Questioning Your Pastor’s Teaching is a Noble Task

The Bible contains two letters the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessaloniki, which might lead readers to think the people in that city were widespread supporters of Paul’s work. They weren’t. Rather, while one group of people heard Paul’s preaching and accepted it there were others who wouldn’t even give him a hearing. This opposition rose up in riot against the gospel of Jesus.

The new Christians rushed Paul and his companions away under cover of night for their safety. The travelers found a more receptive community in the next town.

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:10-12.)

The Bereans fact-checked their spiritual leader every night and were called noble because of it. Not a bad example to follow, wouldn’t you say?

berean

Notice too that the non-Jewish women of Berea are mentioned prominently as being among the new Christians. Women and men together made up this group of noble questioners and believers.

Spiritual Leaders or Spiritual Dictators

Spend time among Christians and you will hear stories of churches where people are not only not encouraged to check up on their spiritual leaders, the pastors and elders and deacons who are over the congregation, but are actively discouraged from following the Bereans’ example. One problem with such churches, of course, is that pastors and elders and deacons shouldn’t see themselves as over anyone since leadership in the church means putting yourself below everyone else, not establishing a position above them. (Mark 9:35, John 13:12-17.)

A greater problem is that the leadership in these churches sees itself as beyond question and above the reproach of anyone not in leadership. If the church is large enough to have a number of leaders, the hierarchy continues all the way to whoever is at the top. The person might be called Senior Pastor, Head Elder, Bishop or some other title, but there will be someone at the top of the chain who is answerable to no one. It happens in other ministries too, where the ones in charge brook no dissent.

Those who question a leader or a lesson, no matter how supportive they may be of the church or ministry overall, can be subject to discipline, reprisal, ouster and shunning.

  • You can see it in notorious fellowships such as Westboro Baptist and in local fellowships such as in my own town, where questioning the leaders’ teaching results not in conversation but shunning.
  • You can see it in ministries that spread their teaching on-line, where offering a contrary view causes the ones running the ministry to block your access to their website, Twitter or Facebook pages, and to immediate denigration of you as belonging to the Antichrist.
  • And you can see it in mega-churches where pastors preach of having thrown dissenters under the bus, or dictate how individual members must submit to the church’s authority in all matters including whether to report crimes to the police. Fail to adhere and you too will be disciplined, perhaps even excommunicated.

All of them would claim they are following the church model of the New Testament. Yet none of them follow Paul’s model of teaching and allowing his listeners to check up on him. If the Bereans showed their nobility in doing so, what does that make you when you exercise Scriptural discernment of a sermon, a blog post, a tweet?

It makes you noble too.

Checking up on the teachers

Some people will claim they are teaching God’s truth, but their teaching doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. And scrutiny is exactly what John advised:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1.)

This is similar to the advice Paul gave the Thessalonians after he left them:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22.)

One can’t help but imagine Paul had the Berean experience in mind when he advised the Thessalonians to check up on spiritual teaching (prophecies). To do otherwise is to quench the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of the Christian. Don’t let spiritual dictators try to quench the work of the Spirit in you.

You are called to something far more noble than that.

***

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36 Responses to Questioning Your Pastor’s Teaching is a Noble Task

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    Amen to that. What is it that makes people become lemmings/automatons, just following blindly without thinking about how what they’re taught stacks up against scripture. it’s laziness really, because it’s a lot easier to get someone else to hear from God on your behalf than to spend time listening to Him yourself.

    • Tim says:

      There are a few people I’ve heard use the phrase “Pastor says” more often than “the Bible says,” and that is a red flag for me. It’s one thing to learn from a sermon or book or blog post, but it can’t be a replacement for studying and understanding God’s word and how those teachings stack up in light of Scripture.

      • Muff Potter says:

        Excellent article up top Tim. But here’s one more problem. In the circles you cite, “Pastor says” really means this is what pastor says “the Bible says”. Self study and research on one’s own can often times yield a different viewing angle than the one “Pastor” sights along. Being a Berean is not without cost. It can put you at odds with other believers.

        • Tim says:

          That’s exactly right, Muff. “Pastor tells me what the Bible says. Why should I read it for myself?” That sounds a lot like the discussion John Wycliffe was involved in back in the 14th Century.

  2. This is a very important truth that somehow gets obscured very frequently. It’s a problem not just on the local church level, but also on denominational levels as well. If you don’t believe every denominational distinctive and disavow any contrary position, particularly if you are seeking to be a pastor, you are viewed with suspicion. It’s no wonder we’re developing pastors that can’t stand any questioning.

    Although it’s tough on the other side as well. The ones who question you and think they’re completely right and may just be equally unwilling to be questioned or dialogue about what was incorrect. I’ve not had that happen after giving a sermon, but I’ve known others who have experienced that. There has to be room for humility in us all.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve been questioned and corrected in my writing and modified my posts in response. Then again, sometimes I’ve been questioned and it turns out the other person and I just disagree. But this type of discussion and discernment takes effort, including the effort I have to expend to overcome my defensiveness.

