The Pastor in the Pew

Who is the pastor in the pew? The pastor in the pew is the pastor who is not serving on the staff of a church but is attending a church where there one or more others are in the official position of pastor. The pastor in the pew may be retired, pursuing secular work for some personal reason, serving in a denominational, administrative or parachurch position, or even under moral rehabilitation.

I’ve had the privilege of being a pastor to more than one pastor in the pew, and I’ve been a pastor in the pew myself. It has been my experience to have fellow pastors in attendance in the churches in which I have served, and likewise to be in attendance at churches where fellow pastors have been in the place of leadership. These situations can become beneficial to all involved if the wisdom, love and caring of Christ guide the hearts of all involved. It involves simply following the scriptures on how believers in Christ are to treat each other, and to make the church as a safe place for the pastor in the pew as it should be for anyone who is following Christ.

The pastor in the pew is often a person in need of special consideration and protection in the life of the church. Sometimes there are a few in the church who may develop misgivings toward the pastor in the pew. The pastor in the pew may thus find himself the target of malicious scorn, gossip and mockery. For instance, some may jump to the wrongheaded conclusion that he is under moral discipline. Moreover, any amateur theologians in the congregation may try to compete with the pastor in the pew on their Biblical knowledge. Others may simply have some personal grudges against pastors and find the pastor in the pew to be an easier target than the pastor in the pulpit. In many ways, the pastor in the pew can be a test case for the congregation on whether they will follow what scripture says about love, ministry, leadership and even church discipline. While every believer in Christ is precious to Christ, Christlike treatment of the pastor in the pew can bring great blessing to a congregation and possibly healing to wounded servant of Christ, and unChristlike treatment can become a horrible tragedy where greater pain, burdens and heartbreak can be added onto someone who may already have deep hurts and difficulties.

Living as the Pastor in the Pew

  • Support and be a friend to the current pastor.

    Take the initiative to call on the current pastor and explain your situation. Let your reasons for not currently serving a congregation be known. Then let your support of his ministry and leadership be clear. It’s also all right to be upfront and frank about whether he would be uncomfortable with you attending his church for any reason (which would better not be shared; a yes or no answer should be sufficient). By far most pastors would welcome another pastor with whom they can pray and share to be in attendance at their churches.

  • Take care that none of your actions can be interpreted as criticizing or threatening the current pastor.

    A pastor generally needs to be careful of his tongue, and it’s especially so in the hearing of others in the congregation where he might be attending as the pastor in the pew. Isolated statements can easily be exaggerated to mean things far opposite than any meaning that was intended. Probably the best way to speak is to provide a context for every remark about churches, pastors and ministries, so that it is established that anything in the past that caused hurt or concern happened at another time or place, and is not being applied to the current situation as a criticism.

    As far as supply preaching goes, it’s reasonable to be ready and willing to step in if requested. It’s best not to let any criticisms be known of the current pastor’s preaching, but to praise anything positive, even if you can charitably say that the preaching ministry is an area of potential growth for the current pastor. Graciously preach if asked, but avoid any impression that you feel that you would be better in the pulpit than the current pastor. Don’t attend hoping to be asked to preach, and preach every time when requested as if you don’t expect to be asked again.

  • Participate in the ministries of the church as a loyal disciple and servant of Christ.

    While the pastor in the pew pretty much does not have the time to invest in ministry as when he was in the vocational pastorate, there are still many ministries in the church which can use a man of spiritual insight and experience. Make it a matter of prayer first, and the Lord may well provide an avenue of ministry in accord with your call and your burden for ministry which will bring blessing to the congregation as well.

  • Offer any advice sparingly, and with extreme judiciousness and care.

    Every pastor has his blind spots, and sometimes the pastor in the pew can provide a valuable perspective. Even so, the pastor in the pew needs to offer advice from humility and with as much love as possible. Even more, the pastor in the pew needs to be ready for his advice to be refused if it is unwanted or unneeded. But this will not happen often, if there has been sufficient care to build a supportive relationship with the current pastor. Indeed, the current pastor may very much welcome sound observations and suggestions. But if the current pastor is extremely defensive about the most mild suggestion, it is generally better to pray about the situation.

Living with the Pastor in the Pew

  • Be as gracious and loving to the pastor in the pew as you would want someone to be to you if you were in his position.

