Part II of What Sovereign Grace Ministries Teaches About Obeying And Submitting To Leaders

September 23, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Here is the second half of the transcript of C.J. Mahaney’s message, The Happiest Place On Earth, which he presented at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville this past August.  You will find the first half here.  You can access audio for this sermon here (click on “Media & Links,” then click on “Sermons,” then look for the message entitled, The Happiest Place On Earth).  As has been the case in previous similar posts, my thoughts will be in blue.

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[Begin second half of transcript:]

And the eternal perspective is not only revealed with the writer’s intentional use of the word “soul.”  The eternal perspective is also clearly revealed as he reminds the pastors that they will one day give an account.  Yes they will.  They’ll give an account to none other than the chief shepherd. 

And, I can tell you, even this moment, their souls tremble.  They’re perplexed.  [Lowers voice to dramatic whisper]  “Oh, why.  Why did you delegate temporarily to me the souls of those for whom – which – you died?  Doesn’t seem to be your wisest move.”  But they’re aware of their weakness, their need for grace.  They’re also aware of their responsibility.  They’re aware – one day, it’s gonna be eye to eye with the one who did die for your sins, giving an account for how – how they did.  And the questions are all here.  Won’t be any surprise questions.  You got all the questions for the final exam right here.  “Did you watch over their souls?  Did you prepare them for that final day?  Did you?  

Oh, there’s so much to be said, but we have so much more ground to cover.  But the passage is deep, rich, with the eternal perspective, which really transforms – well, it transforms everything.  I mean, once you’re informed about the eternal perspective, or reminded of the eternal perspective, then it, it makes the future – makes its way into the present, and then you live the present in the light of the future.  So your awareness of the future transforms the present.  And that’s what this passage does.  It gives an eternal perspective.  They watch over your souls, preparing you for that all-important day, and on that all-important day, they will give an account.  That’s the role of pastors. 

Number two, the responsibility of church members.  The responsibility of church members.  Verse 17.  “Obey your leaders and submit to them.”  I mean – I’ll read those words and I completely understand why any pastor would be reluctant to preach from this passage. 

As I said earlier, it can appear self-serving.  I also think there are many pastors who are aware that this is a most unappealing passage to the average American Evangelical.  There are many Evangelicals who are uncomfortable with this language.  “Obey” and “submitting to” leaders. 

[Kris says:  This is an interesting technique.  Notice what C.J. does here.  He says, “There are many Evangelicals who are uncomfortable with this language.” 

What’s interesting about this statement is, most SGMers would NOT consider themselves primarily to be “Evangelical” in the manner in which that word has come to be defined.  In fact, most folks who have landed at SGM have arrived at their SGM churches after journeying through other branches of Christianity, and they come to SGM expressly because they are looking for an antidote to the user-friendly, seeker-sensitive, soft-sell message of modern Evangelicalism, with its lack of emphasis on “sound doctrine.”

SGMers will think of themselves rather proudly as “Reformed, with a distinctly Charismatic element,” but most would not firstly define themselves as “Evangelical.”  After all, they came to SGM expressly to ESCAPE being one of those namby-pamby, easy-believe-ism Evangelicals!  That’s why they embrace such challenging and non-fun activities like joining a group where people are happy to confront you about your sin.  That’s why they sit around and talk about all their personal weaknesses and struggles.  That’s why they grit their teeth, tighten their bootstraps, and find SGM’s “tough love” message bracing and invigorating.

SGM in its current form is a reaction to seeker-friendly “Evangelicalism!”

So, when C.J. points out that “many Evangelicals” are uncomfortable with talking about obedience and submission, he already knows that he’s just now set up his audience to think the opposite of what these “many Evangelicals” think.  He is well aware of their disdain for the wimpiness of typical “Evangelicalism” – he regularly capitalizes on it to boost SGM’s standing in his people’s minds.

So basically, when C.J. stands up and says that “many Evangelicals” think such-and-such, his audience already knows that they’d better think the opposite, or they run the risk of slipping back into being – horrors! – a mere “Evangelical”!

C.J. has now set up his audience so that even if they feel a nagging sense that something about this teaching is not quite right, they will immediately feel forced to accept it anyway.  They will assume that their questions are coming from the part of them that is still attracted to “Evangelicalism.”]

