they run contrary to contemporary descriptions and models of ministers (CEOs, coaches, or university professors).  I'm afraid we have adopted worldly portraits and exchanged them for God's models all to the detriment and injury of God's people.

We are called to apply heavenly truth to life's dirty, earthy issues through the means of the good news of Christ.  As pastors, we are called to be gentle (2 Tim. 2:24-26), patient (1 Tim. 3:3), and marked by the fruit of God's Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24; Eph. 5:9), just like Christ.  Think about him - no doubt he was patient with his stubborn, ignorant, at times belligerent, messed up disciples.  He was pure and yet patient and gentle with the lowly scum of the world (the prostitutes, beggars, infirm, and handicapped).  He was kind with those who received so much from him but who were so ungrateful.  He was sympathetic and a great help to those in need.

Christ has redeemed, gifted, and called pastors to be servants to God's people.  Servants filled with the kind of humility that is not self-serving or rewarding (Luke 14:10; Rom. 12:1-3, 10, 16:  1 Cor. 10:31-33; Titus 1:7; Jas. 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:5), just like the Servant Jesus (Phil. 2:3).  And just like Jesus, we are called, gifted and empowered to practice and model true hospitality, which means to be lovers of strangers.  This goes above and beyond loving our neighbors as ourselves (Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8, 9; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9).  Our calling is to genuinely love others, especially those of the household of faith (1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:25; 1 Thess. 2:7-8).  Like it or not we must be gracious, merciful (Matt. 25; 1 Cor. 12:28) and proactively, unquestionably kind (Matt. 11:29; Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2:7).  What's more, God does not give us a choice about who it is with whom we are to be loving, merciful, and kind.

Jesus was lowly, meek and gentle.  All believers in Christ should also be lowly, meek and gentle, but particularly ministers.  As brought out in the book, The Perfect Pastor?,  

"Gentleness, a very important feature in a godly leader, is the quality of being gracious, kind, mild, patient and reasonable.  A gentle person is caring, considerate and has an ability to sympathize (Rom. 15:1; 1 Pet. 4:8).  The gentle one shows carefulness in choosing words and expressions so as not to unnecessarily offend (Gal. 6:1)" (p. 352).

In the book's Appendix F, which is a self-examination of godly character, the potential deacon, elder, pastor, and other church leaders are encouraged to test themselves.  One of the questions probes whether, "I reflect care, affection, and good-will toward others (2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2; Eph. 4:2)"  (p. 352)."  The implication from the Bible is that I do so, not only with those who have it all together, or who are apparently absent any challenges or "issues," or only when I feel like it (which admittedly is rare).  I or we are to reflect care, affection, and good-will toward others as gentle leaders - always!  Especially toward those who need it the most!

This is the very nature of the redemptive work of Christ.  He came to save sinners, not saints.  He came for the infirm, not the healthy; the poor, not the self-sustaining rich; the prodigal, not the pious.  His grace is extended to the chief of sinners, for grace abounds more where sin seems to flourish.  As ministers, we must never forget that.  But, dear friends, it appears that some ministers have indeed forgotten just that.

Certainly, when I reflect on what is required of me in character and action, I too fall far short.  However, these are the qualities of godliness and ministry this unique calling requires.  If I or any other person who has taken on the yoke of shepherd ministry, refuses to press toward these high and heavenly goals and refuses to practice them, then we need to step down and step away from the office called the pastorate.  May God daily spare me of my pride and keep me from falling into such pious worldliness.  May the Lord grant to such men the grace of repentance to change and become more like our Master who faithfully served us.

I am saddened your pastor was a jerk and sorry that you have had to endure men in the name of Christ but do not minister in the spirit of Christ.  Frankly, they have failed you.  Their actions, their sins, mostly of omission, say quite a bit about their character and philosophy of ministry.  But in this sense, be encouraged that God has used this "rejection" of you as a grace to spare you from their miserable orthopraxy, horrible hypocrisy, and intolerable misdeeds.  Lick your wounds, run to the Great Shepherd, and find a church where you can heal and ultimately, where you can help others who have suffered the same.

With affection;



What does it mean to "lord it over?"

Abusive Church Leadership.jpg

What Does It Mean to “Lord It Over”?  This is something heard in some Christian circles because the phrase is found in the Bible.  God's church leaders are not to lord it over God's people, which is another way of saying they must not abuse God's people.  Yet, genuine abuse of all kinds does happen in local churches.  Some abuse, like sexual abuse is done secretly.  Other abuse such as emotional, social, or even physical abuse happens under the guise of God's authority.  This is arrogant manipulation of the apostate sort.  However, it is too often tolerated.

At the same time, there are people in churches who have chosen to take offense at something the pastor(s), elder(s), deacon(s) or leaders have done who then accuse these leaders of abuse or lording it over them.  So, according to the Bible, what does it mean to "lord it over" or abuse others?

The following is from one of the appendices in my book, The Perfect Pastor? 

What does the Bible say about how church leaders govern?

Biblically, the jurisdiction of elders to rule or govern is shown by the following New Testament words:

  1. Exousia – a term that connotes delegated right and duty to exercise authority over something or someone. In the New Testament, the contexts refer to the authority that issues from the Head of the Church, King Jesus and is delegated to His ruling officers. It is an authority that is subject to Christ and His Law or Word.

        Some principles we can glean: 

a.     This delegated authority is the duty and right to think, decide, act and govern within the sphere of authority to which the officers are placed (session, presbytery, or general assembly). This delegated authority is the duty and right to make policies that determine the direction and emphases of Christ’s church that is in keeping with God’s revealed will. We have illustrations of this:

(1)  Jesus Christ (in Matt. 9:6-8; Mk. 6:39)

(2)  The Roman Centurion (Mt. 8:9)

b.     In a general sense, all believers are subject to all God-ordained rulers and authorities (Lk. 10:19; Rom. 13:1ff; Ti. 3:1-2; etc.)

c.     This leadership authority is given to officers for the purpose of building up, and not for tearing down (2 Cor. 13:10).

d.     This position is a stewardship from God Himself. Officers are answerable to the Lord for their faithfulness:

(1)  Officers are accountable to the Lord under the biblical authority God has assigned (local, regional or national church rule).

(2)  However, officers are not answerable to the people or congregation (1 Cor. 4:1-5; Ti. 1:7).

Note:  It is often asked, “What about the command for all believers to be subject to one another?” (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5). 

