A while ago I was sitting in a Bible class when the question was posed by the teacher: “How would you handle the situation if you took offense to something your preacher or teacher said in a class or sermon?” I was a little taken aback at the responses. Most everyone’s initial response was to go talk to the Elders and have them “fix” the situation. Unfortunately that is often our instinctual response, or worse yet we just complain about our elders, preachers and teachers to our friends under the guise of “venting.” This behavior is becoming commonplace in our congregations and causes so much unnecessary strife. Let’s take a look at what scripture actually says about these situations.
First of all, we must decide if we are offended because he is teaching something false or if we are offended because he is pointing out a scriptural issue that we need to examine and fix in ourselves. So often when we feel most defensive it is because we don’t want to have someone pointing out our flaws. We must remember that the job of our preachers, elders and teachers is not to make us feel good; it is to correct us and to help us become better Christians. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 that “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” If you have good leaders, they WILL step on your toes. They do this out of love so that they can help you, as Paul puts, it “escape from the snare of the devil.”
So often when we feel most defensive it is because we don’t want to have someone pointing out our flaws. We must remember that the job of our preachers, elders and teachers is not to make us feel good; it is to correct us and to help us become better Christians.
What happens if we have thoroughly examined ourselves and scripture and we still believe that our elder, preacher or teacher is teaching false doctrine? Should we run straight to our leaders and petition to have them reprimanded or even removed? I believe the answer is very simple… NO. Jesus addresses this very subject in Matthew 18:15-20. If our leaders are teaching something false they are sinning and we are given very specific instructions on how to handle that:
Step one: “If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private: if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15). This may seem uncomfortable for us. It is much easier to talk about someone than to talk to someone; however, if we are truly the Christians we claim to be we care about our preacher, elder or teacher and their soul and should take the necessary steps to help them. Many times these disagreements come from a misunderstanding or reading into things that the teacher never intended and are simple to clear up. However, our church leaders are only men and will occasionally make mistakes. They need assistance from their brothers and sisters as much as anyone.
Step two: If you are still not seeing eye to eye, provisions are made for that. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed” (Matthew 18:16). It is probably a good idea to get another leader in the congregation that this man will respect for this part. Also, never forget these confrontations are to be done in love and never out of spite. You should not be doing this to prove you are right, only to correct and help another’s Christian walk.
Step three: “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer” (Matthew 18:17).
Notice that none of these steps take place behind the man’s back. They are made to the person’s face. This may seem extreme, but if we all followed these simple steps there would be much less strife in the church. Always remember being a leader in the church is a very difficult, demanding and often thankless job. People often judge and criticize without thought. Gossip about our leaders runs rampant through our congregations. There is no place for gossip if we abide by God’s true plan for the church. If we follow this simple pattern laid out for us, our churches would be a much more pleasant place filled with people concerned for each other’s eternal souls and not just worried about how they look in other’s eyes.