It’s Not Wrong To Question Your Pastor

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.  (Acts 17:10-11 )

Why were the Bereans more noble than those in Thessalonica?  2 reasons: 1) They received the word with all eagerness. 2) They went back home and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul and Silas preached lined up with the word of God.

We should always receive God’s word preached to us with all eagerness. We shouldn’t sit there, arms crossed with an “I dare you to try to teach me something” attitude. At the same time that doesn’t mean we must accept everything a pastor says without question. We can be both eager to hear God’s word preached, yet at the same time be discerning.

It’s not wrong see if what a pastor preaches lines up with the Bible. A pulpit doesn’t make you infallible.

Some pastors give the impression that to question them is insubordination. Pastors aren’t a different breed of Christians, but sinners just like the people they preach to. I always try to discourage people from calling me “Pastor Mark” or “Reverend” (though I will accept “Your Highness” from my wife).  I tell them “pastor” is just my job description. I say if you’re going to call me Pastor Mark, then I’m going to call you Carpenter Bob.

Years ago a local church brought a “prophet” in for several weeks of meetings. Because some our members attended the meetings I went to a couple.  One night this man “prophesied” to a young lady, “You are a key, and this town will sin no more.” The whole place erupted with applause and cheers. Except for me and the pastor with me. I thought “Well, one thing’s certain–I’m in this town and I’m going to sin.”

This “prophet” said many other crazy things, like “Dont’ let your doctrine get in the way of the Holy Spirit.”  What?  The Holy Spirit is the author of doctrine! His listeners were eager to hear the word preached, but most didn’t go home and examine the Scriptures to see if what he said was so.

We can question pastors’ actions too.

There are qualifications for pastors in Scripture.  They must lead their families, be husbands of one wife, be above reproach and have good reputations.  This means we can examine their lives.  But even the best pastors sin, drop the ball, make mistakes, and make poor decisions at times.  No pastor should ever say “Who are you to question me?”

I’m thankful for the folks in our church who’ve come to us with questions or disagreements. Sometimes they’ve been nervous (how could anybody be nervous about coming to me? This is me – Mark – gentle, approachable, laid back Mark.  I always calm down after screaming for 10 minutes – JUST KIDDING!)

Pastors should be glad when people come with questions, thoughts or observations even if they have a poor attitude. Even when someone expresses themselves in anger there’s probably something the pastor really needs to consider. There may be truth in what they’re saying even if it comes with extra baggage. We shouldn’t reject questions or criticism because someone doesn’t express themselves perfectly.

Help your pastor. Help him preach more accurately. Help him see how to lead and care for people better. Encourage him.  And if you have questions, feel free to ask.

photo by Enderst07

  • http://Www.notrhbroadwaychurch.com Bill Finch

    As a Pastor I must make myself available and open to learning how I best can serve God’s people. I must continually be willing to learn and that I do not yet know it all. I encourage my people to come and share with me these things in order that together we can serve God for His glory. I do struggle with church members who do not talk directly with me but start to sow seeds of dissension and destructive criticism that cripples me as their pastor and discourages other members who really do want to grow in their faith. I understand that God can and will use this type of thing to grow a pastor to be more dependent on the Lord. At the same time when such negative criticism details the growth of individual Christians and the church as a whole, such negative attitudes need to be dealt with. Yes, I am personally going through this right know, the wounds are fresh and I am questioning my call to pastoral ministry. I am open to God using this difficulty to make me more dependent on Him in the midst of it all. Forgive me for taking up so much time and space.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Hey Bill,

      It really does grieve me to hear about the destructive criticism and dissension that you are facing. I would not let that cause me to question my call to pastoral ministry. I commend you for making yourself available and open to learning how to care for God’s people.

      Though negative and hurtful criticism can come from time to time, if slander and destructive criticism is a widespread problem in the church and you go to the people who are doing it if they still continue to do it, you might want to pray about whether God would have you stay.

      Obviously I would not do anything hastily, because God can use even mean-spirited criticism to do good work in us, but maybe if it continues for a long time you might want to get some counsel from those you trust about what you should do.