I think what we have to realize, though, is the scripture isn’t uncomfortable with this language.  So if the scripture isn’t uncomfortable with this language, then…I shouldn’t be uncomfortable with this language, and…if I am uncomfortable with this language, then I need to find out, because it’s clear the scripture isn’t uncomfortable with this language.  So you gotta ask yourself why, if you find yourself uncomfortable, if you find yourself doing this, saying, “Surely it doesn’t mean THAT.  Surely in the original, the – I mean – it doesn’t mean – it doesn’t really mean OBEY.  It doesn’t – NO WAY.  And what’s up with the ‘submit’?  That – no – no, I’m sure some intelligent individual who’s familiar with the original language could tell us why it – it – it – doesn’t mean THAT.” 

And so if you’re anticipating me spending this – rest of this sermon telling you, “You know, it doesn’t really mean that,” or trying to soften it or alter it, you might as well start drawing a picture as well, ‘cause that’s not – that’s not what’s gonna be happening here today. 

[Kris says:  What’s interesting is that there actually are plenty of resources around that DO call into question translation errors that have crept into our understanding of this particular verse.

But I don’t think we even NEED to debate whether “obey” and “submit” are the right words to use here.  I think we can easily assume that they are accurate enough to convey what God meant and yet STILL see major problems with the way C.J. has expounded upon them.

What I think IS so desperately necessary for this sermon is a much more detailed explanation of what this sort of obedience and submission translate into in real life situations.

We have definite instances spanning decades when SGM practices have converged with the harmful practices of authoritarian shepherding.  We have recent accounts of members being counseled by their pastors to not move to a particular city, even after a family has decided that they feel led to move.

Are obedience and submission required in that sort of situation?

What of times when pastors simply miss the mark and get the sin-sniffing wrong?  That’s probably one of the areas where SGM has the most issues.  Most instances of church discipline flow out of these types of situations, where a pastor makes an assessment about a member’s sin in some area, and a member dares to disagree.  Suddenly, the member is then “prideful.”  Further resistance, and the member is “in unrepentant sin” because he is not submitting to his pastor over the matter.

Does the obedience and submission discussed in Hebrews 13 mean that members are required to relinquish any and all ability or rights to disagree with a pastoral assessment of a sin or problem?

Or does obedience/submission now require members to agree with their pastors on all such matters?

It takes no imagination whatsoever to see why having only the vaguest idea of what is meant by “obey” and “submit” can create huge problems.  C.J. needs to flesh out the scenarios where obedience and submission come into play.

For instance, what of a church’s financial decisions?  Are members always obligated to agree with everything pastors choose to do in this area?  What if a member sees some crazy expenditures and disagrees?  What if pastors pursue building projects that members believe to be imprudent risks?

Does the Bible require obedience and submission in these situations?]

Now, now look, it’s not as though I don’t identify with any uncomfortableness you might have with this…language.  OK, so we gotta ask ourselves, “OK, why would we be uncomfortable?”  Well, I mean, a – an obvious reason, a “duh” reason, would be SIN.  I mean, it’s humbling.  We arrive – we might not be aware of it – but, to differing degrees, we’re all arrogant.  Self-sufficient.  “Obey?  Submit?  OK, I can reconcile myself to that in relation to parents.  In an age-appropriate obedience and submission in relation to parents.  What’s up with this, though?”  So it could be a sinful response.  

[Kris says:  Sure, there could be sin at work, making C.J.’s audience not want to submit to their pastors.  But…what if these reactions sometimes happen because the Knoxville pastors are on occasion WRONG and THEMSELVES BEING SINFUL by wanting, for example, to institute some strangely negative membership covenant whose sole purpose seems to be protecting the church from lawsuits for pastoral misconduct during church discipline situations?

Must it always be sin at the root of this sort of reaction?  Or, to rephrase that better – must it always be the member’s sin that is at the root of worrying about obeying one’s pastors?]

It could be, there might be some – I hope there are none – but there might be some, where you actually come from a context where a pastor or pastoral theme was authoritarian.  And if that is true – and if that is true of you – [whispers intensely] I am SO SORRY.  Because there is no excuse for that.  And if any of us as pastors engage in that, may we be held accountable in this life.  I’m sure we’ll be held accountable in the life to come. 

