Part of your role is training the sheep. You will be loved for feeding them, and hated for training them. You are responsible for training the sheep to embrace and understand the culture of your church, how to behave at church, and how to live the Christian life. The worst pastors are the pastors that let anything go – their churches are not safe places to be. Things will get out of line if you just leave them to their own devices. That is a fact!
Paul asked the Christians in Corinth this pertinent question: “Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (2 Cor. 4.21). Most of the time you come to the sheep in love and with meekness, but there are times you have to lay down the law.
You have to purge certain tendencies and ideas out of your church. If your sheep think you are a weak leader, then you will be exploited by your church, and taken for a ride more than once.
Many years ago, I was at a church once where the pastor called a young man to the front of the church. It was a mid-week meeting, and I didn’t really know the church. I thought they were going to honour the guy in some way, and to be honest, the guy looked like he did too. But the pastor said “This young man is a thief and a liar, he has conned several people in the church by doing this and that. Look at him, and do not be conned by him. He has seduced several ladies in the church and blackmailed them and stolen from them.” I was stunned, but the church applauded – they knew people that had been hurt by this man, and who had lost property to his con. There as a young man, I learned the power of strong leadership to protect the sheep. You cannot let people come to your church and just do whatever they want.
I was once physically removing a young man from a youth meeting for continually making sexually offensive comments to the young ladies, I was the youth pastor in that church. The senior pastor saw me doing it and told me to be a bit more gentle. When I explained what the young man had done, the senior pastor told me to be a little more rough!
1 Cor. 5.6-7 is clear: Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven. This is so important – people will corrupt people. Negative, whining, complaining people will infect people. You need to train your people to reject gossip and reject whining, and reject negativity.
To some people in your church you need to be strong, and tell them that their behaviour was disappointing, was destructive, that was not healthy behaviour. You need to have a statement of culture that you can refer to and let people know “this is not how we do things around here”. In doing this, you do not humiliate people. You don’t tell people off in public unless their behaviour is destructive and they have been warned privately several times (as happened in both above illustrations) – you don’t humiliate people. Sometimes you have to be hard with people, but you never have to be harsh.
“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out, yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (Proverbs 22.10). Sometimes you have to correct people right out the church. But when you do, strife and reproach stop and it is the greatest feeling on the planet. Some people just need to leave the church, their presence is nothing but disruptive and unhelpful. It is that simple sometimes!
But for most people, training is a much more positive experience. Correction is one side of training, but discipleship is the other side. Three things your church should have to help train people:
1. An obvious path of training.
2. An obvious place of training.
3. An obvious reward to training.
An obvious path to training means that let’s say someone gets saved in your church, or comes from another church, they should know immediately what to do if they want to be discipled. For us in the Tree, it’s join a small group. We also have a 5 week course called Vision and Values where we explain our vision and values to people and that ends with us making sure that we open to door for people to be discipled. For me, the three main areas of discipleship for new Christians or Christians that aren’t growing are: how to read the Bible yourself, how to flow in the gifts of the Spirit and how to relate to a local church – so we do training on all of that. The courses are offered as often as we can – ideally I’d like to offer them about twice as much as we do, but that’s ongoing development of the church.
An obvious place of training is that people know where they can go if they need help. Again at the Tree that’s our small groups – the Living Churches. You go there and you are trained, and taught the Word and encouraged. You can receive prayer if you need and you will grow. Any problems and the elder running the group can help or get help.
Finally rewards for training – people like to be noticed and acknowledged, so we celebrate training, we have a pathway for becoming an elder and we have a way into serving and helping and significance in the church. People need to feel that they are growing.
Keep a strong handle on the church, and make sure that you are making disciples.