Brothers, We’re Not Doctors Either
The last seven months have been insightful when it comes to the philosophy of our responsibility as Pastors. The COVID pandemic has demanded us to think about things we have never had to think about before.
When Churches were asked (in some states they were simply commanded) to close their doors, the majority of the Churches in our country complied, but good pastors really struggled over whether they should or not. Hind sight is 20/20, and the information we have about this virus is clearer now than it was then. Ultimately, with what we knew, most pastors made the call to close their doors for the safety of their community and their people. Their motives were good. But with everything we do, we must also be open to evaluate our decisions and determine if they were the best.
One particular area is that of the extent of our authority.
If I asked you whether it was within a pastor’s authority to demand that people feed him dinner every evening, the answer would be easy, but why? Why shouldn’t pastors expect the deacons to wax their cars, pick up their dry cleaning, or clean their houses?
It’s because our leadership is not the kind of leadership the gentiles have (Matthew 20:25). This has two implications. First, it means that our authority does not license us to take advantage of people (that’s obvious) since we’re here to serve them, not the other way around. Second, it also means that there is a limit to what we can exhort.
In Gentile leadership, so long as I am in charge you have to do what I say (unless it’s unlawful). But pastors of Christ’s Church limit their authority to the exhortation of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:2).
Let’s do an exercise: Imagine you see a Pastor giving the following commands to a church member and you determine whether this was a Biblical exhortation or an unbiblical exhortation:
- “Share the Gospel with your neighbor”
- “Be in daily prayer”
- “Pick up that trash”
- “Love your Wife like Jesus loves you”
- “Don’t take God’s name in vain”
- “Wear a helmet when you ride a bike”
- “Be in the service of one another”
- “Put on a mask”
- “Love in deed and in truth”
- “Volunteer for nursery”
None of these examples are bad things for anyone to do, but some of them are your business and some of them are not.
John Piper wrote a book I read in seminary called “Brothers We Are Not Professionals”. Brothers, we’re not doctors either. We are men of the book. We pray for the sick at our own peril and preach to our own peril. If people want to wear masks, sit 6 feet apart and bathe in hand sanitizer, they should be allowed to do so. But the moment a pastor requires it of his congregation may be when he is presuming to be someone he is not.
I get it. People look to pastors to set policy. It could be that members of your congregation want you to demand everyone to wear a mask (some of mine have), or any of the other governmental recommended measures. But our leadership is different than that of a foreman or a parent. Our congregations are not our workers. They are not our children. The relationship between the congregation and the Pastor is that they come to know God’s Word and how to live accordingly, and we show them how. I know there are frustrated members of our church that would prefer that we lay out a policy to keep people safe when we congregate, and their desire is not wrong, it’s just outside of our jurisdiction.
Pastors are in charge of three things: teaching, prayer, and kicking out heretics. We’re not in charge of how often people come, or if they’re wearing a hard hat in case the room falls in. But if the roof were about to fall in, it’d be nice to know. That’s why it’s nice to let people know the risk of being in a crowded room during a pandemic, and let them assume the responsibility for their own safety. By the way, a hard hat in the case of a roof caving in might be as much protection as a mask in a pandemic. But take that with a grain of salt. I’m not a Doctor.