Pastor, Is It Possible That You Are Abusing Your People?
There is much talk especially on the Internet about pastoral abuse. Unfortunately much of this talk comes from disgruntled church members seeking to justify their leaving the church. Certainly there are cases of pastoral abuse, but in this day and age anything people feel infringes upon them personally is deemed as being pastoral abuse.
There is far too much being called pastoral abuse, which is nothing more than strong leadership. It is much like parental abuse. What my parents did in raising me would be called abuse today.
I am not justifying any kind of real abuse, but unfortunately the word abuse has been broadened in its meaning beyond reasonability. That said it is possible that sometimes a pastor could inadvertently be guilty of abusing his people.
Good men sometimes make mistakes that cause them to abuse their position. Pastor, let me give you some warning signs of things you should be careful about in order to avoid as much as possible the accusation.
1. You may be abusing people when you overwork them in ministry. There are times when we work the same people over and over again to the point that they are ineffective in any one ministry. It is wise that a pastor not use the same people too much.
Willing people are easily abused. They love to serve so they are asked repeatedly to do more and more within the church, often to their own or their families detriment. We had “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D” ministries all manned by different people in order to be very careful to respect their time.
2. You may be abusing people if ministry is harming their home life. It is easy for people to become so involved in ministry that they don't have time for the family. Make sure your people have time for their home life. The purpose of the church is to help strengthen the family not cause the family to be split apart.
3. You may be abusing your people if you are pressuring them to give more than they should. It is easy to use the old phrase “you can't out-give God” abusively. It is true you can't out-give God, but you can't bribe God either. God expects us to use common sense in giving.
A pastor who is more concerned about the finances of the church than his people’s personal finances might be abusing his people without realizing it. I have said a thousand times there is a thin line between faith and foolishness.
I taught every January on finances and many of our people used those teachings to pay off their mortgages and debts. They were freed up to be able to give to missions for example.
4. You might be abusing your people if they leave your preaching feeling guilty more often than encouraged. Guilting or shaming people into doing things is a short-term way of accomplishing something. It is much wiser for the pastor to encourage and inspire his people rather than to guilt and shame them.
I taught our TEXAS BAPTIST COLLEGE pastoral students to always leave the people believing they can live what was just preached. Leave them with hope at the end of your preaching.
5. You might be abusing your people by preaching too long. Now no one will ever accuse me of pussyfooting in my preaching. However, there are times when we preach too long and leave our people exhausted rather than refreshed. People should not leave a service feeling worn out from the experience.
They should leave feeling strengthened and challenged as well as refreshed. Our Sunday morning preaching time was shorter than the baptismal service.
6. You may be abusing your people by trying to control them. Now many times people are called “control freaks" when reality it is not the case. Often times it is just an excuse that people use for not wanting to do what they should do. I did my best to encourage people to do what they should do, but I knew that I could not control them, nor did I want too. I tried to use my influence the best I could, but I did not want my influence to become control.
There is a fine line pastor. Many good men joined our church and brought their ministries to our church over the years. These ministries were not ministries born in our church, but they were still ministries. I had no right to stick my nose into their ministries anymore than they had a right to stick their nose in our church ministries.
7. You may be abusing your people if you want to have the final say so in everything in their lives. Your people are not answerable to you in every matter. Be careful not to make it appear as if they are. There are pastors who seem to think it's their job to control what their people do and don't do. Your job is to teach the truth and let them make the decisions they should make. You are there for their benefit not them being there for your benefit.
I love the way my son Bob II puts it when he says I am not going to stick my nose in your family business, but you are also not going to bring your drama down here to God's House either.
8. You might be abusing your people if they are scared to leave your church for fear of repercussion. When people feel you accept their decision to leave the church it is less likely they will attack you. Many people attack their former pastor because of how he handled them leaving the church.
When a person chooses to leave, let them go with grace and kindness. Defend when attacked, but do not attack just because they left your church. I made it a policy to write a letter thanking them for us having the opportunity to serve together.
9. You may be abusing your people by personally expecting too much from them. I have known pastors who felt their people didn't treat them well enough. Pastor you are not there to be treated well. You are there to serve the people. Do not compare yourself to how other pastors are treated. Love your people and pastor them properly and they will treat you well.
Some pastors insist that their people do certain things for them because other pastors have received those things. Some pastors insist that their members celebrate their birthdays, their anniversary and even their families birthdays in a big way. You may be abusing your people if you expect special treatment from them. I never asked or demanded such.
10. You may be abusing your people by not warning them of potential dangers. For every pastor who abuses his people by warning them too much, there are multitudes of pastors who abuse their people by not warning them enough. The Bible is full of warnings that we should share with our people.
Our job is not to scare them but to warn them so that they take heed to avoid certain things. If they choose otherwise that is their business.
11. You may be abusing your people if you feel that your word is always the final word. Pastor you are not a dictator. Most pastors don’t think they are, but often times act like they are. We’re like a child who wants his way and when he doesn’t get it, he will pout and cry. Do not call your people disloyal merely because they disagree with you. Have you ever considered the possibility that you may be wrong?
The position of pastor is not a papal position nor is the local church infallible. The Word of God is the only infallibility at play here. In my 44 years of ministry I have known many churches to vote to do something that was unscriptural. Yet, if the church decision is questioned the church member is considered disloyal. Allow for dissent, because you could be wrong.
12. You may be abusing your people if you have to constantly tell them that you are the man of God. When you throw that in their faces what it is saying is, do what I say because God said you’re supposed to. When you use the man of God as a tool to manipulate your people you may be abusing them. You do not need to tell them you’re a man of God if you are truly a man of God. When you have to tell people who you are then you are not who you say you are.
13. You may be abusing your people if you're constantly changing things. A frustrated pastor can inadvertently be an abusive pastor. He goes from conference to conference looking for something that works and every time he returns he changes the program of this church again. The people never know what to expect because things change constantly.
Be careful pastor. Consistency is often times a better tool than change, because no church becomes a great church because of embracing the latest fad.
I did not write this article so that members could use it against the pastor. I wrote this so that pastors could examine themselves and possibly apply it to themselves. This could also be applicable to teachers or school administrators or even parents. Yes, parent you can be abusive too without trying to be.
It's easy to step over a line from time to time and inadvertently do something that is not in the best interest of your people. A good pastor will realize when he is made a mistake and correct it.
There were times when I, as a parent, inflicted a harsher punishment on my children than they deserved. They were times when I probably was harsher than I should've been. That did not make me an abusive parent. It just meant that in a certain situation I inadvertently miss handled the situation.
We would be wise as pastors to consider carefully how we treat our people so that we are not guilty of accidentally and even sincerely inflicting abuse upon them. Remember, we are the under shepherd and we are to do our best to protect and care for the sheep properly.