And here’s what I can assure you of this morning:  that will not be your experience in this church.  That will not be your experience in this church.

[Kris says:  How can C.J. assure his audience of such a thing?  How can he do this? 

First of all, he supposedly is “flying blind” in his presentation of this message.  Supposedly, this has nothing to do with offering up correction to the Knoxville church.

So presumably (if we are to believe him), C.J. has no knowledge of Knoxville’s current flap over the required signing of the new membership covenant.

If C.J. doesn’t know about THAT, then how in heaven’s name can he think he knows  enough about ANYTHING to make such a claim?  Why would he think he knows whether or not any Knoxville pastor has ever abused his authority? 

Secondly, C.J. presented this teaching during his most recent vacation there, in August 2009, long after this blog and SGM Refuge were established.  By now, C.J. is aware of the way that some pastors have abused their authority.  He has even entered into discussions with a couple of injured parties.  C.J. KNOWS ABOUT THE VERY REAL POTENTIAL FOR ABUSE.  C.J. KNOWS THAT ABUSES HAVE OCCURRED.  Therefore, brushing off concerns about pastoral abuse, rather than tackling them head on, seems really cowardly and further detracts from the credibility of this message.] 

So, there – there are different reasons why we might be uncomfortable with this.  Now, here’s what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna, just real quickly, I’m gonna make some qualifying statements.  Because I think, given our uncomfortableness with this passage, these words, this topic, if I make a few qualifying statements, it might serve your soul.  I hope it does serve your soul.  I – I understand this can be misunderstood, this can be misapplied.  Here’s – here’s my challenge.  I’m supposed to teach this text to you.  So I’m gonna give you some qualifying statements, but then we’re going right back to the text, because that’s my, that’s my role and responsibility this morning, that’s the best way I can serve you.  So I hope these qualifying statements don’t weaken the text.  Actually, I hope they prepare you to actually look with new eyes at the text.  And if anything, if possible, I hope they strengthen the text in…your…soul. 

So, so, there’s no misunderstanding as relates to the delegated authority of a pastoral theme and the exercise of authority by a pastoral team in the context of the local church, understand the following.  Number one.  The passion of your pastoral team.  Their passion and purpose is that you know, love, and obey – that you know, love, obey, and serve – the chief Shepherd, the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s – that’s their passion.  That’s their purpose.  Your pastors didn’t die for your sins.  But it is their passion to draw your attention to the One who did die for your sins.  And that’s what motivates them as they serve you and care for you and watch over your souls. 

[Kris says:  This passage would seem to indicate that C.J. is aware that he has thus far in the message placed pastors on too high a pedestal – an inappropriate, unscriptural pedestal.  Otherwise, why would he need, even in jest, to make such a weird disclaimer like, “Your pastors didn’t die for your sins”?

And otherwise, why would he be anticipating that his audience needs to be reminded that their pastors are only motivated to occupy this pedestal out of a desire to “draw attention to the One who did die for your sins”?

Strange, indeed.]

Number two, their authority is delegated authority, and it’s derived from scripture.  Their authority is derived from scripture.  Their authority should never be confused with the authority OF scripture.  Your – your submission and obedience to scripture is absolute.  Your submission to the pastoral team is not absolute.  However, because of this clear command of scripture, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” there is an appropriate obedience to leadership, an appropriate expression of your submission to scripture, that is by no means in contradiction to the authority and content of scripture.  Uh, those are very important distinctions to be made about scripture, the authority of scripture, and the delegated authority to a pastor or pastoral team. 

[Kris says:  Again, even if we assume that “obey” and “submit” are the correctly translated words that should be used in this passage, I dearly wish that C.J. wouldn’t just ramble on here about submission to scripture being absolute, while submission to pastors isn’t absolute.

We desperately need some specific examples of when a pastor’s authority is OK to ignore.  When is obedience not a requirement?  When is one off the hook for not submitting to his or her pastor?

I mean, C.J. has been very clear that the Bible requires us to obey and submit.  So how can he say that pastoral authority – on the other hand – CAN be questioned in some circumstances?

He’s really talking out of both sides of his mouth here.] 

