Written by Emily Heath
"This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, 'Who made you ruler and judge?" - Acts 7:35
"We are a Congregational church! The pastor is not in charge; the people run it!"
A few months into my first call I dared to cancel a mid-week casual coffee hour because there was a blizzard warning. That was the first time I heard those words reminding me that the church in question was Congregational and the pastor didn't make the decisions.
(I contemplated asking how I was supposed to take a congregational vote on coffee hour during a snowstorm, but didn't.)
That's a fairly benign example, but I often hear clergy who try to lead in good faith get rebuffed by those same words. Churches say they want strong leaders capable of providing guidance in difficult situations. Until they don't. And, often publicly, the pastor is reminded of their "place." That keeps happening until the pastor is too afraid to make a move, and they become more a kept sheep than a shepherd.
If I didn't know better I might think that Moses was a Congregationalist, because the congregation that followed him into the wilderness was quick to remind him he wasn't in charge. "Who made you ruler and judge?" they asked.
Pastors are neither rulers nor judges. But they are leaders. And sometimes leaders have to make hard, unpopular decisions. The next time your pastor does, what would it be like to give them the benefit of the doubt, and to pray for them to be granted wisdom in all they do?
Here's a bonus: You don't have to call a congregational meeting to decide to do just that.
God, bless the pastors out there serving churches. Give them wisdom. Give them strength. Give them humility. And give them people who will pray for them when they need it the most. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire.