Pastors have a challenging role as spiritual leaders and shepherds of their congregations. They are called to preach the word of God, provide guidance, and care for the spiritual needs of their flock. However, pastors are also human, and like anyone else, they are imperfect and prone to mistakes.
As Christians, we are called to honor, respect, and submit to spiritual authority as established by God (Hebrews 13:17). Pastors have been entrusted with teaching, leading, and caring for believers in their churches.
However, there may be times when we question or disagree with decisions or actions taken by a pastor. There may even be instances when a pastor sins or falls into significant error. As Christians, how should we respond in these situations?
Should we remain silent? Spread criticism privately? Publicly criticize or condemn the pastor?
The Bible provides wisdom and insights on how to deal with difficult situations regarding spiritual leaders.
- The Bible instructs us to honor and respect those in spiritual authority.
- We must test teachings and actions against scripture, not blindly follow.
- Private confrontation of sin or error is encouraged over public criticism.
- Avoid slander, gossip, and insults when speaking about spiritual leaders.
- However, we are not called to ignore or cover up egregious, unrepentant sin.
- Disagreements should be handled with grace, humility, and love for one another.
- Always pray for and strive to restore fallen leaders if possible.
Top 10 Bible Verses About Talking Bad About A Pastor
- Exodus 22:28 – “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”
- Titus 3:1-2 – “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.”
- 1 Timothy 5:19 – “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”
- James 4:11 – “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”
- Proverbs 16:28 – “A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends.”
- Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
- 1 Peter 2:17 – “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
- Leviticus 19:16 – “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.”
- Proverbs 11:13 – “A talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.”
- Matthew 7:1-2 – “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Respecting Spiritual Authority
Numerous verses emphasize the importance of honoring those in positions of spiritual leadership:
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17 NKJV)
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NKJV)
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17 NKJV)
These and other verses make it clear we are to respect, honor, and submit to the authority of spiritual leaders like pastors and elders. However, the Bible also makes clear this respect and submission is conditional. We are to examine their teaching and leadings closely to ensure alignment with scripture:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11 NIV)
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good… (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NASB)
So while we are called to respect spiritual leaders, we must test their teachings and actions against scripture, not blindly follow them into potential error or sin.
Confronting Pastors Privately First
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus provides guidance on confronting a fellow believer over sin:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)
While these verses address confrontation between individual believers, many Bible scholars believe the principles would also apply to confronting church leaders over sin or doctrinal error.
Based on Jesus’ instructions, it seems appropriate to first privately approach the pastor to share concerns over a perceived offense. Publicly criticizing a pastor should not be the initial response.
Jesus also teaches believers to confront one another in a spirit of gentleness and humility:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 ESV)
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)
Only after multiple attempts at private confrontation have failed does Jesus indicate an issue should be elevated to the entire church. Even then, the aim remains restoration, not destruction.
Avoid Slander, Gossip, and Insults
When frustrated or angered by spiritual leaders, it can be tempting to criticize them in ways that cross into slander, gossip, insults, and other types of harmful speech. However, the Bible strongly warns against using such destructive language:
Do not slander a servant to their master, or they will curse you, and you will pay for it. (Proverbs 30:10 NIV)
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (1 Peter 2:1 NIV)
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. (Titus 3:1-2 NIV)
He who conceals hatred has lying lips, And he who spreads slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18 NKJV)
As these verses demonstrate, speaking maliciously about others is displeasing to God. When dealing with disagreements or even wrongdoing by pastors, we must refrain from gossip, insults, slander, or other forms of harmful speech.
Kindness, gentleness, and consideration for others should mark how we handle conflict with spiritual leaders.
Confronting Serious Sin or False Teaching
While confrontation should generally happen privately, what should the response be when a pastor is involved in blatantly unbiblical teaching or caught in serious, unrepentant sin? In these dire situations, bringing the issue to the other leaders and congregation may be warranted.
Paul publicly opposed Peter when Peter refused to eat with Gentile believers over fears of offending Jewish Christians:
But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. (Galatians 2:11 ESV)
Paul also named false teachers like Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus who had departed from the truth. He warned Timothy to guard against false doctrine:
But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth… (2 Timothy 2:16-18 ESV)
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV)
However, even when confronting serious sin or error, our motivation should be restoration, not humiliation when possible:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. (Galatians 6:1 ESV)
The goal remains bringing the pastor to repentance and back into right relationship with God and others.
Maintaining Unity and Grace Despite Disagreements
Even when frustrated with spiritual leaders, Christians must strive to maintain unity within the body of Christ:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV)
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14 NIV)
Our conduct towards pastors should be with the goal of preserving church unity.
We must also show grace when dealing with disagreements:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25 NIV)
Even when confrontation is required, our motivation must be restoring the pastor in a spirit of gentleness, kindness, and grace.
Praying for and Submitting to Spiritual Leaders
Along with humility and grace, earnest prayer for pastors is required, even when they are in error:
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. (Hebrews 13:18 NKJV)
Brothers, pray for us. (1 Thessalonians 5:25 ESV)
Rather than talking negatively about pastors, the Bible instructs us to pray for them consistently.
Finally, when disagreements happen, as long as a pastor’s teaching is biblical and their conduct honoring to God, the Bible calls us to continue submitting to their leadership:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities… (Titus 3:1 NIV)
Even if we personally dislike a pastor’s style or disagree with certain decisions, the biblical model is to still respect and submit to them as our spiritual leaders. Our goal remains honoring God and maintaining the unity of the body of Christ.
Navigating conflict or disagreements with pastors is difficult. However, God in His wisdom has provided principles in His word to guide us. We are called to respect spiritual authority, but test all teaching against scripture.
Confronting sin should happen privately first whenever possible, with restoration the goal. While serious unrepentant sin or false doctrine may require public opposition, our motivation must remain loving the pastor. Gossip, slander and insults have no place.
In all situations, we should pray for and strive to maintain unity with our spiritual leaders. Handled rightly, confrontation and disagreement can serve to strengthen and refine, rather than destroy, our churches.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we put these biblical principles into practice for the glory of God and the good of His Church.