Three, their authority is defined by scripture.   Their sphere of authority – their sphere of delegated authority – is defined by scripture.  Their sphere of ministry involves teaching God’s Word, directing the affairs of the church, and watching over your souls.  That’s – that is the – those are the spheres of their delegated authority from the chief shepherd.  And your pastors understand the nature and the extent and the purpose of pastoral authority.

[Kris says:  Do pastors REALLY understand “the nature and the extent and the purpose of pastoral authority”?  Really?

SGM’s theology focuses a lot of attention on the dangers of sin, and how our “remaining indwelling sin” can affect the eternal destiny of our souls.  There is a lot of attention paid to sort of “proving” through one’s behavior that one is indeed among the elect.

In other words, in SGM’s gospel, our sanctification (our righteous living) is absolutely necessary evidence of our justification (our right standing with God).  And what is “righteous living,” except for the day-to-day choices we make, the behaviors we engage in, the attitudes we display?

Therefore, in SGMville, if a pastor is concerned about our “eternal soul,” his concern simply WILL extend to all the minutia of that member’s daily life, since seeing “evidences of grace” in the member’s daily life is part and parcel of the member’s knowing whether or not he is saved.

See, either this “watch over your souls” business has ramifications for our salvation (“eternal consequences”), or it doesn’t.  C.J. seems to think that it does.  He spent many minutes (and several paragraphs here in this transcript) hammering away at the eternal component of the word “soul.”  He whispered it at us dramatically.  He almost wept over it – his voice nearly cracked.

Yet now he’s acting like he’s limiting a pastor’s authority…sort of…and yet he keeps the mention of “watching over your souls.”  The truth is, there can be no limit to a pastor’s authority if it has to do with our SOUL.]

Finally, number four.  They serve you and lead you as a plurality of pastors.  So when we read verse 17, “Obey your LEADERS,” plural, “and submit to THEM,” you are being served by a plurality.  So, their authority is derived from scripture, their authority is defined by scripture, and their authority is exercised by a team of men.  Authority in this church is not located in a single leader.  So, major decisions about the direction and future of this church require unanimity, they’re a plurality of men who are called by God, qualified to lead and serve you through their proven character and gifting, with clearly defined spheres of authority, and their task is a temporary one, and they will one day they will give an account for this most important temporary task. 

[Kris says:  Again, I love how quickly he plows through this “plurality of leaders” thing.  What does that actually mean?  And is C.J. honestly saying that the Knoxville church has no one on the pastoral team who can finally say, “The buck stops here”?

Really?

The pastors at Knoxville all get together and answer to…no one and everyone?  They don’t really have a boss?

Really?

No one’s in charge?

No one has any final say?

I don’t think that’s actually the case.  I’m pretty sure that there is a senior pastor at Knoxville.  And I’m pretty sure that if there’s a major disagreement, he’d have the ultimate authority.  Meanwhile, all the other guys on his “team” are still sort of like his employees.  How forcefully will they feel inclined to argue against something the senior pastor wants to do, if they might actually be risking a pretty well-paying pastoral position to persist in the disagreement?  Especially since, by not agreeing with their senior pastor, who is their own “authority” above them, they could be found in sin for their lack of submission?

Beyond that, the Knoxville church would answer to their area “apostle.”  Or overseer.  (Or whatever other Reformed-Big-Dog-friendly term SGM is using these days for the men whom they used to call “apostles” not so very long ago.)

The truth is that in the SGM world, authority is concentrated in fewer and fewer men, the higher one moves up the leadership pyramid, till you reach C.J. Mahaney himself, all the way at the tippy-top of the pyramid.

So it is ludicrous for C.J. to assure his audience that they are ruled by a “plurality.”  They can bandy about the word “team” all they want, but the team ultimately does have a captain…who in turn has HIS captain…who in turn answers to HIS captain…and so on and so on and so on.]

Now, it’s important that I make this statement.  It’s important that – I could make more, you’d be informed by these statements – but it’s equally important that these statements not weaken the text, because obey and submitting to godly pastors is a – is a divinely imposed privilege and responsibility ultimately for our good. 

So, as a member of this church or any church, you are called and you are responsible before God and to God as church members to obey and submit to the leaders of the church as they teach God’s Word, as they direct the affairs of the church, and as they watch over your souls.  It could not be clearer, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.”  Again, don’t misunderstand, this bears no resemblance to the response of a subordinate in the military, this is not the obedience of a child to a parent, but, this is a very specific submission and obedience that is being commanded here.  And so here is the appropriate biblical response to fallible human leadership.  As defined in scripture.  