(a)   First, this subjection is to be done “in the fear of Christ” meaning that all are ultimately subject to Him, and all are to be subject in Him.

(b)  Secondly, Scripture never teaches that the sheep or congregation has authority. In fact, many passages, such as 1 Thess. 5:12 and Heb. 13:17, teach otherwise.

(c)   The subjection to one another is qualified by the context(s). It is a subjection under Christ, out of love, for the highest good and need of God’s people.  God’s sheep place themselves under the subjection of the God-ordained authorities of His Church, and God’s officers are subject to the Lord, and demonstrate subjection to Him by loving and serving His people.

e.     Scripture defines for us the manner in which this authority is to be exercised:

(1)  From a motivation of love (John 21:16).

(a)   making appeals from love for Christ’s sake (Philemon 8-9).

(b)  with compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14).

(c)   sacrificially, willingness to lay down their lives for the sheep (John 10:11,15)

(2)  With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26).

(3)  With a watchful care for the flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17).

(4)  Voluntarily as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2).

(5)  Examples as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:3).

(6)  Guarding themselves and the church (Acts 20:28).

f.      Scripture also informs us how officers are not to be characterized:

(1)  Having uncontrolled home (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12).

(2)  Desertion of the office and/or church in times of distress (Jn. 10:12).

(3)  Not to serve under compulsion or greed (1 Pet. 5:2ff).

(4)  Not abusively, ‘lording it over the sheep.’ (Matt. 20:25; Mk 10:42; Lk. 22:25f; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3)  (for more, see below).

2. Hegeomai – a term that means to “lead” or “guide.”

a.       Of a political ruler (Mt. 2:6; Acts 7:10)

b.      As chief speaker (Acts 14:12)

c.       As church leaders (Heb. 13:7,17,24)

3. Proistemi:  literally, “to stand before” as a leader stands before the people.

a.     To have a charge over (1 Thess. 5:12).

b.     To lead (Rom. 12:8).

c.     To manage (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12).

d.     To rule (1 Tim. 5:17).

What does it mean to lord it over people?

  1. What it does not mean:

a.     It does NOT mean that God’s officers should not reprove and rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2).

b.     It does NOT mean that God’s officers should never at times reprove or rebuke severely (Ti. 1:13; 2:15).

c.     It does NOT mean that God’s officers should not ‘come with a rod” when it is appropriate (1 Cor. 4:21).

    2.  What it does mean:

a.     Abuse – (from Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language)

(1)    To use ill; to maltreat, to misuse; to use with bad motives or to wrong purposes

(2)    To violate; to defile by improper sexual  intercourse.

(3)    To deceive; to impose on.

(4)    To treat rudely, or with reproachful language; to revile.

(5)    To pervert the meaning of; to misapply; as to abuse words.

b.     “Lord it over” is translated “subdue” in Acts 19:16.

c.     Two verses that demonstrate the abuse of authority are

(1)  Matt. 20:25

(2)  Luke 22:25

d.     Therefore, to “lord it over” means:

(1)  The excessive or coercive use of authority for unbiblical, sinful, and/or self-serving purposes rather than for the glory of God and the edification and loving welfare of God’s people.

(2)  Hence, officers of God’s Church are not to “lord it over” His sheep by ruling abusively or coercively (1 Pet. 5:3). The abuse of authority happens when leadership steps beyond the boundaries defined by the Word of God.

Therefore, some questions to consider:

  1. Have the elders acted in any way that has clearly violated Scripture?

  2. Has the Session developed policies that are out of sync with their delegated authority to determine the direction and emphases of the local church according to Scripture?

  3. Have the policies or actions of Session built up or torn down the church (2 Cor. 13:10)?

  4. Is there anything session has said or done that demonstrates or proves they have NOT acted

a.     From a motivation of love for the sheep (John 21:16)?

b.     With compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9;36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14)?

c.     Sacrificially (John 10:11,15)?

d.     With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26)?

e.     With a watchful care for the flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17)?

f.      Voluntarily as shepherds (not under compulsion or greed) (1 Pet. 5;2)?

g.     By guarding themselves and the church (Acts 20:28)?

     5. Have the elders led or guided the church down the wrong path doctrinally or behaviorally             (sinned)?

     6. Have they failed or abused their role by having a charge over, leading, managing or ruling?

     7. Have the elders sinfully mistreated or subdued any member or members of the church?

     8. Has there been any excessive or coercive use of authority for unbiblical, sinful, and/or self-         serving purposes rather than for the glory of God, and the edification and loving welfare of           God’s people?

     9. Can any of these questions be factually, truthfully, and Scripturally demonstrated by two or        more witnesses?

When should a charge be brought against an elder, elders, or pastor?

1.   When it can be proven that his actions demonstrate the above definition and description, and such sin is injurious to the body of Christ. It is injurious when it is disruptive and destroys the church’s testimony.

2.   What are the some of the sins that necessitate church discipline?

      a.  Unresolved problems between members of the church (Matt. 18:15-17)

      b.   Disorderly and undisciplined conduct (2 Thess. 3:6-11)

      c.   Divisiveness (Rom. 16:17-18; Ti. 3:9-11)

      d.   Obvious and persistent patterns of sin (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Tim 5:20)


This an edited and revised study taken primarily from an unpublished booklet by Dr. George E. Meisinger, The Local Church and Its Leadership. (self-published) 1981.

10 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

10 Ways to Encourage Pastor

Ten ways to encourage your pastor?  Say what?

In the book, Spurgeon on Leadership, Larry J. Michael writes,

Many Christian leaders become discouraged. The work doesn’t go as one imagines, the church doesn’t grow as one desires, lay leaders won’t cooperate with one’s leadership, people are excessively critical, or finances are down. The list goes on and on. Someone said that discouragement is the occupational hazard of the ministry, and Spurgeon was no exception to this rule. As successful as he was, he still experienced discouragement, and, in his case, it often deteriorated into depression. He became so depressed at times that he could barely function. In his lecture on “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” Spurgeon opened with these words: “As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord. Fits of depression come over the most of us….The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Did you know that pastors share something in common with others who work in other people-serving positions, such as nurses, doctors, counselors, social workers, etc.? They share a high rate of distress and discouragement, and oddly enough tend towards more frequent and serious bouts of depression and higher incidences of suicide. You wouldn’t think that would be the case, but it is.