    • Peg Mancari

      Your reply was of great encouragement to me. I have to share something with a pastor tomorrow but want to do it in love, and
      respect for him as a leader. Your kindness and understanding is very evident in your comment and had much
      wisdom. Your shepherds heart is also evident, and may God use you mightily, and heal those wounds quickly. The
      body of Christ needs pastors like you!

  • JackW

    Yep, having a pope in every church is not any better than having one over the whole church.

    Jesus is the Head of the Church, not the figurehead.

    Good on you for saying this Mark. Thanks.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Thanks Jack! Yep – Jesus is the head of his church and the only one who is infallible.

    • Sammyze

      "Yep, having a pope in every church is not any better than having one over the whole church." So well said.

  • http://speakingtothesoul.blogspot.com Nicole McLernon

    Fantastic reminder. I just have to give a shout-out to my pastors – two of the most humble men I know. Our church is so blessed to have them.

    • MarkAltrogge

      Praise God for humble pastors!

  • http://www.raisinggodlychildren.org Bryan

    Mark,

    Great article. Came across it from Tim Challies blog.

    Question for you. My pastor recently came out with a vision plan for 2012. There's no mention of outreach, evangelism or even training the congregation up in evangelism. I have the heart of an evangelists and used to be an outreach pastor, that's why I'm passionate about this.

    Here's my question. Would it be wrong to "call him out" one-to-one on this issue? Or question him?

    My wife and I really enjoy this church. We've been attending for about 7 months. Great biblical preaching/teaching, really nice loving people in the congregation etc….But the church lacks big time in the Outreach department. Any advice would be great, thanks!!

    • Mark Altrogge

      Hey Bryan, thanks! no it is not ever wrong to talk to your pastor about anything. You could pray about it first and ask God to help you have a good attitude and your motive be God’s glory and your pastor’s good. When you go to him, before you bring up the issue, you could point out a number of things you appreciate about him and his work in the church.

      Then you could ask him if he’s thought about doing any outreach and if not you could ask him if there’s any reason why not. you could even offer to head up something or put something together to bring back and show him that might be a way for getting people involved.

      in one sense, if he is preaching the gospel every week, then there is evangelism happening in the church. If he encourages people to invite new people, that would be good as well.

      But you could certainly offer to put something together for people or even teach a class on personal evangelism, or recommend books on it.

      It’s never wrong to question or bring anything up to your pastor, but it is always best if you can do so with a humble and loving spirit.

      • http://www.raisinggodlychildren.org Bryan

        Mark, thank you for taking the time to follow up. Excellent advice, blessings!!

        • Mark Altrogge

          Your welcome Bryan, if ever you would like to talk or I could encourage you in any way I would be happy to.

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com Arthur Sido

    What should trouble us is that this is even an issue, that the church culture often leads to Christians feeling as if they are not permitted to raise questions of their pastors. Elders are supposed to be servant-leaders who equip the less mature members for the work of ministry and provide examples in their lives of how Christians should live. I work for a very large corporation and wouldn't even think of calling our CEO and questioning him but we should never have that same distance between the servants we recognize as elders and the rest of the Body.

    • http://www.forbescraft.blogspot.com Scott

      It's also troubling that so many men would be filling pulpits without a clear understanding of the doctrines of scripture, or the ability to articulate them. I would have thought that the position of pastor, at least in New Testament times, would be something that a man grew into. But because we call men based on the recommendation of a committee and a vote (usually after hearing one sermon in our church) we have people shepherding the church who cannot clearly articulate the gospel.

      • http://thesidos.blogspot.com Arthur Sido

        Scott I agree. If we look to the Scriptures we see the church recognizing men from within the body as elders/pastors, men who are known and have lives that are open to examination. The idea of hiring a man from outside of the church based on a corporate job search, a resume and a sample sermon or two is indefensible from Scripture.

      • Mark Altrogge

        Scott, also excellent comments! one of the qualifications for an overseer/elder/pastor in 1 Timothy is that he should be able to teach. and I agree – hiring a man simply based on his resume or even simply because he graduated from seminary does not mean he has gifts or character.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Great comments Arthur! Yes it is really sad that this should even be an issue. Pastors should be the most humble men on the face of the earth.