[Kris says:  HOW is this kind of obedience different from that of a child to a parent?  HOW is it different than submission as we’d see it in the military?

Explaining that obedience and submission are required of us by God, but then telling us that they’re “not” certain things that comprise a common person’s understanding of obedience and submission is simply not very responsible preaching.

If C.J. is going to go around delivering this sermon, then he needs to do a better job of illustrating what this sort of obedience to pastors looks like, in real everyday life situations.  And if he’s going to tell us what it ISN’T like, then he needs to explain just HOW it is NOT like that thing.]

If you – these – again, individually, I cannot elaborate on them.  But number one, here it is, a list of appropriate biblical responses to godly, fallible human leadership.  There should, number one, be a joyful agreement with and responsiveness to their doctrine and teaching.  There should be a joyful agreement with and responsiveness to their doctrine and teaching, which is why this church has what’s called a “Commitment Class,” a class where we can say to a guest, “Take a period of months to consider – let us introduce you to our doctrine, let us introduce you to our teaching (most important, let us introduce you to the gospel and our Savior), let us introduce you to our church life, we don’t want anybody making any commitment to this church after they’ve been moved in worship after the meeting this morning.  We’re grateful that they were moved in worship after the meeting this morning.  But it would be unwise to make a commitment merely because you were moved by worship or during communion this morning.  You need to be educated about the doctrine and practice of this church so that your – you’ll – you can be in joyful agreement as you commit to this church. 

[Kris says:  So obedience and submission are demonstrated by joyfully accepting everything that one hears from the pulpit?

Yes, C.J. says something about “fallible” men here.  But how does this work itself out in real life?  Are there ever occasions when it’s OK to question teachings?  To reject something as unscriptural, since it’s coming from a “fallible man”?  If so, C.J. needs to explain this better.]

Secondly, there should be a joyful participation in the appropriate meetings of this church.  There should be a joyful participation in the appropriate meetings of this church.  Third, there should be a joyful service in this church for this church.  Every member of this church should be consistently and meaningfully involved in some way depending on gifting and season of life.  Ah, the only ones exempt for any period of time are mothers with small children who must always be held in the highest esteem and respect in the context of this church.  OK?  I know you do, but I – [laughs] – I mean, I, I’m thinking about – I wanna impress upon you the importance of pastors – their importance and the difficulty of their task in my experience is exceeded only by mothers of small children who must always hold, like, a separate category within Sovereign Grace.  OK?  I might return to that, to emphasize that.  It needs to be emphasized.  Every sermon that needs to have a reference to the gospel, and secondly, at some point, honor mothers of small children.  OK?  That’s how we want our sermons to be characterized here in Sovereign Grace.  And I don’t wanna hear any men here whining about how hard you work.  [Crowd laughs.]  K?  No whining about how hard you work, because – because in comparison to a mother of small children, you are lazy.  [Crowd really laughs.]  Every one of us.  We’re lazy in relation to that.  And if you doubt what I just said and you’re married and have small children, you take them.  You take them alone, you take them exclusively, you won’t last 24 hours.  Maybe 48.  You’ll be more grateful to your wife than you ever have been previously.  OK?  So don’t – [laughs] – that’s the influence of my wife on my life right there.  When we had small children, I said to her repeatedly, “You know, what you’re doing is so much more important than what I’m doing.  And so much more difficult.  What did I do today?  I sat with the elders in the gate.  Which for us is Starbucks.  [Crowd laughs.]  You know, I’m working with a – personally designed and chosen drink, I’m thinking, making decisions.  You’re at home caring for our children.  You have a much more challenging and difficult and unpredictable and exhausting…I’m reading books with pastors, making big and important decisions.  And you’re doing the difficult work.” 

None of this is previously prepared, so I hope somehow this makes its way – and this is a church that honors.  Yeah.  Maybe we’ll come back to this.  [Crowd laughs.]  Cuz you do.  I just – I just wanna add my voice to what you do. 

So, there should be joyful service, which relates to mothers of small children.  I’m sure you understand that relationship.  There should be joyful service in and for the church.  