This is nothing new. Even pastors in ages gone by struggled with discouragement and depression. Consider some of what these men went through:

John Calvin – Calvin received so much opposition in his first ministry at Geneva that the year before his expulsion from Geneva he went through great discouragement and depression. Writing about this year in his life he said “Were I to tell you only the littlest things of the misfortune – what am I saying – of the adversity which virtually crushed us during the course of one year, you would hardly believe me. I am convinced that not a day passed in which I did not long for death ten times…”

Andrew Bonar – Writing to his close friend McCheyne said, “I was very melancholy, I may say, on Saturday evening. The old scenes reminded me of my ministry, and this was accompanied with such regret for past failures.” Andrew Bonar also wrote, “My ministry has appeared to me to be wanting in so many ways that I can only say of it, indescribably inadequate.”

Charles Spurgeon – At the zenith of his ministry, Spurgeon said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”

Campbell Morgan – At the height of his ministry, Morgan astounded his congregation by telling them that he was a failure. As he thought over his ministry, he said, “During these ten years, I have known more of vision fading into mirages, or purposes failing of fulfillment, of things of strength crumbling away in weakness than ever in my life.”

(Original source for this could not be found. Sorry.)

These are only a handful of illustrations. There were others, many others, such as Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, Arthur Pink, A. W. Tozer and Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. Perhaps you would be surprised by how many present-day pastors find themselves very discouraged and depressed (statistically, more than 70%); even popular and famous Christian ministers.

The point of this post is not to talk about discouragement or ways to discourage those whose main work is to serve as Christ’s undershepherds, faithfully ministering the Word and work of Jesus to you. If you really want to know how to discourage your pastor(s) check out an old article I wrote  101 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor. Instead, this post is to provide at least ten ways you can encourage our own pastors and to provoke you to find other creative ways to do this.


Ten Ways to Encourage the Pastor:

1. Live with him in the love of Christ, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and might and loving the pastor as you love yourself.

(Matthew 22:37-39)


2. Love him in the Lord.


3. Pray for him all the time.


4. Let him rest.

Give him opportunities for personal and familial rest. Be proactive to make sure he is getting spiritual, emotional, mental and physical rejuvenation. Encourage him to take off for times of prayer, meditation and reflection. Leave him alone during his day or days off, unless of course, it is an emergency. Don’t rely on him to solve all your problems, so don’t keep on going to him relentlessly. Maybe even raise some funds and send him and his family on a cruise or a study leave.

Craig Brian Larson wrote,

“Someone has said, ‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all.’ Let me rephrase that in more general terms: Physical exhaustion alters my emotional state. What I could handle when fresh I no longer feel up to. Difficulties that I first faced like a problem-solver full of faith now cause me to buckle at the knees. The challenges that once energized me now terrify me. While the presenting symptom on such occasions is emotional – depression and weakness – the real problem is physical: low energy” (Staying Power; pp. 55-56).

Jane Rubietta in her How to Keep the Pastor You Love, states,

One day a week scarcely suffices for clergy or anyone to recharge emotionally, physically and spiritually; keep one’s home in order and in repair; and have quality and quantity family time. Ministers do not move from glory to glory but from crisis to crisis. Even if they took their one allotted day off, it is not enough to keep them from becoming one of those untimely funerals  (p. 54).


5. Honor, appreciate and esteem the pastor.

The Bible gives a rather rigorous list of requirements the pastor is to do and spells out specifically the roles the pastor is to play in the local church.  Yet, the Bible is equally clear about what your responsibility is in relationship to the pastor(s) and elders (Phil. 2:29; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13 cp. Acts 28:9-10, 2 Cor. 7:15).

One is to honor  the minister. That means to place a high value, price, or put in a place of great respect. It is giving glory to one deserving of respect, attention and obedience.  God directs Christians to honor the local church pastor(s) and elders (1 Tim. 5:17).

A second way is to show appreciation. To appreciate means to give deserved recognition for the position he has and the work that he does. To appreciate is to respect and have positive regard for.  The New King James uses the word, recognize in 1 Thessalonians 5:12, but it means the same.  One example can be found in the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Corinth regarding Timothy, when he said, Now if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. Therefore let no one despise him (1 Cor. 16:10-11).

The third way is to esteem the pastor (1 Thess. 5:13).   To esteem is “to think highly of him; to have great regard; to consider valuable, very precious, or distinguished.”

Why should you esteem the elders or pastor?

                        (1)       Because of their work, which is the effective ministry of God’s Word.

(2)       Because of their office, because they rule over you in the Lord (1 Cor. 16:16).

(3)       Because they admonish you (Heb. 13:7).

How should you/we Christians esteem their elders or pastor?

                        (1)      Very highly and in love (1 Thess. 5:13 cp. 1 Cor. 7:15)!

(2)       By showing respect for their needs (Acts 28:9-10).

       (3)       And, here’s a odd one to consider: by treating their position with fear and trembling                                                 (Acts 17; Matt. 16; Matt. 18; 2 Cor. 7:15).


6. Do everything you can to pump life into his soul.

Build him up, encourage him, and communicate to him in the many ways there are just how much his service means to you. Lift him up, inspire him, and bless him in Christ. You will reap the residual effects for it. Lift him and his family up to the Lord in frequent prayer. Show love and kindness. Be a conduit of grace, hope and love to build up your pastor.

Greenfield in The Wounded Minister, wrote, A minister’s peace of mind is very important to the quality of his productivity in ministry. It is very difficult to be loving, gentle, and kind toward people when a small group of nitpickers are constantly at him about trivial matters that have little to do with the overall purpose of the church. It is even more difficult to be the gentle pastor, meek and mild, when the accusations leveled at him are contrived and totally false (p. 104).


7. Be loyal to him in Christ

Trust him when he is trustworthy. Treat him for who he is and for the office he holds.


8. Give to him as he gives to you.

Give, not merely monetary support, but give service to him and his family. Be imaginative and think of ways you can serve your pastor: give him genuine and valuable feedback; give him moral support; give him time and prayer. Above all give him love and affection!


9. Speak the truth in love.

Do all you can to safeguard his name and reputation, but more than that, build up his name so that it becomes a name of honor. Certainly, the pastor must maintain his own reputation and integrity in Christ. This is not an admonition for you to pretend he is honorable if he has clearly sinned and defamed the name of the Lord. However, if he has a character beyond reproach, then uphold it, maintain it, and promote it.


