10 Ways to Resolve Conflict with Your Pastor

Regrettably, conflict is a reality in the church. Often that conflict is between a congregant and the pastor. After all, he is--in many ways--the focal point of the church’s public ministry. A good pastor is hard to find. A good congregant is equally hard to find. How then should you seek to approach your pastor when you have problems with his ministry, his behavior, his family or any other related issue?  Here are a few guidelines to help us all live peaceably with each other:

  1. Remember that your pastor--like you--has feelings. Pastoral criticism hurts. If you pastor is conscientious he will work had at his duties of preaching, pastoring and outreach. Imagine the hurt you would experience if someone told you that your work as a husband, wife, parent, employee was wretched. All Christians, but especially those bringing criticism (which is not bad in itself!) must “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
  2. Never confront your pastor about his preaching immediately after the service. In preaching the pastor is not only declaring God’s word, but pouring out himself. It is an intensely personal and yet public exercise. It leaves the preacher laid bare before the congregation. It is often exhausting. Your pastor is not likely to react well when receiving criticism immediately after preaching. As the Proverbs remind us, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is” (Prov.15:23)!
  3. Deal with the issues you have with your pastor quickly and wisely. I have known people who have waited the better part of a year before they raised an issue which had been rankling them. During that time, the individuals who are holding back become bitter and distance themselves from the minister, and, sadly, from the ministry of the Word.  Deal with matters in a timely manner in order to prevent bitterness. I have known others who have left churches because they alerted the pastor of their problem at the 11th hour. What good can he do then? As Scripture says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26).
  4. Complain, if you must, up the chain of command. Never raise your problems with fellow members. Your problem becomes their problem. It is actually quite common for members of churches to pollute the fellowship by complaining to other members about their problem. If you have issues with your pastor, either speak with him or to your elders (or other governing authorities). Many a pastor has known of the church member who canvasses the congregation in an attempt to gain a following. Again, the Proverbs teach us, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).
  5. Never criticize your pastor to or through his wife and family. Sadly, this sometimes happens. It is cowardly at best and malicious at worst. It is a great sin to attack a man by attacking his family. It causes untold hurt in the body of Christ. It alienates you not only from your pastor, but from his family. Here, it would do us well to remember the following Proverb: “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Prov 17:9)
  6. When giving criticism, be ready to receive criticism. Your problem with your pastor may simply be a spiritual problem in your own life. If you object to something in his preaching, it may be that he has simply been faithful in preaching the Word. That said, he is a sinner just like you and may also have been unfaithful in his preaching. Remember that both you and your pastor are sinners. There may be fault on both sides. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
  7. Love the church and love your pastor. If you truly love both your pastor and your church, your chief motivation will not to be to vindicate yourself--but to build up the body of Christ. Your manner, tone and heart will be positive, rather than negative. You will seek to correct in love, rather than tear down your pastor. This is the reason for the Apostle's exhortation to Christian unity in the Spirit in Ephesians 4: “...that the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, make the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16)
  8. Never leave a church without having attempted to resolve problems with your pastor. Ducking out is not an option. It is just plain sinful. It is sin against God chiefly, but also against His church. You may have genuine concerns with the ministry of your pastor and the direction of the church. But to leave without speaking to them may lead to further damage in the church. Your voice, rightly and humbly used, may be the instrument God uses to bring godly change in a man’s life. “The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Prov. 16:23-24)
  9. Do not raise issues that you know your pastor is unable to fix. I know of a situation in which a congregant told his pastor, “You're a faithful preacher but you do not have the preaching gifts to sustain a weekly ministry.” I wondered what was the motivation and point behind telling this. After all, if a man is not gifted enough to preach, it is not as though he can go and read a book and suddenly develop such a gift! Take care that your criticism or counsel is something that your pastor can actually work on in order to change. If not, simply telling him a personal opinion is an act of unkindness designed to break him down.
  10. Consider what might be going on in your pastor's life before you approach him. Generally this is what wise pastors do in order to avoid vexing someone who is already burdened. After all, there is such a thing as “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” He may have sickness in his family or other pressures in his life. In fact, a faithful pastor often has innumerable burdens which he is carrying about which you probably do not know. In the first five years of my own ministry, my wife had three children. With each pregnancy, she had progressive difficulties. Try to factor the challenges of a pastor's life into whether you must confront him, or when you should confront your pastor. You could always begin by praying for him and by bringing whatever concerns you have to the throne room of heaven. “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16).


Related Resources

1. Joel Beeke "Perservering in the Face of Criticism" (2008 PCRT pre-conference talk)

2. Alfred Poirer The Cross and Criticism

Matthew Holst