I have been attending a particular church in the area on a sort of “trial basis,” because the statement of faith showed some promise as well as a couple areas of concern, but I was not certain if the areas of concern fell in the nonnegotiable zone or if there was room for discussion about them. (See my older post about this for an example of what I look for.)
The pastor never gave a straight answer, which was cause enough for concern, but I dutifully collected more data to have a better understanding of just where the problem was and if it could be addressed. It was not until after visiting a small group and listening to the sermon on Sunday that I was able to fully comprehend the problem. All the fragments of concern joined together to form a clear demonstration of the problem.
Not wanting to reach an immature conclusion (although I already had a good idea), I emailed the pastor seeking clarification on something said during the sermon. He made an obvious blunder and I wanted to make sure I understood correctly. Why rail against something that was not in fact wrong, but was a simple misunderstanding?
The email exchange showed quite a lot. This pastor was immediately defensive, did not use the Scriptures, and chose instead to attack my character as well as those of others who have opposed him recently. Not once did he provide an explanation for his position, insisting only that the Bible was clear (it wasn’t), and ended dialogue by telling me that I missed the point of the illustration (it wasn’t an illustration) and that if I’d like to learn, they’d be glad to teach me.
In other words, I was to fall in line and preemptively agree to the correctness of his position before moving forward. He is the one with all the answers and cannot be wrong and should never be challenged, however gently.
This is a perversion of the attitude a pastor should have. Yes, they are the spiritual authority and yes, they should be able to help you find the answer if they do not know it themselves, but they are also fallible. They are not and cannot be the ultimate authority.
The proper attitude of a pastor should be one of a trusted leader and guide who encourages his flock to fact-check what he says. As the pastor at my old church said (and probably still says), “Always read and know the words for yourself, because someone someday may lie to you.”