10. Don’t covet to have your pastor be just like a pastor you admire or idolize.

He’s the pastor God has placed in the church and in your life at this time. God is the one who has given the pastor the personal talents, the spiritual gifts, and the call to the church; not the former pastor, the famous pastor, or any other admirable person. It is quite okay to enjoy and celebrate the qualities of those men while at the same time celebrating and enjoying your current minister.


These are ten, simple and practical suggestions for encouraging your pastor(s). Nice to know, eh? Now, let me encourage, in fact, urge you to do two things:

First, find tangible ways to put these suggestions into practice.

Second, talk with two or more other people in the church and conspire to do at least one encouraging thing together for the pastor(s). Preferably, it would be good to spread out these blessings over the course of a year.

The Perfect Pastor?
By D. Thomas Owsley
How to Keep the Pastor You Love
By Jane A. Rubietta

An evaluation for a pastor or elder

An Evaluation for Elder or Pastor.png

Some churches use an instrument for a performance review of their pastor(s).  Often times, those assessments focus on whether the pastor(s) has fulfilled specific job descriptions and expectations the church board has.  However, are the job descriptions reflective of what God expects for a pastor?  Further, why not include elders or other church leaders in the process?  If they are functioning as leaders in ministry, especially as officials in the local church why would they not participate?

Attached is an evaluation.  It is based on the biblical duties, responsibilities, and roles that the Bible sets forth regarding elders and pastors of a local church.  To get a better understanding of what the Bible says, may I suggest consulting either Searching for the Perfect Pastor, Volume 3 or chapters 7 through 10 in The Perfect Pastor?  

This non-scientific instrument is designed to be used as a self-check by an elder or a pastor.  It can also be used as an evaluation of the pastoral team as a whole.  The checklist is not a perfect measure to grade an elder, pastor, or team in the church.  The aim is not to use this as a means to denigrate a fellow servant in Christ.  Rather, it ought to function as a tool for the pastor(s) and elder(s) to discover more about how each one is doing in ministry.  The goal would be to sharpen one’s own life and then to help edify another’s life by discovering areas of strengths and successes in growth as well as to highlight areas needing change or improvement.

It is recommended that you evaluate yourself first.  Then, have other elders or pastors with whom you work do their own self-examination. After that, give the elders or pastors a copy to have them assess one another or the team as a whole.  When the evaluations are completed, the next step would be to take turns and discuss how each person did or how the board or team is doing.

Permission is given to use these evaluations and make adjustments to fit your local church. 

To get the PDF files, click below:

The Perfect Pastor?
By D. Thomas Owsley

15 Things a Pastor is Supposed to Consider When Preaching

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What are the things a pastor is supposed to consider when preaching in order to present a good sermon?

Everyone knows good preaching - when they hear it. The problem often is, "good preaching" is rarely defined but is almost always based on each person's preferences. The pastor, who normally goes through some sort of training, whether Bible school and/or seminary, is taught how to preach. Almost always, "good preaching" is defined by the instructor and the reference books he uses.

Homiletics is a technical term for preaching. I had three homiletics professors for the master's degree program and two in the doctoral program.  The first three seminary professors had very different philosophies and methodologies for preaching and they differed from the guest lecturers' views. They did, however, agree on the basics of communication skills (voice projection, speed, volume, posture, eye contact, etc.).  It must be said that preaching is a form of communication.  One can preach but be a terrible communicator or one can be an excellent communicator but be a miserable preacher.

In three of the churches I served, there were many armchair professionals who insisted on critiquing (often a good thing), criticizing (often a bad thing), or telling me how to preach (almost always a bad thing).  The toxic people were those who never studied the subject of preaching or learned the art of communication or had any experience in either.  They had their preferences and insisted their pastor fit their expectations.  For example, one red-in-the-face member of a church came storming down the aisle after a sermon to tell me that I preached like a Baptist (as if all Baptist pastors preach the same).  We were in a Presbyterian church and he did not like it.  He never did define what he meant.  He just knew my preaching style was unacceptable.  Another time, an elder told me my preaching was miserable.  Why?  For one, I ended sentences with prepositions.  Unacceptable!  He also wanted me to preach just like the previous pastor with university level vocabulary; even down to mimicking the previous man's West Virginia accent.  

That armchair professional and the other elders embarked on a mission to make me the best preacher ever.  There was at least one problem.  They had not defined what good preaching was, let alone what best preaching was, and they had no professional training in either preaching or communication. They did know that they wanted me to preach like their favorite preachers and they each had one who was about as different from the others as you could get.  

They did me a favor, though. It provoked me to go back and get my doctorate, take additional classes in preaching and communication, and embark on a three-year mission to learn all I could about both subjects and perhaps improve in the skill and art of "good" preaching.

By the end of those three years, I had read well over fifty books, subscribed to several magazines, read journal articles, evaluated famous and popular preachers, studied well-known sermons of those good ol' dead guys (and some living ones too), and took copious notes on everything.  I invited the elders to use a sermon evaluation sheet and take regular opportunities to critique the preaching.  They never did.  Three different types of my sermons were recorded and sent to twelve solid preachers whom the elders liked and asked for their input.  That was not too profitable because even those men disagreed about what was good, bad, or needed improvement.  

I can say that there was indeed an improvement!  About a 5% improvement, if one could actually measure it that way.  Toward the end of my term in that particular church, one elder said with contempt that in my five years in the pulpit he never once got anything out of the messages.  Wow!  In his opinion, every single one of the 240 messages was a failure.  On our last Sunday, another elder told me that he would never cross the street to hear me preach. 

From this rigorous time of training, I put together the main points from all the preaching resources. Thankfully there was quite a bit of redundancy, otherwise, this blog would be about a thousand or so pages.

The first point of all this is to relate how difficult preaching really is for the majority of pastors. It's tough!  The second point is to share what things a pastor is "supposed" to consider when putting together a sermon or message, and what is supposed to be done while communicating the message. The ideas and lessons from the various teachers, pastors, and books make it clear that their ways for crafting a sermon and delivering the message are what the preacher is supposed to do.  They are certainly helpful and informative but much of these requirements could never be placed on the level of God's Law come down from the mountaintop.  Nevertheless, the material below makes an excellent guide and perhaps a fine rubric for checking and improving one's sermons and communication skills.  It could also serve to show those arm-chair critics how their own expectations or demands measure up to the more professional standards as opposed to personal opinions. 