  • D. Nickles

    If you question a pastor it is usually taken negatively and not accepted. Comments for advise and counsel the same. Sorry, but anyone questioning a pastor will soon be avoided. Sorry, but most cannot take correction especially pastors, elders, and leaders especially if the feel their "possition" is in question. By the way, calling the pastor, Pastor Bob is completely comfortable for most and a family term in the body and also the community.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Hey D, that is really a sad state that most pastors would not receive correction or input. Pastor should be the most humble men in the church. it’s sad that people would think pastors as being that way. I agree that using a phrase like Pastor Bob is totally acceptable and used in many churches, but I personally just try to stay away from titles. I don’t make a big deal out of it though.

  • benthorp

    Good points. I have been saying for a while that our current culture seems obsessed with "false prophets" but has often ignored the fact that the New Testament seems much more concerned with "false teachers". Too often people are unwilling to challenge – we're in the process of trying to make that sort of feedback easier for people to give in our church.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Good points Ben. And also I’m really glad to hear your church is moving in the direction that it is!

  • Dave H.

    Mark,

    Do you have any insight on how to question your pastor? How can you do it in a way which still shows honor and respect while addressing your critical concerns (1 Thess. 5:12)?

    • Mark Altrogge

      Hey Dave, I made some suggestions to Bryan above on how to do this. but I would always suggest going with an attitude of humility, appreciation for what he has done, asking questions, making suggestions, looking at Scripture together, and being open to the fact that you could be perceiving him wrong or misunderstanding something he said. I would never go in anger, or in haste. If I am offended or angry about something, it would be good to pray about it first. hope these are helpful.

  • Elaine

    Great post, Mark! Thanks so much!

    Approaching a pastor is not easy under the best of circumstances. You need to pray, pray, and pray – checking your own heart in order to understand your own motives. Very few pastors have received comments with humility or with the spirit they were given. The comments were seen as out of line and in our experiences, anyone who approached a pastor with concerns was labeled as "divisive" and although not "officially" removed from the church, was given the cold shoulder by some members and leaders and was not allowed to serve anywhere in the church.

    I've heard pastors joke, calling members leaving a church (because of the above situation) a "back-door" revival. I'm convinced it grieves the heart of our Father. By His grace, humility, love, and truth should season all of our conversations -whether we are the ones delivering the comments or the ones receiving them.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Wonderful comments, Elaine! Love the things you said. I never heard of a “backdoor revival” as you mentioned. But I know that for me, when people leave the church, I’m always sad. But I only want people to be where Jesus wants them and where they will flourish in him.

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  • http://vyrso.com ann metcalf

    Great post. This is something I have been trying to think more about. I think as a layperson we get a false idea that everything our preacher preaches is truth. When that is not always the case. Our pastors are fallen, broken, sinners like us. We should be constantly testing preaching against Scripture. Even pastors who are usually Biblical have their moments of error. We must be on guard.

    • Mark Altrogge

      You're right, ann. It's noble to test preaching against Scripture. Thanks for adding your comments!

  • Daryl Little

    If your pastor is hard to approach, perhaps it because you've never approached him as "some guy" who likes to…fill in the blank.

    Befriending someone goes a long way towards making disagreements possible and profitable.

  • http://www.benjermcveigh.com Benjer McVeigh

    Agreed…as a preacher, I love it when people ask questions, or even offer a bit of push back. My favorite weeks are those when I get an email or two in my box regarding the sermon on Sunday. It doesn't bother me when people disagree, I actually enjoy it when someone's just looking to get at the Truth.

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  • Brandon

    Recently in our Sunday we were talking about some leaders/pastors/preachers who overly bash homosexuality. I mean it’s all they talk about. Then they get caught in this big homosexual scandal. Now the question was, if we were under that preacher, do we have the right to question that preacher concerning the rumor for our knowledge because I would be concerned about what this preacher has been teaching me and it’s not that I’m judging because if it is true and they’re apologetic, then it is no problem because clearly God has forgiven them and the servant is not greater than the master… So with all that being said are we aloud to question them in that instance or are we damning ourselves for questioning them. And they also used the scripture where it says “touch not God’s anointed”against me…

  • Peter Walters

    Mark,

    Many times I have told my congregation, "If what I am saying doesn't seem to line up with the passage I am preaching from come and talk to me. If I can't explain my rationale, then don't believe me." I still stand by that today.