A young man asks this, “Pastor John, what do you do in a local church when the people affirm your leadership, but the leadership in your church doesn’t?”
That is a question that comes to me often from youth ministers or assistant pastors who love the Bible and are trying to teach it faithfully. The kids and their parents are often eating it up, or the small groups are, and the senior pastor is a little bit wary (or something like that). That is the kind of situation I am thinking of when you ask that question. That is what I have heard.
Four Counselors to Follow
So to whom you listen in your ministry is really important. Do you listen to the people who are loving your work, or do you listen to your senior leadership if you are not the senior? Do you listen to others? Colleagues outside the church? Do you listen to your spouse, or your friends? Whom do you listen to?
1. Listen to God.
Here is my take. First, take your cues from the Scriptures. Listen to God. Whatever any man says, it cannot compare with what God says. Your conscience must be clear before God that you are teaching and ministering faithfully. Paul said — and it is so sweet — in Romans 14:22, “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” Wow. That is so true. A clear conscience is a powerful thing.
You must be true to your own discernment of what God says in his word. And, of course, you know you are fallible. You know you should always be open to counsel that you may be reading the Bible wrongly. But in the end, you have got to have peace that you are at one with God’s word. That is the first thing: Listen to God.
2. Give attention to your elders.
Listen long and hard to your seniors and your overseers, even the ones who disagree with you, or are critical of you, or who are not happy with whatever you are doing. They may seem to be disapproving of what is going on, but listen. Don’t write them off too quickly. Test all things. Hold fast to what is good.
I think a mark of a mature, young pastor — a pastor who is maturing quickly — is his humility and his willingness to be rebuked, his willingness to be questioned. He may not agree with everything, but he is not defensive in a knee jerk kind of way. But you know that they are fallible, too. And so, in the end it is going to be the word of God and a wider constituency that are going to make the final difference here.
3. Attend to spiritually mature counselors.
Listen to trusted spiritual counselors, not just yes-men. Don’t surround yourself only with people who think that you are the best thing after whole bread. But the most spiritual people you know — the people who love the word of God, who are deeply prayerful and worshipful, the people who are bold in their witness and risk-taking in their service of Christ — listen to them: the people who obey Jesus, whatever the cost. They are the ones who will tell you like it is; take them seriously. Seek them out. Tell them the situation. Let them know what is going on, and listen to their heart.
4. Find others who have walked in your shoes.
Listen to those who have walked through similar circumstances. If you know people who are twenty years ahead of you in ministry, the same thing happened to them. Ask them what they have learned from it, and grow from that. And then pray earnestly that Christ would illumine all of this listening, because it can be very confusing.
If your leaders will entrust you to God, if you leaders will allow you to teach and lead according to what you see in the word, you may have a fruitful ministry right there in that setting even if there is not complete agreement. But if your leaders want you to cease from teaching significant things that you see as true and necessary and cease from patterns of ministry that you think are biblical, then you probably need to look for another place of service. And I would just plead with God: Open a door so that there would be a confirming call to something, not just away from something.