Perhaps, for you, this might give a better understanding of what a decent pastor goes through to prepare his messages?  So, with that, I give you a summary of those must-have considerations:

1. Read the Scripture with expression to the congregation.

2. Read the Scripture with clarity.

3. Give an introduction that:

a.  Engages and gets the attention of the audience.
b. Lays the foundation for the sermon theme.
c. Makes the sermon theme obvious.
d. Arouses their interest
e. Touches upon a need directly or indirectly.
f. Is relevant.
g. Includes a ministry sentence (a summary and the main point for what the expected response should be and an element of appeal or challenge).

4. Make sure this is an expository sermon.

Which is “Bible-centered preaching. That is, it is handling the text ‘in such a way that its real and essential meaning as it existed in the mind of the particular Biblical writer and as it exists in the light of the overall context of Scripture is made plain and applied to the present-day needs of the hearers.’” (S. Greidanus)

5. Concentrate on the original message from the Bible text but recognize the discontinuity of progressive revelation, kingdom history, and culture.

6. Does the sermon recognize the overarching continuity between the Old and New Testaments?

a. One faithful God.
b. One covenant people.

7. Focus on the goal of the original Biblical text.

8. “To understand a text is to understand the question behind the text, the question that called the text into being” (Richard Palmer).

a. Redefine the specific issue
b. Search for the underlying principle

9. The form of the sermon needs to be like this:

a. The main point of the sermon is clearly derived from the main point of the text.

b. “An oral topical sentence must do far more. It must state the idea clearly, tersely,          descriptively and formulaically so that not only does the thought become memorable by being part of a larger pattern; it must also have an intrinsic memorable quality in its own right, such as sharply descriptive nouns and verbs that make the milestones of the speech’s progression stand out clearly” (Wilbur Ellsworth).

c. The sub-points of the sermon flow naturally from the main point and coordinate with each other. And the transitions are fluid, clear, obvious, and helpful.

d. The content of the sub-points are adequately developed?

e. The content includes:

i. The person and work of Jesus Christ
ii. Salvation by grace in Christ alone
iii. An appeal to the conscience about sin and guilt
iv. A focus upon eternity
v. Accountability to God
vi. A call for a specific response of repentance and faith

f. The biblical passage is explained adequately.

g. It is obvious that good exegesis has taken place.

h. The big themes of the Bible (God’s rule, covenant, grace, people, plan of redemption, His glory and the fulfillment of all these in Jesus Christ) is reflected upon or touched by the sermon?

i. The original message to the original audience informs our current circumstances.

j. The illustrations help the audience get the point.

k. Don’t use illustrations that detract from the main point.

l.  The message reflects the dialogical nature of God and his people.

m. The sermon conveys the sense that the audience is one with the original hearers of the Scripture passage?

n. It employs a gracious invitation.

o. It admonishes with sober warnings.

p. It preaches perseverance to believers in Jesus.

10. Application

a. Is application spread throughout the text or is it placed at the end?

b. “What application does, then, is to 'attach' to the simple interpretation of the passage the meaning for the congregation today in the context of their modern life situations…[w]hat this means is that not only must the preacher study the passage for its historical/grammatical meanings, but he also must:

i. Study the present situation(s) that the congregation faces,
ii. Study the various members of the congregation, who are facing it,
iii. Abstract the truth or principle that the Holy Spirit intended to teach from the passage,
iv. Discover how the writer applied this principle to his readers, and
v. Do the same today for his own congregation in their modern setting.” (Jay Adams)

c. Does the application flow from the biblical text itself?

d. Does the application address people where they live?

i. Is it interesting?
ii. Is it for today?
iii. Does it address issues of the day?

e. Is the application Gospel-centered (not moralistic), flowing from the grace of God in Christ?

f. Is the application specific, pointed and aimed at the conscience?

g. What difference will this sermon make?

h. Does it commend the Good News of God’s grace to the hearers?

i. Does the sermon take into consideration the various needs of the hearers in the congregation? 

i. Unbelievers who are both ignorant and unteachable
ii. Some who are teachable, but yet ignorant
iii. Some who have knowledge, but are not as yet humbled…
iv. Some who are humbled
v. Some who believe…
vi. Some who have fallen…
vii. That the congregation is made up of mingled people (William Perkins in the Art of Prophecy)

j. Be careful not to communicate that only the application of the text is relevant. “…[A]pplication is based on a proper comprehension of the passage’s meaning and they will probably not take the application to heart unless this is clear to them” (Dr. Robert Stuart).

11. The conclusion of the message:

a. Does it flow from the sermon?

b. Is it a well-rounded wrap-up of the sermon?

c. Is the purpose of the sermon obviously achieved?

d. Is the focus of the conclusion appropriate to the sermon?

e. Does it challenge the audience to think or do something specific?

12. Delivery and style:

a. Will it be effective by what is said and how it is said?

b. “Apart from life-related, biblical content we have nothing worth communicating; but without skillful delivery, we will not get our content across to the congregation. In order of significance, the ingredients making up a sermon are thought, arrangement, language, voice, and gesture. In priority of impressions, however, the order reverses” (Dr. Haddon Robinson).

c. Preach in understandable vocabulary (be careful about using difficult theological terms unless you define them):

 i. Is there varied and imaginative language?
ii. Is there sense appeal?

(a) Is it visually effective?
(b) Does it describe and employ the senses of taste, smell, see, hear, or feel? (Jay Adams)
 (c) Is there a vivid description?
(d) Does it paint a picture for them?

d. Are the verbs active or passive? Is there action?

e. Consider the verbal aspects:

i. Use good voice inflection and clarity
ii. Make sure the volume is varied and appropriate
iii. Is the voice clear and easy to listen to?
iv. Are there fresh or abundant metaphors, similes or good use of pictorial language?
v. Is there unnecessary verbiage?
vi. Does it respect everyone in the congregation, all levels of physical, mental and spiritual maturity?

f. Announce your points in the sermon only if it will help the audience understand or more clearly remember the Holy Spirit’s purpose of the text (Jay Adams).

g. Is the sermon animated conversation?

h. Use appropriate body language that is consistent with the topic and words.

i. Do not lean on the pulpit.
ii. Do not use any habitual physical actions that can be distracting.

i. Is the preacher's overall appearance attractive or distracting?

j. Use facial gestures and expressions that are appropriate.

k. Have good eye contact with the audience.

l. Have a commanding presence in the pulpit.

m. Is the sermon oral English or written English (Jay Adams)?

