What if I told you this post would be dealing with shepherds, sheep, and pastures? Doesn’t make much sense, right?
But it is. Today’s post deals with pastors (shepherds), sheep (church members), and pastures (churches).
“Feed the flock of God which is among you.” – 1 Peter 5:2
This week I was blessed with the opportunity to interview Dr. Bryan Brock, a very seasoned shepherd. Dr. Brock is a professor in the College of Bible and Church Ministries at Maranatha Baptist University. He is an alumnus of the college, but he has also received an MDiv degree from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, a DMin degree from The Master’s Seminary He spent 10 years as a church planter and pastor in California. I was able to ask him a few questions about how the congregation affects the church and its pastor, both positively and negatively. I hope his wisdom is a blessing to you; I know I was able to learn a lot.
1. Helpful to the Pasture and the Shepherd
Question: What traits do you believe a congregation needs for the good of the church?
Dr. Brock: First and foremost, they need to know the Lord and be pursuing Christ in their own personal walk with Him. It is impossible to be a good church member while trying to do so in your own strength or while doing it for other reasons that are not primarily about Jesus. Anytime you see a Christian in a church who loves God, is pursuing Him and holiness, and is attempting to apply God’s Word in their life, you’re going to see a person who will be used by God in that church.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33
Question: What traits do you believe a congregation needs for the good of the pastor?
Dr. Brock: Probably people who are willing to work. It’s easy for somebody to want a position or an opportunity. But if you look at a person who wants a position or an opportunity, and then you look at another person who says, “I just want to serve. What can I do? Don’t be afraid to ask me to do x, y, or z if it needs to be done.”, that is very refreshing to see. That is the person who will also end up being used by God in the church. They say the greatest abilities are availability and dependability. So really, those two things, availability and dependability, are the things I would treasure in church people.
“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” – 1 Peter 4:10
2. Harmful to the Pasture and the Shepherd
Question: What were traits you saw in a congregation that hurt the church the most?
Dr. Brock: People who had an “issue”. There was some issue that was a big deal to them, whether it was a theological issue, an issue of standards, or an issue of an application that they held in their life, but they didn’t see it as an application. They saw it as a Bible truth, something that all Christians should do. These would always create friction. In any conversation, this issue could come up. Any business meeting, any time the person wanted to talk to you after the service, you had a pretty good idea that they wanted to talk to you about this thing, their “pet” issue. It was just so distracting. It distracted that individual from Christ. Any time a person gets distracted from Christ, from loving Jesus and loving other people, then that’s going to create problems.
Also, people that were looking at the church as a platform for their personal agenda. It’s kind of similar, but a little bit different. This is more about people that would want some sort of prominence, and they would basically try to achieve that by networking in the church.
Related Question: What did that networking look like?
Dr. Brock: After being in a church for a bit, you can tell who the leaders are, who the influencers are, and by just choosing relationships strategically with people. But as a pastor, you don’t want to ever become skeptical or jaded as it relates to people. But every once in a while, you would realize this person, they only care about me because I’m kind of the gatekeeper in some of these opportunities. So, when someone does an act of kindness, you don’t want to ever be overly suspicious. But there are some people that you need to take their kindness with a grain of salt. That’s always difficult to deal with.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” – Romans 16:17-18
Question: What were traits you saw in a congregation that hurt you (the pastor) the most?
Dr. Brock: Everything I just mentioned. I think it’s dangerous for the church, but a pastor definitely feels that the care of the church is his stewardship. As the Apostle Paul says about his ministry, “The care of all the churches is upon me.” And so, when anybody is causing problems in the church, the pastor is kind of on the front lines of trying to guard. Here’s the problem: external enemies are easy, but sometimes, “sheep” that are walking around biting people can’t be treated like an enemy because they’re sheep. You love them, but at the same time they’re hurting you. I think there is an emotional tightrope that pastors feel like they’re on because you do love these people, you care for them, you want what’s best for them, but you are also in the position where you have to sometimes tell them no or remove them from a position.
But then there’s the danger of them leaving the church. I’ve actually seen this happen. I’ve had situations where, because a person wasn’t getting their way, they either threaten to leave the church, or they did leave. I think people assume that pastors will be hurt if they leave. That’s true. Pastors are hurt when they leave. So, I had to discipline my mind and my heart to not take it personally. To some degree, I had to do my best to realize that if they were going to leave, it was on them and I had done everything I could to shepherd them. There were several opportunities where, in handling it right and loving them even as they were walking away, people ended up coming back later on, and the door was open. So, it’s really important for a pastor to guard his heart in situations like that, because if the Lord allows, you want to have a continuing opportunity to minister to them.
Related Question: Were there things people did unintentionally that commonly hurt you as a pastor?
Dr. Brock: If anyone ever has a complaint, and sometimes there are legitimate complaints, don’t ever bring it to a pastor on Sunday. I literally would have people, before I stepped up to preach, be like, “Hey Pastor, real quick!” Then they would unload a complaint on me about how their kid wasn’t treated well over here, or something else. It’s like, “Oh, man.” You then have to take that up to the pulpit with you. Or you get done preaching, and somebody has a point of criticism from your message. It’s like, “If you could maybe save that until Tuesday, that would be great.”
Also, there was one time when I got an anonymous letter, and the anonymous letter was just full of criticism. After I got it and read it, I felt like, “What are you supposed to do with that?” If they’re legitimate criticisms, then you can try to work on it. But a lot of times if somebody criticizes you, you want to go to them and make sure if you offended them, you take care of that. But when it’s anonymous, there’s literally nothing you can do besides wonder who in your congregation wrote the letter to you. I remember mentioning this to my father-in-law, and he told me he had a rule in his ministry that if he ever got an anonymous letter, it went straight into the trash. So I modified that rule. Now, if I ever get an anonymous letter, I open it and look for checks or cash, and if there’s no checks or cash, then I throw it away. Sometimes people might send an anonymous letter with a gift in it, but typically if people don’t put their name on it, it is probably not something that’s going to be helpful to read.
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” – Ephesians 4:29
3. Encourage Your Shepherd
Question: What were the specific things people did in your ministry that encouraged you the most?
Dr. Brock: I think anytime a person comes up to you and says, “I pray for you,” or “I pray for you every day.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything that was more heartwarming than that in ministry. I would prefer that one hundred to one over a compliment. Another thing is any time somebody comes and lets you know how God used the ministry of the Word to convict them or to change them in a way to be more like Christ, that’s very encouraging.
As you can see, Dr. Brock brings a lot to the table when it comes to church ministry experience. I know there was a lot here, and I added verses to encourage your own study of these ideas, but I do plan to address the ideas Dr. Brock brought up in a future post. I’m extremely grateful to Dr. Brock for his time and willingness to share, and I hope Dr. Brock’s wisdom is a blessing to you, and that you can apply his insights to your life.
Whether you’re the pastor or the church member, be the best shepherd or sheep you can be.
“Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” – Psalm 100:3