Today, I lay before you a bill. It is due on receipt. It is a most urgent bill. It’s a bill that God intends to collect.
The Bible is quite clear that the congregation owes its ministers. There are different views of church government and church leadership. It’s not my intention to address them today. My own view is that all elders are shepherds, but the validity of my message today is not dependent on that view. Some of the biblical texts I’m going to expound refer, in my view, to more than the preaching pastor, the “vocational elder.” But they certainly do apply to him also, and he’s the one to whom I refer. In the Bible, there’s a parity of eldership, but there’s also a division of labor.
The preaching pastor is God’s man to fill the pulpit, and I want to tell you today what you owe him.
In Heb. 13:7 and 17, we learn that you owe him your obedience. Obedience to authority — any kind of authority — is about as popular as sexual purity these days, which means: not much. The egalitarian crusade in our culture is relentless. The Left wants to topple every single hierarchy in our culture — except one: the hierarchy of the state. And the state hierarchy is necessary for one reason and one reason alone: to topple and coercively destroy all other hierarchies.
The war on authority
But know this: this widespread attack on duly constituted authority is, underneath it all, an attack on God. God is the ultimate duly constituted authority. When the Left attacks the family, and manhood, and the church, we should be aware: it’s God they’re really after. Because they hate God’s authority, and because they cannot destroy it, they try to destroy earthly, visible representations of his authority. In the end, they won’t succeed, but they’re wreaking cultural havoc in the process.
This aversion to authority sometimes enters the church. And, to be fair, some pastors abuse their authority. This abuse, of course, is a prostitution of their office. Pastors are shepherds. God calls them to be “not domineering over those in [their] charge” (1 Pet. 5:3). Moreover: “[T]he Lord’s servant must . . . be . . . kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24). God doesn’t allow the pastor to be an authoritarian, and he establishes other elders to whom the pastor must be accountable. Still, the sheep are called to obey their local shepherd. The pastor watches for your souls, and he’ll have to stand before God one day on how he leads you (Heb. 13:17).
The pastor’s job description
The pastor is not a CEO, not a cheerleader, not a human potential coach, not a college lecturer. He’s a shepherd. We live in a depraved society, and God calls the pastor to lead you in a way to protect you from this depravity. I mean the fornication. I mean the neglect of the Lord’s Day. I mean pornography. I mean gaming and drug addictions. I mean prayerlessness. I mean pride and phariseeism. I mean husbands who don’t cherish their wives and wives who don’t submit to their husbands. I mean teenagers who love the ways of the world. Guiding the sheep away from these and other evils is part of the pastor’s job description. If you get upset with him when he does this, you’re actually getting angry with him for doing his God-appointed job.
Consider the outcome
Our text contains a fascinating command: “Consider the outcome of [his] way of life” (Heb. 13:7). Ask yourself: will his life and ministry lead you away from the Triune God? Will your children become more worldly by living as he lives? Would you have less faith or more faith if you follow the example of his life? Will you spend more time in the word of God or less if you attend to his preaching? You see the point, don’t you? If this man’s life and preaching and ministry will draw you to greater faith, greater obedience, greater worship, greater gospel living, then you are bound by God to obey and follow him.
You owe him your obedience.
Second, you owe him your trust. Paul writes in 1 Tim. 5:19, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Of course, this was a quotation from the Old Testament. Paul, you see, was not one of those “New Testament-only preachers.” He was a biblical preacher, and he understood that the Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament.
Attacks on God’s man
Paul also understood that the pastor, because of his prominent position in the Lord’s kingdom, would frequently be under attack. Sometimes that attack takes the form of gossip or slander. Paul’s instruction is clear: if somebody comes to you with an accusation against your pastor, you simply don’t listen. You stop that person, and say, “Unless you have proof [of multiple witnesses], I don’t want to hear it, and you need to shut your mouth right now.”
It clearly implies that the pastor enjoys a position of trust. Now, this should be perfectly reasonable. The shepherd of the flock, the man that oversees the church, should have the trust of those he’s leading. If you can’t trust the pastor, why are you there in the first place? Yes, some pastors abuse their trust; but know this: bad pastors don’t make pastors bad. The pulpits of sound, Bible-believing churches today are filled with humble, courageous men of God. And they deserve our trust. I know many of these men. They wouldn’t dare look at a woman besides their wife. They’d rather amputate their right arm than misappropriate church funds. They’ve sacrificed their time and money and life for the church of Jesus Christ. We owe them our trust.
Members who don’t trust their pastor can unleash havoc in the church, and God will bring them to account for their sin if they don’t repent.
Protecting the pastor’s wife
Protecting the pastor’s reputation means protecting his wife. There’s perhaps no person more vulnerable in the congregation of the pastor’s wife, and in many ways she’s the most important gift to the congregation. She suffers the attacks on her husband more acutely than he does. She deserves your love and support and understanding and prayer. She deserves for you to go out of your way to sacrifice for her and protect her and love her. I’m tempted say that the pastor’s wife is the most important member of the congregation. I’ll give in to that temptation and say it.