i. Oral English is more concrete, looser, less grammatically exact, more repetitious, more limited in use of vocabulary – especially in terms or jargon. It must be comprehended at the speaker’s rate – the first time over.
ii. Written English can be more compressed and concise, more technical.
iii. Is the sermon going to be presented in oral English or bookish English?

n. Consider the length of the sermon (25-35 minutes maximum):

i. “The true way to shorten a sermon is to make it more interesting” (H. W. Beecher)
ii. “Brevity may be the soul of wit, but the preacher is not a wit. A Christianity of short sermons is a Christianity of short fibre.” (P. T. Forsyth)

o. Is it relevant? Is the congregation involved?

i. Does it address general needs?
ii. Address the whole person?
iii. Use dialogue?
iv. Use concrete and vivid language?

p. Is there a love and zeal for preaching that at times can be described as a mania (Acts 26:24; Jn. 10:20; 2 Cor. 5:13)?

q. Are you being authentic or trying to mimic someone else?

r. Take into consideration the manner of power preaching (Acts 4:29; 20:31):

i. Submit to the Holy Spirit in prayer
ii. Be full of zeal, intensity and boldness
iii. Proclaim with fear toward God and fearlessness toward man
iv. Anticipate God’s protection in the midst of suffering and opposition to the Word
v. Expect the Word to grow by God’s sovereign appointment
vi. Preach with compassion and tears (Acts 20:19,31)

13. Effectiveness

a. Speak with confidence and boldness

b. Speak with fire, conviction and unction

c. Will the sermon move or persuade the audience?

d. Was the audience taken into consideration? Think analytically about the audience:

i. How much do they know about the message?
ii. What, if any, are some misconceptions and/or prejudices that they may hold?
iii. What are some of the obstacles that may intrude in:

(a) Communicating the message,
(b) Persuading people of its truth, and/or
(c) Motivating them to act on it?

iv. Are there any reasons why I might turn them off?
v. What technical terms will I need to use and to explain?
vi. How would I best illustrate the truth to this group?

(a) What are the best areas from which to draw illustrations?
(b) What sort of language should I use with this group to make my illustrations clear?
(c) What do I need to say in order to demonstrate how to implement the action(s) required?

vii. Is the audience varied enough in the above matters that I shall have to approach the question from more than one angle?

viii. Given the general spiritual condition of the congregation, how much truth can I communicate, and to what depth?

ix. Is my problem with this group fundamentally to give them information, to persuade them to believe or disbelieve something (or both), or to get them to do what they already know and believe? Or is it a combination of two or more of the above (Jay Adams)?

e. Does the sermon consider that the people might be expectantly waiting for God to speak to their problem with it or does it merely analyze the scriptural passage (Jay Adams)?

f. Does the sermon teach anything?

i. It is good, solid doctrine?
ii. Does it touch the mind?
iii. What will they know they did not know before?
iv. Will their faith be challenged?

g. Does the sermon offer hope?

i. Does it touch their lives?
ii. Does the sermon awaken wonderment?
iii. Is the preaching fresh and in a surprising way?
iv. Does it underscore the victory of the Kingdom of grace in our moment of time?
v. Does it tell them what is expected of them?

h. What kind of emotional response might the sermon evoke?

i. Is it warm or cold?
ii. Is there a sense of trust, courage, peace or guilt?
iii. Does it convey trust, assurance, confidence, and love?
iv. Does it convey a sense of intimacy?
v. Does it speak to their personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
vi. Is it moving?

i. Is this an oral speech or a sermon from God? Or is it reading literacy? “Orality requires more use of illustrations, comparison, contrast and figurative language to stir the imagination and set up mental pictures in order for the listening ear to take in and process what is being heard” (Wilbur Ellsworth).

j. If after people have listened to the sermon, will they come away anxious about themselves or reflecting on themselves (D.M. Lloyd-Jones)?

k. Does the sermon address the total person, so that the hearer becomes involved and knows that he has been dealt with and addressed by God through the preacher (D.M. Lloyd-Jones)?

l. Will this sermon humble the sinner?
i. Will this sermon exalt the Savior?
ii. Will this sermon promote holiness?
iii. Does this sermon glorify God?

14. Other considerations:

a. Does this sermon have the three essentials of truth, clarity, and passion (Dr. G. Campbell Morgan)?

b. Does the sermon do justice to and profitable for the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20, 27)?

c. Be sure that in all the sermon, from Old Testament and from the New – Christ and His death and resurrection condition everything else that is said (Jay Adams).

d. Is the sermon Spirit-guided (Jer. 1:9, 17: 26:2)?

e. Is the sermon faithful to God (“…let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” Jer. 23:16, 28; Ez. 13:2,3)?

f. Does the sermon “disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed?” (Rev. Chad Walsh) or “break a hard heart and heal a broken heart” (John Newton)?

g. Does it add to God’s Word (like the Pharisees) or subtract from it (like the Sadducees)?
h. Is there exposition, application and exhortation in the sermon (ex: Deut. 31:30; 32:44; Deut. 1:5; 4:1; 5:1-21; 8:1; 10:12ff)?

i. Does the sermon aim for corporate edification, unity, maturity and growth (Eph. 4)?
“…the explanation and application of the Word to the congregation of Christ in order to produce corporate preparation for service, unity of faith, maturity, growth and upbuilding.” (Rev. Peter Adam; p. 83).

j. Is this sound preaching or sound doctrine? “To be sound is to be healthy; healthy doctrine is doctrine, which is not only true but also productive of godliness. Sound doctrine is healthy teaching; that is, it changes people’s lives” (Peter Adam, p. 84).

k. Will this sermon help people to understand and receive Jesus Christ and Him crucified?

l. Recall that preaching well is not the objective, but rather the means to the end.

m. Is it theologically weighty and also pastorally appropriate?

n. Is the sermon tied to literacy or orality? “…when a listener to a speech or sermon is compelled to take careful and copious notes to comprehend and retain what the speaker has said, the result, whether consciously or not, is to return communication from orality to literacy as quickly as possible” (Wilbur Ellsworth).

o. Don’t make the mistake of preaching the Gospel and hardly anything else but the Gospel, nor preach the rest of the counsel of God as if it were unrelated to the Gospel (Jay Adams).

p. Don’t preach in a way that resembles the lecture format by which aspiring young theologs almost exclusively are trained in seminaries. It may be fine for theological halls (at times), but it is not fine for the pulpit – IT IS NOT PREACHING! (Jay Adams).

