The words of a pastor carry weight in the life of their congregation. For better or for worse, people look to their pastor for help understanding not only the Bible and theology but also many of the cultural issues of the day.
This is why Paul encouraged Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Most pastors take this responsibility incredibly seriously. That doesn’t mean they always get it right, though. Sometimes, the way in which they get it wrong can be dangerous to the lives and faith of the people they lead.
This is never more the case than when pastors bring their ideological or political assumptions to their reading of Scripture and do so uncritically, passing along their personal beliefs to the congregation as though they were given by God.
Commitment to a particular political vision may cause a pastor to approach the Bible with answers looking for a question rather than the other way around.
In some cases, a pastor might recast the church’s vision or beliefs around their evolving ideology, whether that means equivocating on biblical standards of sexual morality, advocating for Christian nationalism, or even stating or implying that “real” Christians vote a particular way.
This can be as damaging as it is distressing.
If you are sitting under the teaching of a pastor who appears to be guided by a particular political or personal ideology in the way that they understand and preach the scriptures, it can be difficult to know how to respond.
Here are some thoughts.
1. Resist the Urge to Act Before You Reflect
One of the healthiest things you can do when you become suspicious that your pastor is being influenced by or promoting a particular ideology over and against his commitment to Scripture is actually nothing, at least at first.
In other words, don’t march up to your pastor right at the end of service to give him a piece of your mind. Take down notes of what he said. If your church records its Sunday services, consider rewatching the sermon and studying the relevant passages of Scripture from which the pastor was drawing his teaching.
Model your posture after the words of James 1:19-21,
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Your pastor might not have been implying what you immediately thought he was implying. There may be times when a pastor may preach on particular issues that some will initially interpret through the lens of politics rather than the text of Scripture.
For example, the Bible has a great deal to say about how God’s people are to care for the needs of the impoverished, as well as those who are marginalized in society.
However, if you are more saturated by cable news than you are by the words of Scripture, you may misinterpret your pastor to be endorsing a particular partisan vision that he made no mention of.
Too often, pastors are lambasted as being “too liberal” or “too political” whenever they simply say what the Bible has to say about issues of justice.
Nevertheless, perhaps you disagree with the pastor’s interpretation of a given biblical passage or theological principle. Maybe you think that his view of the world, and therefore his interpretation of certain biblical principles, is shaped — or at least informed — by his political commitments.
In this case, the best thing to do may very well still be nothing.
There is no rule saying that you always have to agree with your pastor on everything or even everything important. You don’t have to completely align with his view of the world.
A prerequisite of your being part of the congregation he leads should not be whether he champions from the pulpit every hot-button issue you personally think the church needs to be talking about.
As long as your pastor is leading in earnest, preaching the text as he understands it without creating a pattern of drawing baseless connections between Scripture and his own political ideologies, is not condoning or encouraging sin, and is a leader of strong personal character, it’s okay to disagree with him.
The church is meant to be a diverse space — racially and ethnically diverse, generationally diverse, socio-economically diverse, politically diverse, and even theologically diverse (within the range of orthodox Christian teaching, of course, but diverse nonetheless).
And here’s the thing. Diversity brings tension. Working through that tension together causes us to grow in our faith and character, as well as in our relationships with one another.
2. Go to the Pastor Personally
A hearty endorsement of diversity notwithstanding, maybe you just can’t shake what the pastor said. In some cases, you just need to have a follow-up discussion, register your personal disagreement or divergent view, and move on.
This can be exceedingly healthy. I just recommend that you don’t do it on a Sunday morning right before or after service. Instead, send the pastor a text or email to establish a time when you can talk with him on the phone or in person.
Nevertheless, maybe you feel that what your pastor is preaching has gone beyond the realm of personal disagreement and has promoted an interpretation or application of the text that you believe is objectively wrong or even immoral.
What’s more is that this particular ideology appears in his preaching on a regular basis, regardless of the stated topic or biblical passage of a given sermon.
Before confronting your pastor, do everything you can to ensure that you are not acting on a poor interpretation yourself. Study the relevant passages of Scripture, consulting expert sources, such as the works of theologians and exegetes who have advanced degrees from respected institutions.
Also, study the range of views that can be taken on the particular interpretive or theological point on which you disagree with your pastor to determine whether your pastor is merely “in a different camp” than you on that issue or if he has indeed gone beyond the pale.
Even still, with all this research, meet your pastor with curiosity and charity rather than immediately going on the offensive.
Ask clarifying questions about his view and allow him to speak. You may find that he doesn’t actually hold to the particular ideology you thought he did, and the two of you can reach an understanding.
On the other hand, that conversation may end in disagreement. Be that as it may, let some time lapse before you take any next steps. When a conversation is intense and centers on disagreement, it can take time to process everything that occurred within it.
Maybe some of what your pastor said left you with things to consider and pray about. Maybe some of what you said had the same effect on him. Allow time for that process to take shape.
Sometimes, a follow-up conversation is helpful in bringing things to a full and healthy resolution. Other times, these things work themselves out.
3. Involve Other Leaders
When things don’t work themselves out, and you find yourself continuing to sit under what you believe to be wrong or harmful teaching, it may become necessary to involve other leaders.
I will warn you that this is the nuclear option. If you walk this path, damage will be done, and you might not end up staying at this church.
So don’t pursue it unless you have an absolutely unshakeable conviction that you feel is backed up by a sound interpretation of Scripture (as opposed to something that you heard on a couple of podcasts and now are convinced is the definitive view).
Also, recognize that the need to do this is extraordinarily rare. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong in your situation. Just don’t immediately jump there.
Disclaimers aside, the time may come when the danger of a particular ideology potentially drawing people away from Jesus reaches a point where alerting the church’s governance board, such as elders or deacons, becomes necessary.
Ask the board leader about whether the board or church has an official stance on the issue or issues in question and whether leadership is already in discussion with the pastor about these issues.
You may consider requesting that the board allow you to speak at their next meeting to express your concern. They may or may not grant this.
Allow time for those leaders to follow up and confer with one another about how to move forward, understanding the relational delicacy involved and the wisdom needed.
At the end of the day, the leadership board might not see the need to make any substantial changes to the status quo. The question at this point is whether you are willing to accept that and continue to serve under their and the pastor’s leadership or if you need to leave.
If you feel that it would be morally wrong for you to continue submitting to the pastor’s leadership, then it may be time to leave the congregation for another.
This can be painful because our church communities often become as close to us as family. But if your conscience is wounded by staying, then it is, unfortunately, time to go.
Even still, do what you can to leave respectfully and with love in your heart. You may feel deeply that the leaders with whom you have clashed have been misguided or even sinful, but if they believe in the same Jesus you do, you’ll still be sharing heaven with them.
Above it all, make it your effort to do exactly what you feel your pastor has not done: keep Jesus at the center.
For further reading:
Why Some Pastors Preach Extreme Sermons to Go Viral
Why Are There So Many Angry Pastors in the Church?
Why Do People Stop Going to Church?
Who Holds Pastors Accountable?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Hotaik Sung
Dale Chamberlain (M.Div) is an author and podcaster who is passionate about helping people tackle ancient truths in everyday settings. He lives in Southern California with his wife Tamara and their two sons. Connect with Dale at KainosProject.com.