    Many pastors do not remain in a vocational pastorate from the start to the conclusion of their careers. Even so, there will come a time when a pastor who has served in a vocational pastorate will retire. Consider their situation as if it were yours, and seek to be to them the kind of pastor that you would want another pastor to be to you if you were in their situation.

  • Do not consider the pastor in the pew a threat to your own position or ministry.

    The pastor in the pew is by and large not after a position in the church where he chooses to attend. Over time, as he warms to the congregation and the congregation warms to him, some do come on staff, particularly in a large multiple staff church. But no pastor need be automatically suspicious that the pastor in the pew is attempting to maneuver himself into the position which the current pastor now holds. Quite frankly, the whole situation comes down to the one that God has chosen to be the pastor, and unless the pastor abuses his call and position, or is called elsewhere by God, he is secure no matter how many other pastors attend his church. And generally the pastor in the pew will recognize that the current pastor is God’s choice for the church at that time and does not want to do anything to do with anything that would contradict that.

  • Do not consider the statements of the pastor in the pew as a criticism of yourself, your congregation or your ministry.

    If the pastor in the pew has any kind of writing, teaching or preaching ministry, simply teaching and applying the scriptures may mean mentioning the problems that scripture addresses. Any examples or allusions in anything that he has written, taught or preached may well come from experiences years before he started attending your church. The situations and indeed, even the sins into which people may fall are common enough that an illustration from years before may seem to speak of a current but confidential situation.

    Moreover, the vast majority of pastors have a strong sense of humor and desire to have fellowship with others. It’s very easy for the most judicious of people to have an offhand, innocent remark or humorous statement repeated or exaggerated as something far beyond what was intended. Pretty much the attitude needs to be that what they say that they heard may not have been really what was said. Take it with a grain of salt; if it appears to be real, speak privately with the pastor in the pew about the remark. But pretty much there will probably be no real grounds to be suspicious of his words or motives.

  • Do not be the audience nor the source of any damaging information from outside the congregation about the pastor in the pew to the leadership or members of your church.

    It goes almost without saying that no pastor will ever fulfill all the expectations of everyone in every congregation. Unfortunately, some people will try to pursue their grudges and unreasonable expectations after a pastor whom the Lord has long since been relieved of pastoral ministry to them. In addition, there may even be fellow pastors who have an axe to grind with or a ‘concern to share’ about the pastor in the pew. The scriptural policy needs to be that your ear is not available for these concerns, grudges or expectations, but rather these people need to address them first of all with a loving, forgiving heart before God and then with the pastor in the pew.

    Determine in your heart that if any church is to be a safe haven for a man of God who is out of the pulpit, let it be yours. Let any outside hostility or schemes stop when it comes to you or the people of your church. Encourage forgiveness and peacemaking with anyone with whom it may become known there was a grudge. In addition, refuse to be the conduit for anyone else’s grudges or agendas for the pastor in the pew.

  • Act as a shepherd and healer toward the pastor in the pew.

    While the pastor in the pew may not be there because of moral failure or failure as a pastor, still the pastorate can be a tough and grueling, and a physically, emotionally spiritually draining experience for some. Low financial support, long and often thankless hours, foolish opposition and the moral failures and problems of people under their care are only some of the things that can wear away at a sensitive and conscientious servant of Christ. The pastor in the pew may have an emotional backlog of emotional hurt and fatigue which no one but another pastor could truly understand. Even more, if the pastor has come through moral discipline, there may be the heartbreak of having failed his Lord, his family and his congregation. In short, the pastor in the pew may be a pastor also in need of another pastor. Be a listening ear and partner in prayer as much as possible. Be a healer as the Lord gives insight and ability.

  • Act as a buffer and protector of the pastor in the pew against gossip and criticism in the congregation.

    The current pastor and any others on the pastoral staff can be key to the protection of the reputation of the pastor in the pew. attitude of acceptance and love toward the pastor in the pew. Advise the leaders of the church and the members of the congregation to refuse to be the judges of the pastor in the pew for any moral lapses, even if these are known. Let your congregation be a conduit of the mercy and healing of Christ.

  • Support the pastor in the pew in any part time ministries and a return to vocational ministry if those doors open.

    The way that the Lord has led a person or a congregation yesterday may not be the direction in which he leads them today or tomorrow. In time the pastor in the pew may sense the call to return to vocational ministry. Be open to make this a matter of mutual prayer and counsel. It is a mark of maturity for both a pastor and a congregation if a pastor in the pew can return to a pastorate refreshed, renewed and with a new power and enthusiasm for ministry.

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