q. Be careful not to “inadvertently convey the impression that the key to understanding the mind of God is found in the acquisition of an arsenal of highly technical and scientific skills. Over time men may come to regard the scriptures the way a biology student regards his proverbial frog; as a thing to dissect, rather than a source from which to hear God’s voice.” (A. G. Azurdia III)

r. Has regard being given to the “three essential principles of apostolic ministry… the message, method, and means for ministry ordained by Jesus Christ? The divine message? Jesus Christ. The divine method? Authoritative proclamation. The divine means? The power of the Spirit of God” (A. G. Azurdia III).

s. Which style of preaching is this (Reformational, Puritanical, or Redemptive-Historical)?

i. “For the Reformers, the whole sermon was application; what was added, attached, or folded in was done naturally, organically, as an integral part of the whole. From start to finish, as they interpreted the Scriptures for the congregation, at the same time, they preached what the text had to say about the people sitting before them. Application was made all along.

ii. In contrast, the Puritans exposited the text…they tacked on at the end of the sermon various and sundry ‘uses’ or ‘improvements on the text’ by way of application” (Jay Adams).

iii. The form of the Puritan sermon would be Declaration, the Explanation, and the Application. The first two divisions were to convince the reason, while the last division was aimed at warming the heart’s affections into accepting the doctrine of the first division… The preacher’s aim should be first to convince the understanding and then to engage the heart. Light first, then heat” (R. Bruce Bickel).

t. What is the aim? “If the aim of Christian preaching is more than intellectual enlightenment and moral reformation, but is, instead, the thorough-going transformation of people dead in trespasses and sins, then Christian preachers must rest their dependence solely upon the Spirit of the living God because such a transformation requires a power of an altogether supernatural kind. Stated simply, the power of the Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of gospel preaching, the one thing without which nothing else matters” (Azurdia III).

u. Is the sermon merely expounding the text or does it preach Jesus – a living person with a living voice? (Wilbur Ellsworth).

v. Is the sermon a dissected transcript of the Biblical text rearranged into a lawyer’s brief with propositional truths? If so, is this faithful to the Scripture (Don Wardlaw)?

i. “If the text ‘makes its point’ in story form then we ought to seriously consider constructing a sermon that is faithful to the content and the form of the biblical text…” (D. Wardlaw).

ii. “…the goal is to study carefully the form of the text and how it, in its literary context, plays its part in carrying the message to its intended effect with the hearers…the example of miracle stories which ‘were designed to evoke a wow! from listeners. The wise preacher will guess that a turgid apologetic for miracles or, worse, any rational explanation of miracles may scuttle the sense of wow and, therefore, be homiletically inappropriate. If a passage wants to provoke amazement, it would seem homiletically respectful to aim at the effect” (David Buttrick).

w. Don’ts:

i. Allegorize – searching beneath the literal meaning of a passage for the ‘real’ meaning.

ii. Spiritualize – discarding the earthly, physical, historical reality the text speaks about and crosses the gap with a spiritual analogy of that historical reality.

iii. Imitate – seeing biblical figures as merely individuals whose qualities we are to shun or mimic. It “tends to transform the biblical author’s description into a prescription for today” (S. Greidanus).

iv. Moralize – “…means drawing moral inferences, usually things to do or become” (Keck).

v. Apply “[u]nless you are convinced that it is the intention of the Scripture that it be applied in a certain way, no suggestion as to application can be confidently advanced” (Douglas Stuart).

15. Personal considerations:

a. Through this sermon, do I serve God in Christ and the people well?

b. Is there humility, recognizing that in myself I am unable to speak for God? (Ex. 4:10ff)

c. Am I serving biblically?

d. “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.  Morning by morning he wakens, wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isa. 50:4)

e. Am I aware that it is God who makes me competent and sufficient to the task (2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5-6; 4:7)

f. Do I recall that I am powerless and that it is the Spirit and the Word that is effective?

g. Is the sermon preached from the heart to hearts?

h. Am I preaching this sermon as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men (Richard Baxter)?

i. Remember that “every passion in the preacher does not constitute unction. While it does not expel intellectual activity, authority, and will, it superfuses these elements of force with the love, the pity, the tenderness, the pure zeal, the seriousness, which the topics of redemption should shed upon the soul of a ransomed and sanctified sinner” (Dabney).


Granted, hardly any pastor will use these all of these supposed requirements.  As I said earlier, they can be instructive and helpful if considered and applied, but ultimately it is the faithfulness of a godly preacher to God's biblical text, moved by the power of the Holy Spirit that will deliver a good message to God's people.

Dr. Don


Here are some of the resources mentioned:

Preaching with Purpose
By Jay E. Adams
Preaching & Preachers
By D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
How to Preach
By G. Campbell Morgan
Light and Heat: The Puritan View of the Pulpit
By Bruce Bickel, R. Bruce Bickel, Bruce, R. Bickel
Homiletic Moves and Structures
By David Buttrick
The Reformed Pastor
By Richard Baxter

The Minister's Priorities

Pastor's priorities.jpg


What are the minister's priorities according to the Bible?  The following is a study on the subject.

The Minister’s Priorities (a study)

Questions for you to consider:

  • What kinds of things do your elders expect the pastor to do?

  • What kinds of things do church members expect their pastor to do?

  • What are the priorities of your life that God expects of the pastor?

  • How do you, pastor, prioritize your God-given duties with people’s expectations for what you should do?

  • How do you, pastor, handle the conflict that comes when you are fulfilling biblical priorities but not people’s personal expectations?

Listed in order of priority, the minister is responsible to God first, secondly to himself and finally to others.  All too often members of a church reverse the order, only to the detriment of their personal and corporate well-being in Christ.

The pastor is responsible to serve the Lord first.

1.  The Christian pastor must possess and exercise a saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (1 Thess. 1:9;  Heb. 9:11-14).

2.  The minister’s first priority is to serve the Lord first and foremost before he serves people. (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24).  He serves God’s people by serving and answering to the Lord first and doing so for the glory of God (Deut. 10:12; Josh. 24:14, 15; 1 Cor. 10:31; 15:58; Eph. 6:7; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

a.  This was clearly the pattern of God’s true prophets, priests, and kings (1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 12:8; 34:33).

b.  This was also the pattern of Jesus Christ who always did His Father’s will (Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8; John 8:26-28)

c.  This was the pattern of the Apostles (Acts 4:5-21; 27:23; 1 Cor. 15:58; Col. 3:23; 1 Thess. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 12:28).