[Kris says:  This is perhaps the oddest portion of the entire message.  Maybe someone better versed in SGM’s culture could enlighten me.  This blather about affirming young mothers and exempting them from a supposedly “biblical” requirement for “biblical” obedience and submission is…just oddly disjointed and seems totally out of place here. 

It’s nice to affirm moms.  But single people and childless wives are just as worthy in God’s eyes of affirmation as moms of young children are. 

And more importantly, if participating in church life is such an important part of “biblical” submission to one’s pastors, why would ANYONE be exempt from it?]

And fourthly, and carefully, there should be a joyful disposition to trust and protect the pastoral team at this church.  So any and all slanderous comments about a pastor or the pastoral team, ah, should be challenged.  Followed up on.  Resolved.  In order to preserve the appropriate trust in the leadership and the unity of the church.  That – don’t misunderstand – that does not mean that a pastor cannot be corrected.  Oh, not true, your pastors welcome your correction as you are aware, they encourage your correction and observations.  There’s a difference between slander and correction.  Slander – slander produces suspicion.  And suspicion over a period of time attacks trust.  And without trust, no congregation or pastoral team will be able to work together and effectively advance the gospel, which is why every member of this church has to protect the pastoral team of this church and be particularly alert because of slander against a member of the pastoral team. 

[Kris says:  Ah, “slander.”  One of SGM’s favorite redefined terms. 

A non-SGM person would hear “slander” and understand it to mean what the usual definition means – false, malicious rumors spread around to defame or malign someone.

Using that normal definition, it would by all means be good to guard against the “slander” of one’s pastors.  Absolutely.

However…

SGM has expanded the definition of “slander” (“gossip,” too) to include basically any discussion of anything that would cause a person to question or to disagree with his pastors.

I have no doubt that by interacting in the way I have with what is, after all, C.J.’s public teachings, made available to anyone with an internet connection via downloadable sound files, I will be accused of “slander.”

But the Bible never tells us that we cannot examine – and deconstruct and debunk and even (gasp!) criticize – public teachings.

Disagreeing with C.J. (or any other pastor) is not the same as “slandering” him.  Or even “gossiping” about him.

Yet in SGM’s world, part of following the Bible’s commands – to submit to and obey one’s pastors – is now “protecting one’s pastors from ‘slander.'”  In other words, although C.J. claims that the Knoxville pastors are eager and waiting to hear their members’ correction of them, any dissenting discussion of what comes down from the pulpit is something to be guarded against.  It’s “slander.”]

So those – those are all clear biblical – I could take you to passage after passage in relation to each one, and I’m sure they to some degree are obvious.  A pastor cannot watch over your soul if – if – if you aren’t here, if you don’t participate, if you don’t obey and submit, if you don’t attend and participate and serve, how can a pastor watch over your soul?  I can’t – they can’t – they can’t watch over somebody who’s not here.  Can’t watch over somebody who’s not involved.  Can’t watch over somebody if they don’t participate.  So, this – this is your biblical responsibility, as I think clearly defined in this passage, and other passages.  It – it is a description of your attitude toward the pastoral team, your involvement in this church. 

Now, finally.  Number three.  The relationship between church members and the pastoral team.  The relationship between church members and the pastoral team.  So having made this distinction between the role of pastors and the responsibility of church members, here’s where I wanna conclude, I wanna conclude in impressing upon you really the inseparable nature of this relationship, because I said at the outset, as I said at the outset, the effectiveness of pastoral ministry is dependent upon a proper response TO pastoral ministry.  So.  If a congregation does not respond with the appropriate obedience and submission to their pastors, then the leadership of those pastors will not be fruitful, and those pastors will not experience joy in pastoral ministry.  And here is what you as a member of this congregation are commanded by good and wise God.  Look with me again at verse 17, where we read, “Let them” (your pastors) “do this” (watch over your souls) “with joy and not with groaning due to disobedient, uncommitted church members, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  Let – let them do this with joy.  Let them do this with joy.

[Kris says:  I think it’s interesting that this verse really could be read in a couple of different ways, even apart from how one would “really” translate words like “obey” and “submit.”

Is the author of Hebrews commanding church members to “let their pastors watch over them with joy”?  Or are the pastors themselves responsible for making sure that they do their task with a joyful heart?

