No, you shouldn't be loyal to your pastor
I still have not gotten back into church. 45 years of weekly, bi-weekly, or tri-weekly constant church attendance and I stopped.
Regular readers know why; I wrote about it back in February. There are plenty of subsequent blog posts following that which detail it more.
Instead, I've been having weekly Bible study with a friend at home. I've been watching many sermons each week on YouTube. I participate in a weekly Bible study every Tuesday via Zoom, led by a pastor from back home (which has been so good).
Part of it is the pandemic weirdness right now, but there is also a severe distrust of getting close to church people, of pastors, and, frankly, my denomination and their leadership. I don't hate them, but I distrust them exceedingly.
For seven years I attended the church, working there the last three. After all of that, I found out one woman, who had participated in Bible studies I led, was reviewing my Facebook feed as a "friend" and reporting back. Another told me to stay silent. Very few people I had considered friends ever contacted me again. It was probably the most stunning revelation of the reality of how messed up the church can be that I've ever experienced. It gave me new compassion for people who have dealt with abuse, whistleblowing, or other scenarios which have left them cut off from their church. It's probably one of the deepest losses you'll feel.
The pastor who leads the Tuesday afternoon Bible study had an interesting discussion one week, a week I was actually back home and got to attend in person. It was about the role of the pastor. In that conversation, he pointed out that the pastor had a huge role of protection and that is why it was a particular calling of importance, different from the evangelist or other ministries. He rightfully said there were a lot of people who were pastors who shouldn't be, and some in other areas of ministry who ought to be pastors. I envisioned it sort of like the shepherd being the gatekeeper for the sheep pen (which, if there was a pen, you wouldn't need a shepherd, but give me a little leeway on this). The pastor was reponsible for making sure no wolves came in. The role of pastor wasn't about power or control, but protection and care for the sheep.
The role of the pastor is crucial. It's not a job or a career. You don't rely on ASVAB results to pick it. It is a calling. And if a guy is sticking with the job because it's all he knows, it's the paycheck he has come to rely on, he's come to enjoy it because he gets a sense of power, he dislikes the sheep -- whatever it is -- he needs to remove himself and find a different job.
Which leads me to where I used to work.
Do you know how many times, as the church secretary, that pastor asked me if so-and-so was an OK teacher theologically? How often I had to listen to complaints about not getting paid enough? How he'd rather work with little kids and that the adults were frustrating? Or the time I insisted that some eschatology material that was being taught was off-target, conflicted with our denominational teachings, and should not be allowed in the church? I watched sermons become fluffier and more marketing-growth based over the years, based on sermon kits, to the point that I finally stopped bringing a notebook to take notes. You could actually find some of the sermons online from the company providing the materials. My friend said, in exasperation one Sunday after church, that he thought that the Holy Spirit was supposed to be guiding the message, and not a marketing company. I almost cried; he grew up in a denomination that made his observation all the more pointed. Here we were, a Pentecostal church, using bland breakfast oatmeal sermon kits anyone church could use. The gate was so wide open, and the sheep were wandering around oblivious to the wolf pups that had skipped in on an aw-shucks joke and slick matching postcards.
The church I was fired from had a new job description for a children's pastor which, when I last saw it, required "intense loyalty to the lead pastor." That is terrifying.
As I'd discovered, intense loyalty was destructive.
It meant being told that the pastor decided what was important and if he did nothing, it wasn't important. There was no mention of the Holy Spirit at work in individual believers, pricking their spirit. It meant that if you were a deacon and didn't act as a yes-man for every request at every meeting, you'd be talked about as a "problem" slyly in the office until a more agreeable replacement was found. It meant a "good" church was viewed solely by the number of people in positions of leadership or prominence who did not question the pastor, who kept the money coming in, and who kept the activities going.
I was the secretary, the part-time hourly wage worker. He was the full-time-with-benefits pastor, the one who went to school and studied and was the supposed leader who was called to this important work. Obviously, knowing my personality, this was going to come to a head.
"Be loyal to me, understand I'm the only authority here, I will angrily insist on it, I'll slough off my duties to others under the guise of getting more people to volunteer, but I'm just going to let the gate flap in the wind and let anything in with the flock as long as I get my paycheck."
That was what it seemed to come down to, blind loyalty mixed with a strange indifference.
I came across a blog post about loyalty in the church, and it is worth your time to read. You may not agree with everything in the post, or even on that blog, but I want you to reconsider how you view loyalty in the church.
You are not to be loyal to your pastor. You are not to be loyal to a celebrity Christian. You are not even to be loyal to a specific group of people, or even a building you have come to think of as "your" church. You are to be faithful to Christ.
People who are loyal to pastors or leaders will allow corruption and wrong behavior or trends to grow and thrive because they will not question or confront. To do anything disloyal is unspeakable, and anyone who seems to be disloyal must be dealt with. Bible verses are twisted to support unquestioning loyalty.
You're yoked to your promise of loyalty, going where it will take you.
Because that is what loyalty is, a kind of unequal yoking. Do not swear or promise to people or groups because you may be fine today but tomorrow realize you've attached yourself to corruption or slippery slopes, and can't extract yourself without significant pain.
God was good to me, and to the others who had been quietly forced out before me, even if it hurt. He removed us from what I can now see as a diseased plant. I'm not even all that angry at this point. It's been a crazy year, which makes it easy to shuffle the past real fast, and also, God has done some neat things for me since leaving there. Without being fired, though, I'm not sure I could have left. A regular paycheck is real nice, you know, and that's how sticky loyalty is.
You can tell if your church has a problem if you know to look for patterns. In the church I was fired from, the pattern was clear if anyone would have bothered to look or admit what it was: people who had been deacons, employees, or other leaders had quietly left the church. As I experienced, very few or none at all even contacted them to see what had happened or why they'd left a church they attended for over a decade. The church body had been apparently so well trained that they didn't see these long-time believers walking out the door.
This is where we get abuse, embezzlement, and apostate churches, because there is no place for people to go except out the door to another church.
Loyalty says don't look, don't see, don't admit. Loyalty says compromise your own standards for the sake of the leader and church's vision and reputation. Loyalty says push out anyone who doesn't fall in line. Loyalty controls and manipulates. Loyalty gives no opportunity for someone to have a chance to explain their side of the story. Loyalty gives no weight to long-time trusted volunteers and employees when they turn up missing one day. Loyalty is used to reward those who play the game with power and reputation. Loyalty builds a habit of enjoying comfort more than honesty. Loyalty gives more weight to tradition than the Spirit.
Are you loyal to your pastor, or are you faithful to Christ's leadership?
Are you loyal to your denomination, or are you faithful to following Christ?
Are you loyal to a thought leader or celebrity, or are you faithful to the good news of Jesus Christ?
If it is the latter, you will not abuse your pastor, and everything properly falls into place. In this day and age, especially, you need to be able to differentiate between the two.
A church that is growing and has lots of money for fancy computers and lights and playground equipment doesn't necessarily equate to anything of eternal value.
Rethink your loyalty. You can't serve two masters.