“I’m calling to disinvite you to the fair.”
We were in the northwestern state of WA after serving at Onion Days when I heard those words. It was an unforgettable call from a disgruntled pastor in Payson, UT who didn’t like a decision we’d made!
About 10 times over the years, we have been blessed to minister at a rather large fair there called “Onion Days,” an event name that stems from the healthy harvest of onions in that area. Some longtime friends we’d met a number of years ago at a church in Delta, UT had moved to Payson and they’d invited us to visit, to park our rig in their driveway, and to meet their new pastor. We hit it off in meeting a new church family, and during times of fellowship the idea came up that we could all serve together in the annual Labor Day weekend fair.
At the time, we were going west every year, splitting up the summer between east and west. The first time at Onion Days, we set up all our resources in their rented store front building which was just across the street from the fairgrounds. We all figured that the crowds walking to/from the fairgrounds would be prime opportunities for outreach! We set up “Mr. B,” our 9’ tall, 14’ long inflatable brachiosaurus in the back of our truck and our friend Brother Allgood made a stand-up “clock” showing when sessions would be. That first year we saw only a handful of folk come inside the building! One group of about 4 came in but got up and walked out when I began a presentation! Talk about encouragement! The dismal attendance from a predominant Mormon community prompted us to switch gears the following year, so the plan was made that both Hope Baptist and Creation Family Ministries have separate booths but work in tandem, the church kindly covering the cost. In addition, the pastor would have us serve in church that Sunday.
However, a strange turn of events took place in 2008, the first year we decided to skip our western trip and make it every other year. It was that year that our friends, sadly, had a “falling out” with the church and left. Nevertheless, when it came time for the fair they still wanted us to park there in their driveway and serve as usual. But in communicating with the pastor, we learned that he had made other plans, namely another place for us to park or RV/home–at a rental home of some church members.
Though we sought to “bridge the gap” between our friends and the pastor, we soon learned that the chasm was too great for us to help. In the end, we didn’t want to neglect our friends and the time of fellowship at their home before, during, and after the fair, so we decided to park there as usual and pay our own booth fee. In addition to being long-time friends and a great help to us at the fair, the Allgoods were monthly supporters, so the fellowship also served as time to update them on our ministry. A main factor in our decision that year was due to a series of meetings in the northwest that necessitated us leaving our rig in UT and taking just the truck for a few weeks to save on fuel. We’d had some issues with the trailer battery keeping the fridge going, so the RV needed to stay plugged in to electricity. At the time, the Allgoods had a travel trailer and were more than happy to keep watch over our rig while we were away.
Whatever “wrong” we did in making that decision we still do not know, other than that we didn’t “obey” this “popish Payson pastor” who thought we ought to do exactly what he told us to do! So, he thought it worthy to call and “disinvite” us to the city fair the next year! He also threatened to contact other area pastors as well as our home pastor in NC, who had just been voted in. We’re guessing since we continued to have fellowship with friends who left his church, we were “heretics” as well! And who gave him authority to tell us not to come to a city fair?? It’s like he thought his church was the only true church in Payson and that HE had sole authority even to control the actions of an evangelist-missionary, one who wasn’t even a member of “his” church and neither was supported financially by the church as a missionary. We hadn’t even officially served in a meeting at the church but had only been asked to fill in for a Sunday service during the weekend fair. During the conversation, we even discussed where the tithe should go on love offerings to visiting speakers, whether the speaker should give to the church where he serves, or whether he should send it to his “home church” (in our case, Tabernacle in NC). Nevertheless, he was adamant that we’d been in the wrong, but we never heard anything that indicated he followed through on his threats, until…
Before I go, this all comes under the heading of what’s referred to as “pastoral authority.” Along with other later circumstances involving pastors, the above situation was instrumental in spurring us to study what the Bible has to say about pastors, what their actual role is, and what his “authority” is. In Scripture, we see only one reference to “pastor,” in Ephesians 4, and it is among the gifts to God’s people.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11)
Verse 12 tells us the purpose:
“For the perfecting of the saint, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying (building up) of the saints.”
Other Biblical words for the role of a pastor are overseer, bishop, and elder. This post isn’t going into depth on these terms and what they mean, but suffice to say that Acts 20:17 is one verse that communicates clearly that “local” according to Scripture was a city (cf. Revelation 2-3), and that there was multiple leadership (“elders”) and NOT a solo, CEO-type, single individual who oversaw the affairs of an entire group of believers.
“And from Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17)
In addition, we read in Peter that the elder isn’t to “lord” over God’s heritage (His people).
“The elders which are among you I exhort … Feed (lit. “shepherd”) the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3)
Under the guise of an unbiblical, popish, “pastoral authority” idea, many modern-day pastors actually “lord over” God’s people with a pseudo authority that is not given to them…as in the days of Jeremiah:
“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so…” (Jeremiah 5:31)
The true and Biblical concept is Scriptural or Biblical authority, with the pastor being a servant-leader and NOT a ruler over the people of God! What we were just beginning to experience firsthand was this false view of the God-given role of a pastor, a shepherd of God’s people, His heritage. A shepherd leads sheep to green grass and still waters, and sheep do what sheep do…eat, drink, and reproduce! A shepherd doesn’t push, browbeat, or force the sheep. He leads them by example. Yet, a pastor being also a believer is part of God’s heritage, a sheep of the LORD’s pasture. As such, he also must be “shepherded”! He isn’t “over” other believers. Rather, he is a servant to all, a servant leader! Keeping with the example of a shepherd and sheep, there are sheep in a flock called the bellwether sheep: ones that the others naturally follow. Among the people of God, there isn’t just one, but multiple “sheep” that have that gift of leadership!
The LORD Jesus Christ exemplified servant leadership when He, the Creator of all, took a basin of water and washed His disciples’ feet! If anyone had the authority to “LORD” over the human beings He’d created, HE could. Yet, He stooped down and performed the task of the lowliest servant, to wash the dirty feet of the Twelve. On another occasion, when the disciples were arguing over which of them should be the “greatest,” our LORD rebuked them and referred to the Gentiles, saying:
Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mar 10:42-45; cf Mat 20:25-28; Luk 22:25-27)
In all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus CLEARLY stated that whoever will be “great” among His followers, shall serve. Therefore, the modern view of a pastor that’s referred to as “undershepherd” (someone directly “under” Christ, but “over” His people in some way) is unBiblical and contrary to Scripture.
It wasn’t until we got back to NC that year that we would discover what the UT pastor had done…
(See Part 3, coming soon!)