Just who is responsible for a pastor’s happiness?

C.J. has performed a really neat trick here.  Basically, he says that church members are to obey and to submit to their pastors.  They are to participate in church life (unless they’re young moms…then C.J. would have them be exempt from this supposedly “biblical” command).  They are to joyfully accept whatever teaching is given to them and apply it to their lives.

After all, “joyfully accepting” one’s pastor’s teachings does NOT really leave any room to question the teachings.  Moreover, members are NOT to discuss their pastors.  That would, of course, be “slander.”

But – here’s the rub.  Even if a member does have a legitimate complaint against a pastor – even if a member has a real reason to be unhappy with his or her pastor in some way – the member actually has no place, using C.J.’s own teaching, to think like this.

After all, C.J. has already established that it is the church member’s response that determines the successfulness of pastoral ministry.

In other words, the bottom line is that if you find yourself thinking that your pastor isn’t actually very good at his job – GUESS WHAT?  IT’S YOUR FAULT ANYWAY!

If you’d been responding to him the way you should be, he’d then be successful!  He wouldn’t HAVE problems with his job performance!

ANY PROBLEM YOUR PASTOR HAS – EVEN IF IT’S HIS OWN LACK OF HAPPINESS – IS ALL YOUR FAULT!]

God wants happy pastors.  That’s what He wants.  Wants happy pastors.

[Kris says:  Really?  This is what God wants?  C.J., could we have chapter and verse, please?

I thought true Reformed theology focused little attention upon the happiness of humans.  I thought it was all for God’s glory, first of all.]

Because unhappy pastors misrepresent Him.  Happy pastors accurately represent Him.  Unhappy pastors misrepresent God.  Misrepresent the gospel.  Misrepresent the Savior, misrepresent the gospel of grace. 

So, we all need to look at this passage, look up from this passage, and then ask ourselves, “Am I joy to pastor?  Am I a joy to pastor?”  And let me encourage you, don’t confine the evaluation of yourself to yourself.  Because left to myself, normally I provide myself with a flattering evaluation of myself.  Therefore I think I can safely assume, “Am I a joy to pastor?  I am the ultimate joy to pastor!  You obviously haven’t met me.  I mean, if you knew me, you would know I am a joy to pastor.  You would want me to be in your church.”  So, I’m sure a number of you responded that way – “Am I a joy to pastor!  Duh!  Quite obviously.  Yes!”  

OK, here’s my response:  I hope so.  Maybe so.  Probably so.  But let’s be sure so.  And in order to be sure so – hey – let me encourage you, why don’t you ask one of the pastors.  Dare ya.  Dare ya.  For the good of your soul and the good of this church.  You ask ‘em. 

And if there is any resistance to doing that, let me just tell you, that is JUST YOUR SIN FIGHTING AGAINST IT.  Saying, “Don’t do it!  Don’t do it.  You are.  You know you are.  You don’t need their confirmation.  They’re thinking of you even as he’s preaching right now!” 

[Crowd laughs heartily.] 

No, just ask ‘em.  Say to them – say to Mike after the meeting – “Am I a joy to pastor?”  Don’t say, “Aren’t I a joy to pastor!”  [Crowd laughs.]  No, say, “Am I a joy to pastor?”  And then follow it up with this:  “And if not, why not?  And I want – I want to make it a joy for you to be pastor.” 

[Kris says:  Does anyone else join me in thinking that this is all sort of gratuitous?  Where is the reciprocal exhortation to pastors (whom I’m presuming are still in the audience listening to this), to go to their people and ask them if they feel OK about the job THEY are doing as pastors?

Where’s the room for people to give pastors feedback?

Why does this type of humility only flow in one direction, which is UP, toward the pastors on their pedestals?]

Now, again, let me just insert here – you do.  Man, the overwhelming majority of this church – huh – your pastors – they’re happy.  That should be obvious to any guest here.  Identify any of the pastors – you guys are happy.  Here’s why they’re happy.  Because this is a congregation made up of individuals who are serving.  And obeying.  And submitting.  And supporting their leaders in the advance of the gospel.  And therefore, happy pastors.  And listen.  That’s why, when I’m here, it’s so wonderful to feel the pleasure of God.  I feel the pleasure of God because there are happy pastors here watching over the souls of those who are happy to be here and who are obeying and serving and submitting in ways that make it a joy to pastor here. 