      • Agreed. It takes a lot of effort. It just seems that this kind of effort is a rare thing, to really want discussion and use discernment. Personally, I think it should be a requirement for anyone who wants to claim any role as a leader in the Christian church.

  3. Pingback: Questioning Your Pastor’s Teaching is a Noble Task – Remind Me Who I Am

  4. Kevin Mason (Mision Evangelica Del Ecuador) says:

    The leaders at my church want the church to be a mega-church; they are adopting the policies and practices promoted by the leaders in the seeker-driven movement; including the practices of maligning and marginalizing those who ask questions. When a church is marching forward into mega-church status, it cannot tolerate those who ask questions (or discern). People are told that they should find a different church. But there is only one church… THE CHURCH; the church where Jesus Christ is the head. But there are many organizations calling themselves a church where the leaders see themselves as the head of the church and cast a new vision for their organization for the purpose of getting more people into a building and more revenue.

    If I was Satan, I would certainly help any leader wanting to use the seeker-driven model.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t know that the seeker model or being a mega church necessarily leads to marginalizing minority voices, but any church of any size that does so is missing Jesus’ point about us all being one in the Church.

      • Kevin Mason (Mision Evangelica Del Ecuador) says:

        Many years ago when the seeker-driven model was growing in popularity, and seeker-driven model pastor, Dan Southerland, who was endorsed by Rick Warren wrote a book, “Transitioning”, on how to transition into a purpose driven church. He includes an entire chapter on how deal with those who disagree with the new vision being cast by the leaders of a church desiring to draw more people into a building. Former mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll bragged about throwing people under the Mars Hill bus, Perry Nobles call them “jack-asses”, other are more gracious but the result is the same, faithful followers of Jesus Christ are asked to leave or pushed out of their church as the “new vision” is implemented.

        I have witnessed the same in my own church as the senior pastor repeatedly changed his vision for the church after reading the latest book written by a mega-church pastor and repeatedly implemented teachings that were popular, exciting, but not entirely biblical (ex: charging $250.00 per person for a class that teaches how to heal people and raise people from the dead). Because the ‘church’ is growing numerically, the methods are deemed justified.

        Tim, you may not have personally experienced this and you are lucky if you did not. But it does happen and more often than it should. Non-essential issues such as music style, etc. are not the issue but doctrinal issues that change the vision Jesus Christ had given for HIS church into visions of men.

        • Tim says:

          I’ve seen it too. I was just saying that I have not seen that every seeker church and/or mega church is autocratic, without exception.

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    MANY response possible to this, a few thoughts below:
    -The pastor who will not listen to his trusted leadership team when introducing a new idea that his wife was thrilled by. Result, new leadership team, church splits, those who left are called “traitors,” despite being asked to leave.
    -Those who leave are not to be invited to any “members” homes for any reason.
    -The pastor who listens to so many people that he loses his direction.
    -The autocratic leader who is accountable to no one, until the board redevelops its spine and removes him (the board members issued a written apology).
    -The pastor who tells a person to take medications since God will heal, when charged with medical malpractice, other churches became “wiser.”
    -The pastor who told his staff not to call the police, yet when the call came through he was charged with obstruction, and accessory after the fact. Again, some churches got “wiser.”
    -The pastor who leads the church with God’s design, His plans, in contact with Him almost hourly, yet some complain. When threatening to leave (for example) over a style of music or one song his response: ‘If that is how you feel, please let me know and I will write you a positive letter of transfer.’
    -The pastor who insists that those who have issue with a leader bring witnesses to substantiate the claim. However, if he heard more than one complaint of a similar nature, he would take action.

    I have frequently told my staff that some issues are not ours to worry over. These must be given to God for Him to provide guidance. If of a legal nature =Make The Call.= The officials are in the best position to guide in some cases. One issue was referred back to the local church to resolve, since the strong hand of the (government) office might be seen as too strict. If that was not successful, they would step in. yes, the problem was solved.

    Balance, wisdom, prayer, God directed action, all work well with WISDOM.

  6. Laura Droege says:

    Why do people not question the pastor’s teaching? In many cases, the leadership discourages this questioning (such as in the examples you and PB gave). But in others, the leadership allows or even encourages such questioning, yet people still don’t do it. Do you think it’s spiritual laziness, inability to think deeply, fear of interacting with Scripture thoughtfully, or some other unknown reason?

    • Tim says:

      It’s hard for me to understand when others have no curiosity that leads them to look for themselves. But I recognize that some people are not learners: they will listen and accept, but they are not really into learning. If someone with authority says it’s so, that is good enough for some folks. I don’t think the Bereans were like that.

      • Laura Droege says:

        I don’t understand people who don’t like to learn! I would never have made it through college without my strong, strong desire to learn; believe me, it would’ve been much easier to drop out during my worst depressions and the eating disorder.

        • Tim says:

          Your love of learning saw you through times that might have led others to quit, Laura. I’m glad you made it through to the conclusion, and that your love of learning keeps moving you to new knowledge. (I’m just being selfish, you know. You share your knowledge and it edifies me all the time!)

  7. Bill M says:

    The last message I sat through at my former church, the new thirty-something pastor preached that cynicism was bad but then went on to equate skepticism to cynicism also. Of all things, the message was on wisdom. Many think he was using his podium as a bully pulpit to undermine his opposition. I wandered the halls for the next few months and eventually left.

    In his case questioning made no difference. I found later many had approached him with nearly identical concerns to no effect. He hadn’t achieved a nasty exterior to intimidate, he simply smiled, attentively nodded his head, and then ignored all contrary input.

    Too bad so many pay only lip service to your point. Many left as I did but most are still there unquestioning. I’m done with leaders, those who see themselves as a leader, I’ll follow a servant.

    • Tim says:

      “he simply smiled, attentively nodded his head, and then ignored all contrary input”

      Have you ever read C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength? You’ve described the leader of N.I.C.E (the organization trying to take over everything) to a T.

      • Bill M says:

        “Have you ever read C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength?”
        I read it thirty or forty years ago, looks like I need to do so again. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Jeannie says:

    I was thinking about your post in relation to young people, too. My daughter and I recently had a conversation about a certain doctrinal teaching, and I suggested she read a certain book that addresses it (and that is geared to her age range) and then maybe we could talk about it. She said, “Oh, [youth leader’s name] doesn’t like [author of said book].” I told her not to let that stop her — that she was free to check out this book and think about the issues it addresses. We don’t want our kids to be led astray by falsehood but we also don’t want them to think their leaders (OR writers, OR parents) are always right and that they can only do/say/read what that adult approves of. Young people need to learn the skills to discerningly test what they hear, too.

    • Tim says:

      That was a great parenting moment, Jeannie. I remember how the light bulb went on when I learned that I could come to different conclusions from those held by authority figures in my life (parents, teachers, pastors, etc.) and still be reasonable about it.

  9. Barb says:

    All good comments! I must share the illustration our pastor gave earlier this month. He spoke of the time Abraham Lincoln went to the slave auction, ‘purchased’ a little girl, then set her free. The detailed conversation the 2 had was also shared. (You see where this tear-jerker is going.) He finally conceded that the story was more legend than truth. A simple internet search verified that easily. So….my question is…..why do pastors even tell such stories which really are nothing more than fabrications? Can we say “lie”? Or is it really a lie? Hm-m-m-m-m?

    • Tim says:

      Stories make for great illustrations, but they have to be presented as such. Even prefacing it with “There’s a legend about Abe Lincoln, likely not true as so many legends are, but still helpful for understanding today’s passage …” would help.

  10. “Those who question a leader or a lesson, no matter how supportive they may be of the church or ministry overall, can be subject to discipline, reprisal, ouster and shunning.”

    Yes, but it’s all done for the sake of “unity” and to protect the sheep… or so they say… 😛

  11. Mary Anne says:

    Yes. Yes. And again, yes. I was once involved in a congregation that–now that I look back on it–had degenerated into a cult. All under the leadership of a man who blew up if anyone questioned his teachings and actions, quoted at us that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,” etc.

    Please, any of you, if this sounds familiar and you are under this type of “leadership,” get out. Now. Leave. Because I had a lucky escape. Things fell apart on their own, but a lot of my friends were hurt very badly before it was all over.

    As the saying goes, “We grow too soon old and too late smart . . .”

    • Tim says:

      Oh those rebellious Bereans … how could Luke have been so mistaken as to consider them noble?

      I’m sorry about the hurt your friends suffered, and glad that you got out early enough, MA.

  12. This post nearly brought me to tears. You wrote ‘If the church is large enough to have a number of leaders, the hierarchy continues all the way to whoever is at the top. The person might be called Senior Pastor, Head Elder, Bishop or some other title, but there will be someone at the top of the chain who is answerable to no one’. How true!! This is my journey through and through. I made a major complaint against the leadership of the local Presbyterian Church to the Presbytery (this was finance related not doctrine), after receiving a copy of their minutes and saw that they were titled ‘ Minutes Concerning dealing with Mrs. R. Aubert’ I took my complaint all the way to Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. What did he do? He sent me back to the Presbytery. I have been on this merry-go-round for the past 5 years but I continue to fight on because I do not want anyone else to go through what they have put me through. They are a ‘law unto themselves’.

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