And the same is true of your pastor’s children. They’re constantly scrutinized, and they’re constantly under satanic attack. The pastor is called to rule his house effectively, and Satan will attack his house so that he can neutralize the pastor’s ministry in the church (Tit. 1:6).
False doctrine about the pastor’s children
We have every reason to expect that children in devout Christian families will all grow up to be strong in the Faith. But children make covenant choices. Those choices are real and fateful choices. Sometimes those choices are sinful choices, even very sinful choices. Not all children reared in Christian families grow up to be zealous in the Faith. It doesn’t always happen even in the pastor’s family — and it certainly didn’t happen in biblical history.
I want to take a moment and refute some utterly false teaching that has entered certain sectors of the church as of late. This is the idea that if a pastor’s children grow up and drift from the Lord and depart from the Faith, he’s somehow responsible and has forfeited his ministry. This view is often well-meaning but it’s illogical and contra-biblical. We read in Isaiah 1:2,
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
Question: was Jehovah at fault? Did Jehovah fail as a Father to Judah? I think not. The issue in the Scripture is always whether the pastor both in his family and in the church rules faithfully, not whether everyone follows that rule. It’s ironic that some of the same pastors who claim that an adult wayward child disqualifies the pastor, don’t claim that a wayward church member disqualifies them in their own church. They talk about “covenant headship” — but they get suspiciously quiet when their church members grow wayward under that covenant headship. They should have understood the biblical truth in the first place: their ministry is validated by their faithfulness to God, not the faithfulness of those they lead.
Your pastor’s children desperately need your love and protection and prayer. And if — we pray it never happens — they start to drift from the Lord, your job is not to target him and his dear wife. Your job is come alongside them and pray for them and help them and work to bring those children back into the path of righteousness.
You owe your pastor your trust.
Third, you owe your pastor your money. Some preachers are reluctant to talk about money, but I’m not. Jesus talked about hell more then he talked about heaven, and he talked about money more than he talked about hell. Paul talked about it too (read 2 Corinthians). He requires that the church give the minister “double honor,” and he means by this: money (1 Tim. 5:17–18). The man who watches over your souls and the souls of your children is owed double remuneration. I would remind you that these are God’s inspired words, not mine. The principal responsibility of deacons and others in the congregation is to ensure that this man’s financial needs are amply cared for.
The church’s first financial obligation
More broadly: the church’s first financial obligation is not to pay building rent or utilities or to send foreign missionaries or launch a Christian day school but to pay their pastor, and pay him well. If the church is smaller, it should, as quickly as possible, get the pastor to a full-time salary. This is not a privilege; this is not a luxury; this is what God’s law requires. And if the church doesn’t do this, it’s disobedient, and will forfeit God’s blessings.
Now, it’s remarkable how far many churches have drifted from the word of God on this point. Their philosophy of remuneration to their pastor goes like this: “Lord, you keep him humble, and we’ll keep him poor.” Or, at best: “We want him to make a salary commensurate with those in the congregation.” That’s sensible — and totally un-biblical — reasoning. Paul says that the elders who deliver the word are worthy of double honor, and no doubt he has in mind Deuteronomy 21:17, which says that in ancient Israel the firstborn should get a double financial portion. And like the Levites in old covenant Israel, the ministers should be overwhelmingly compensated.
You owe your pastor your money. And if you obey God in giving him your money, God will abundantly bless your obedience.
Finally I turn to 2 Thessalonians 3:1. I wonder if this is the most important thing we owe the pastor. And that is: prayer.
Let me say initially that I am amazed at how much the Bible talks about prayer and how little we talk about it — and how little we do it. I’ve come to believe that this omission is sinister and diabolical. Prayer moves the mighty hand of God to unleash his power in earth, and Satan knows this, and Satan therefore will do anything he can to undermine the prayer life of the church. Do you realize that God the Father suspends the evangelization of the world on the prayer of his Son (Ps. 2:8)? And this is why Paul is constantly begging his congregations to pray for him.
Prayer: decretive versus prescriptive
One of the great false teachings about prayer is to pit it against God’s sovereign decrees. This is a false antithesis. Faithless, unbelieving, disobedient prayers go like this: “God, we’re not sure if this is in your eternal will, but if it is, please save sinners”; or, “We beg you to heal our brother and sister, if you will it”; or, “Would you be kind enough to provide for us — but only, O God, if it’s in your sovereign, secret will.” Let me tell you, almost no godly Christian in the Bible prayed that way. They didn’t pray in light of God’s decretive will, but according to his prescriptive will (in the Bible).
The saints in the Bible knew that God loves his people and wants to do kind things for them. They knew that when God answers prayer, he bolsters the faith of his saints. They knew that to pray big prayers is to pray that God will demonstrate his greatness in the earth. They knew that answered prayer is a powerful contribution to evangelism: when people see how great God is, when he intervenes massively in history, they throw their trust in him (1 Kin. 18:36–39). Shriveled, anorexic prayers do not honor God. Big, bold, robust prayers honor God.