3. The minister is to live for Christ

a.  He must never to be ashamed of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 1:8-11; 2:11-13).

b.  His focus is to always be upon Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim 2:8-13).

c.  He should expect to suffer for Christ (Lk. 21:19; 2 Tim. 2:3-7; 3:10-12).

The pastor is responsible to keep his life right in relationship to the Lord.

1.  All believers are called upon to keep their lives right before God (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 4:16; Gal. 5:17-25; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Thess. 4:1-12; 2 Tim. 2:19-21; 2 Pet. 3:1-11).  They are to be faithful stewards of Christ and are accountable to Him through a biblically balanced life (1 Cor. 4:1-2; 9:17; Col. 1:25f).

2.  This is all the more true for pastors, as well as for elders and deacons.  The admonition to Timothy is applicable to those who take on the yoke of ministry, that the pastor or elder must guard and maintain his life, piety and gifts (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:14-16; 2 Tim. 2:19-21) so that he might have the proper capacity to serve others through Christ (2 Tim. 2:1, 6, 15; 3:16-17).  Further, he should practice and devote himself to godliness in Christ so that others will see progress in his walk (1 Tim. 4:15).  This is what Thomas Murphy means when he says that “The conversion of souls and the prosperity of the Church depend on the degree of the pastor’s piety” (Murphy, 1996, p. 47).

The purpose of taking care of his life in Christ is not for self-actualization or other self-serving goals but rather so that he may be of greater service to others. While this might seem odd, a properly oriented life that is saturated with God through Christ is a far better blessing to others.  This is because the greater, more expansive capacity one has for God the greater his capacity for a fruitful ministry.

Jesus is a model of one who, though sinless, maintained and nurtured his relationship with the Father, to understand God’s will and to be strengthened from on high in order to accomplish all that God set for him to do.  He always made it a priority to spend time with the Father before serving others.


What do you think of the statement: “The purpose of taking care of his life in Christ is…so that he may be of greater service to others. This is because the greater, more expansive capacity one has for God the greater his capacity for a fruitful ministry”?What do you say to someone when they say that serving him or her is serving the Lord?

3.  The pastor is called to train and discipline himself for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-11) so as to become more and more like Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Tim. 4:14-16; 6:11; Ti. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:4).  After all, the minister is to “incarnate” and model the life of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:18; 1 Thess. 2:10-12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).  This is very profitable for him and for others (1 Tim. 6:6).  At a minimum, this would include the nurture and improvement of the godly character required of him according to 1 Timothy 3:1-9 and Titus 1:5-9.  Yet he should also cultivate and strengthen other qualities God desires of him as Christ’s under-shepherd such as, but not limited to:

a.  Humility (Acts 20:19; 1 Cor. 10:12).

b.  Being free of or fleeing from the love of money (1 Tim. 3:3; 6:7-11)

c.   Being a vessel of honor that is set apart from sin (2 Tim. 2:20-21)

(1) Actively pursuing biblical righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11).

(2)  Fleeing youthful lusts, pursuing righteousness, faith, love (2 Tim 2:22).

d.  Fearing no one or nothing except God (Deut. 10:12; Eccles. 12:13; Psa. 118:6; Isa. 12:2; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17).

e.  Being sober-minded about everything (2 Tim. 4:5).

f.   Maintaining a clear conscience before the Lord (2 Cor. 11:31).



What does your church do to foster and encourage their pastor to grow in Christ and godliness?Minister, which of the above items is the easiest for you to get a handle on?Which of the above is the hardest to train yourself in?


4.  He is to put to use the good gift(s) God has placed upon him.  In fact, he is called upon to fan the flame or rekindle the gift(s) of God in his life (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).   How do you handle it when people expect you to minister as if you had a special gift(s) they want, but you have not been given?

5.  The pastor or elder is to saturate his life with and properly handle God’s Word (1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 3:14-16).

a. Always growing in grace and truth (2 Pet. 3:18).

b. Holding fast to and be nourished by the Word of God (1 Tim 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:13; 3:14-17; Ti. 1:9).

c. Rightly handling God’s Word so as to be approved (2 Tim. 2:15).

d.  Contending for the truth of God’s Word (1 Tim. 1:18-19).

e.  Guarding the truth (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:12-14).

6.  He should bear fruit (Jn. 15:8; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 2:8-10; Col. 1:10; Ti. 2:7; 3:8, 14).

7.  He is to take care of his physical life (1 Tim 5:23).

8. He should not be concerned about the judgments of others (1 Cor. 4:1-5), neither should he compare himself with others (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 10:12-16).  At the same time, he should defend a biblical and righteous ministry in the cause of Christ against false accusations (1 Cor. 1:6-23; 2:4, 17; 3:6, 12; 4:1-8; 5:14, 21; 1 Tim. 4:12).

Challenge for the minister:

What do you do with judgmental criticism or condemnation from:

a church member?

an elder?

a power player in the church?


9.  He must keep his family life in order (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Ti. 1:6).

10.  Finally, the minister and others must understand that his life and ministry is a living sacrifice to God (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6; 2 Sam. 24:24; Acts 20:24; 21:13; Phil. 3:7-8).

It is not even your own estimate of your service that is important.  Feeling good about your ministry may have some limited utility somewhere, but surely it has no ultimate significance. You may think more highly of your service than God does.  But if you are constantly trying to please yourself, to make self-esteem your ultimate goal, then you are forgetting whose servant you are, whom you must strive to please.  So Paul candidly writes, “I do not even judge myself” (4:3). He does not mean that there is no place in his life for self-examination or self-discipline; his own writings contradict any such interpretation (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 13:5).  What he means is that his own judging of himself cannot possibly have ultimate significance.  As he puts it, 'My conscience is clear.' (4:4)

- D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry; p. 97


After serving God and attending to his life in Christ the pastor or elder then serves others, particularly God’s people.

[1] This chapter is taken from D. Thomas Owsley, The Perfect Pastor?  pp. 369-371

The Perfect Pastor?
By D. Thomas Owsley

The Pastor is First a Servant

The Pastor is First a Servant

“Servant,” and not “pastor” is the most important and prominent, biblical term for any Christian believer in church leadership!  Surprising?  It was to me.  Like most church people I had accepted the common belief that a lead elder in the local church, is properly called “pastor” because the idea of pastor (or shepherd) is the key to understanding the role and title of that church office. Yet, it is not.