[Kris says:  So C.J. isn’t there because he’s in town with his entire extended family for a vacation that was “made possible” by “the kindness” of the Knoxville congregation?  I’m confused.]

But let us not assume that you are all a joy to pastor.  Therefore, let us humbly go to our pastors and say, “Am I a joy to pastor?  And if not, why not?”  Listen, do this because – if – if – look at the end of this verse.  “That would be of no advantage to you.”  If they aren’t happy – if they’re groaning instead – if their pastoral ministry is characterized by groaning and complaining, that is of no advantage to you.  It is of – listen – follow this – it is to your advantage for you to be a joy to pastor, through your appropriately biblically defined and described obedience and submission to the pastors of this church.  It is to your advantage to be a joy to pastor.  I mean – doesn’t it – when you read that, you – it  seems like the writer is appealing to self-interest as a motivation.  Actually, it’s just another illustration of the following:  God’s commands are always for our good.  His wise commands are for our good.  This is what grace is like.  Ultimately for His glory. 

This – this – this – you show me an effective church, you show me a gospel-centered church – this is present in that church.  You show me a church that’s fruitful, this is present.  You show me a church where the gospel is advancing, this is present.  Listen, whenever I encounter a fruitful church, I observe a demonstration of this particular verse.  Which is why I thought it would be appropriate to bring this message to your attention.  

[Kris says:  Wow, so a church can’t proclaim the gospel – the wonderful historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection to pay the price for our sins and reconcile us with God for eternity – unless everyone is going around groveling in front of their pastors and begging to know if they’re obeying and submitting enough so that their pastors are “happy”?  What “gospel” is C.J. even talking about, then?]

And why I think it’s appropriate to now inform you of what Mrs. Fawcett said.  Here’s what she said in that moment.  This moment of separation.  Sad congregation assembled around them.  And around their wagons.  As the sad members gathered around the wagons preparing to say goodbye to their pastor, Mrs. Fawcett said, to her husband John, “John, I cannot bear to leave.  I know not how to go.”  And John responded, “Nor can I.”  He then gave the order to unpack the wagons.  And John Fawcett stayed with this simple church until he died, on July 25, 1817.  And in one of ensuing sermons, Fawcett shared the words to a hymn that he composed, that has been sung by and meaningful to the church for the past two centuries.  Perhaps you’ll recognize these words and hear them with a new appreciation: 

Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love.

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like to that above. 

When I, when I read this account, of John Fawcett and his relationship with his church, I think of you.  I think of your pastoral team, and their relationship with this church.  Now, please don’t misunderstand, in the days ahead, where there is a church planting, we can’t be having this happen.  [Crowd laughs.]  So, some at some point from your midst will have to go so that more churches like this can be built.  But I can’t read this without thinking about this church.  See, one day, John Fawcett is gonna give an account.  He’s going to stand before the Chief Shepherd and give an account for his assembled congregation.  Ha!  I’m thinking that’s gonna be a pretty serious celebration.  Can you imagine that congregation, assembled around John Fawcett, standing before the Savior, as the Savior – [CJ chuckles] – asks John Fawcett to give an account?  It’s not difficult for me to imagine one member of that church after another giving an account for John Fawcett and communicating to the Savior their gratefulness for John Fawcett.  It’s gonna be a wild, mad celebration, and all because of the Savior and His wounds that will appear afresh to all.  Wild celebration.  On that day, when you hear the name Joh – John Fawcett called out – ha!  Pay attention.  Gonna be a wild celebration on that day. 

How about when your church is called?  How about when your pastors are called?  It’s gonna happen.  Big day of evaluation.  Day of examination.  Edwards, after being dismissed from Northampton, in his final sermon officially to them, prepared them for that day.  He said to his church, was the church he had served for some 27 years, “We will rehearse together all that has taken place among us on that future day.”  That was sad then.  I’m thinking yours is gonna be a happy day.  I’m thinking from what I know of the history of this church, yours is gonna be a happy day.  Here’s how to make it a happy day.  Obey your leaders.  And submit to them.  For they are keeping watch over your souls as those who have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy.  Not with groaning.  For that would be of no advantage to you.

[End of teaching.]