Perhaps the greatest debt you owe your pastor is prayer. You must be calling out to God every day that he will empower your pastor with his Spirit, that he will protect God’s man and his family from Satan’s attacks, that he will increase your pastor’s faith and courage in these apostate times, and that God will radically increase your church’s influence for the kingdom of God under your pastor’s leadership.
Not to pray for your pastor faithfully is an epic fail.
Let’s review: you owe your pastor your obedience. You owe him your trust. You owe him your money. And you owe him your prayer.
An old minister was fond of saying: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” God has given many of you one of the greatest gifts a Christian can enjoy: a faithful, zealous, knowledgeable pastor married to an equally devout wife. Do not take these gifts for granted. If we take these gifts for granted, God is in the habit of removing them. Remember what you owe your pastor.
And remember that if you pay what you owe, God will abundantly bless your obedience. He’ll bless your church. He’ll bless your marriage. He’ll bless your children. He’ll bless your vocation. You’ll bless your future.
Pay your debt to your pastor. God is no man’s debtor. And remember: God always pays up.
U. B. Phillips
It is arresting to observe the constancy of older men and women within the variability of historical flux and the inevitable change it engenders. The world has changed, but they have not. They seem an anachronism to their juniors, for whom the unquestioned assumptions of the present age are normative. The elders carry with them the perspectives, virtues, convictions, prejudices, and vices of the peculiar era of their youth. To their idealistic juniors, the prejudices and vices predominate, and the virtues and convictions evaporate at the scrutiny of youthful eyes naively conditioned by a single era, their own era, whose normativeness they would not think to question. Little do they know that as they age, and a new generation succeeds them, they too — and their prejudices and vices — will be an anachronism. The world changes about them, but their own habits of mind, their own worldview, long before solidified. The world moves elsewhere, and they with it, but they carry their own private world, the previous world, in their bosom.
But though their habits of mind and worldview persist, they as human beings do grow. They grow in knowledge and in wisdom, which often stand outside, and sometimes contrary to, the knowledge and wisdom of the age that succeeds them, for there is no more reliable characteristic of youth than its aversion to the deepest intellectual convictions of the age of its predecessors (“There is no greater heresy,” a friend once wryly intoned, “than the one from which you’ve been most recently rescued”). These seniors are able to impart that wisdom to their predecessors — if only the latter will hear it.
“The Truth Always Comes Too Late For Us”
What they generally cannot do, as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy pointed out, is to change themselves. “The truth,” he writes, ”always comes too late for us.” Like the twig bent in its youth, whose subsequent trajectory of growth becomes permanent and final, so the era in which they came of age has so shaped them that they cannot change — even under the ripening knowledge of their own cogent advice — without breaking their very being. While, however, they cannot change, their juniors whom they advise, whose trajectory is not yet solidified, can change. It is this phenomenon that spurs what is perhaps Rosenstock-Huessy’s most incisive observation: we should not calculate a man’s lifetime from his own birth to his own death, but from his own fifties to his son’s fifties. In short, I will not know if I have been successful as a man — much less a father — until my sons have lived through their fifties. One can assess my life’s and my parental work not when my sons are young, but only when they have had time to develop the implications of my own life when I myself lived during my fifties, not during my twenties, when the implications of my own thinking were immature. In most cases (though not in mine personally, since I sired sons at a very young age), this means that one will not be alive to discover whether he has in fact been a successful man and father. That judgment will be left to others. His chronological (but not his influential) lifetime outlives him in his children, just as his father’s lifetime is outlived in him.
“The Strangeness of the Past”
What Alister McGrath terms “the strangeness of the past” survives in us as we grow older. The younger often perceive this strangeness displayed most patently in dress and mannerism, but its actual root is man himself — in his ontology. Different ages stamp men differently. This historical conditioning is, in large measure, what produces different kinds of men all stalking Earth at any one given time. It also produces intergenerational conflict. What in the 1960’s was termed the “generation gap” is, however, precisely the opposite of what should occur. A conversation, not a gap, is what is most needed. A generational conversation is essential not only to transmit the best elements of the past’s “strangeness” to a succeeding generation but also to exhibit the subversive fact of historical conditioning to the previous one, which ordinarily glories in the peculiar features of the age of its youth, and intensely so the older it grows. The act of growing older proves — or should prove — that the mores and convictions of one’s youth should not be absolutized — that the “good old days” were never that good, that the future is open to progress, not destined to regress. The reality of growing older, on the other hand, should indicate to a succeeding (younger) generation that youth is fleeting, that the assumptions they are incurring and will later absolutize are not in fact absolute or otherwise privileged, and that the older can change their thinking — even when they cannot change themselves.
Meanwhile, we gaze in fascination, and sometimes even awe, at our immediate predecessors, who carry the past with them, a past that survives only in them, a past that is fleeting, a past that will accompany them to the grave — just as we will carry our own past to the grave. It is only man, man made in God’s image, that can transmit a little of that past — his own peculiar past, not just the general past of the era of his youth — to the future. The solidarity of humanity is marked partly by this gripping trait — the ability not merely to span eras (“tradition”) but to commit a small portion of one’s own past, one’s private, unrepeatable tradition, to another individual.
In this strange way, a little of the past, and with it we ourselves, live on.