by Tim Chester
There are two common dangers in pastoral ministry and Paul is alert to both of them. They are what we might call over-pastoring and under-pastoring.
Over-pastoring is what happens when a leader or leaders exercise too much control in the life of the church. They are quick to suppress any dissent and may even end up bullying people. They often personalize issues. Suggestions for change or criticism are responded to in a personal way with counter-accusations. The unconscious aim of such leaders is personal control rather than the maturity of the congregation. This is why Paul says an elder must not be “over-bearing, not quick-tempered” (1:7).
Under-pastoring is what happens when a leader or leaders exercise too little leadership within a congregation. They avoid confrontation, so they fail to correct false teachers or challenge ungodly living. They may be good at encouraging people, but weak at rebuking those in error If the aim of those who over-pastor is personal control, the aim of leaders who under-pastor is personal comfort. They want a quiet life. But Paul says an elder must “refute those who oppose” the gospel (v. 9) and tells Titus that “rebellious people . . . must be silenced” (v 10-11).
You may not be in leadership. But, as we shall see in Titus 2, we are all called to pastor one another in the church. So we can all have a tendency to over-pastor or under-pastor.
If you think you have a tendency toward over-pastoring or under-pastoring, then the key is not simply to modify your style. The key is to “hold firm to the trustworthy message as it has been taught” (v 9). This is why holding firmly to the gospel is so important.
Why Under- or Over-Pastor?
What is it that drives someone to over-pastor? Proverbs 4:23 says: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT). In other words, what shapes our behavior is the thoughts and desires of our hearts (Marks 7:20-23). Our behavior goes wrong when our thinking about God and desires for God are misaligned. People over-pastor because they want to feel they are in control, or they are trying to prove themselves through their ministry. They have not embraced the truth that God is great and he is in control; or they have not embraced the truth that God is gracious and their identity is found in Christ. They may believe these truths in theory, but they do not hold them firmly in their hearts—and this is revealed in moments of pressure.
What is it that drives someone to under-pastor? People under-pastor because they fear the rejection of other people or crave their approval or they want to be liked (what the Bible calls the “fear of man,” Proverbs 29:25). Or they may under-pastor because they want a comfortable life, so they avoid the hard things involved in leadership. They have not embraced the truth that God is the glorious One, who should be feared. Their fear of man is not being eclipses by the fear of God. Or they have not embraced the truth that the God is good. True and lasting joy is found in him—even in the midst of hard situations.
Leaders need to disciple themselves with the gospel before they can disciple others. That does not mean they need to be perfect—progress rather than perfection is what is required (1 Timothy 4:15). But leaders do need to apply the gospel to their own hearts—otherwise they will be like the hypocrites of whom Jesus warns, who try to take specks out of people’s eyes when they have planks in their own eyes (Matthew 7:1-5).
Tim Chester (PhD, University of Wales) is Pastor of the Crowded House in Sheffield, United Kingdom, and Director of the Porterbrook Institute. Chester also co-authored Total Church (Re:Lit), Everyday Church (Re:Lit), and has written more than a dozen books. This article is an excerpt taken from Tim Chester, Titus for You, The Good Book Company, ©2014. Used by permission.
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