It has been said that a leader or pastor’s role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Pastors have a challenging task to be present in people’s most difficult and darkest moments. Yet, like Jesus, every pastor I know counts it a treasure to serve people with tender compassion. In contrast, pastors also have the challenge to motivate those who can drift into complacency. A wise pastor must understand when to push or when to pull and empower members into the mission they need to go.
While pastors love to label and lecture about the downside of comfort, we too can be found the worst offenders.
As a pastor, it’s not easy to equip members and develop leaders to share the gospel. It is easier short-term to tell church attenders, “Bring your lost friends to church so they can hear the gospel.” Then, the “professional” can wow with their words and attract the attention of winning people to Jesus. Certainly, churches are to consider hosting welcoming environments and winsome messages proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. The gospel may be offensive, but our churches shouldn’t. Yet, the “come & see” model should not replace the “go & tell” mandate. It’s merely the pastor’s comfort to have this as the church’s main strategy for reaching unbelievers.
As a pastor, it’s not always comfortable to use your church’s own members in the music and worship leading. If the church is lacking in resources and/or talent, it’s more comfortable for the pastor to devise a plan to borrow musicians and hire professionals in these roles. Yet, quality of worship is not always in the eyes and ears of humanity. God listens to the heart and values a community of contrite sinners giving Him praise more than earthly talents. Pastor, let’s raise the bar to form a worshiping church family more than stage presence.
As a pastor, it can be quicker to create messages that you know the church wants to hear or needs to know from your perspective. List an outline of topics; look up some verses that fit; and add in some humorous illustrations, and sermon is set for Sunday (or Saturday for the uber contemporary). Yet, the pastor isn’t called to speak from their preferred topics or soapboxes but the whole counsel of Scripture. If a pastor seldom or never teaches through full passages of Scripture in their context, but only uses verses as proof-texts, they are missing their calling. One can make a Bible verse say anything they want (especially using different translations) if they are not understanding context. Pastors must do the hard exegetical study of Scripture’s meaning and intent, so they are a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. This gives the congregation confidence not just in the Word, but in the pastor that they are not manipulating people with their soapbox preferences. Further, staying gospel-lite does not equip Christians to be salt and light.
Pastors can also protect their own comfort when they treat volunteers as servants to promote their own platform. Pastors often love the limelight and the show on the stage. Yet, pastors are more than just preachers. Pastor, do you show up to serve events and other ministries, or participate in group teachings that you are not leading? Are you developing other members to lead and teach? If not, you may be in danger of using Christians for your own comfort rather than pastoring a church of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s church doesn’t need a cult of personality. There’s only one Lord, Savior, and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Additionally, pastor, if you need to remind people that you’re the leader rather than just another part of the body with a different spiritual gift, then you may have a problem. Titles are earned not by making demands but serving needs. The title “pastor” is one of humility and moving people on God’s agenda than your own. Be very careful of viewing an individual pastor as the sole leader of the church. In fact, pastor you need a team, if not the opportunity to disciple and develop other God-called and qualified pastors/elders and leaders among your church body. Unless of course you like staying comfortable.
Speaking of a healthy team, pastors should welcome questions and encourage diverse viewpoints. Conflict does not always have to be negative but can be a healthy sign of appreciation for diversity and opportunities to minister to each segment of the church body and external community. Leadership structures should be established for the congregation to have a view and voice in processes, and at least multiple persons (if not the church body) having a vote in decision-making.
Supremely, pastors, let us be careful calling out comfortable churches or complacent pastors. Our judgments may just be looking us in the mirror.