March 6, 2019 • Adam Wyatt
When I first became a pastor, I thought that everything going on in the church was important enough for me to give my opinion. After all, I was the pastor. I would say “let’s do this” or “let’s do that” or voice my displeasure regardless of whether or not I was asked or even involved in the actual discussion.
Many pastors are like this. We usually have right and proper motives about attempting to lead our church but what ends up happening is that we create a culture of passive aggressive leadership amongst our sheep and we inadvertently keep them from flourishing because we do not let them grow. Everything going on in the church in which you serve is not something on which you need to voice your opinion. Sure, as the pastor you have a role to play in the overall mission of the church but that does not mean that your voice is the only one that should be listened to. Additionally, everything going on in a church that you do not like is not necessarily a hill to die on.
One of the most important skills that I have learned over the past 15 years of pastoral ministry is learning the art of tactical patience. Tactical patience is the knowing when and which hills are worth dying for. This skill is very important and even more so in a smaller church because the smaller the church the louder your voice, but often, the more misunderstood the tone.
Learning the Art of Tactical Patience and Knowing What Hill to Die On:
Check the Scriptures
I have found that many of the issues that I feel strongly about are not always gospel-centered ones. Take for instance, the style of music that a church uses in their worship. I would prefer a more acoustic guitar type style of music but there is nothing biblically “wrong” about an old-school style using a piano and organ. This is a matter of personal preference not theology. However, making sure that the songs that are being sung are biblically grounded is important and should be considered.
I remember my first pastorate and on the first service as pastor there the “special music” before I preached was Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.” It was at the moment that I realized that being a pastor was going to be a lot more difficult than I thought. This was not an issue of style but of substance. I made sure that song was never sung again.
Check Your Heart
When you are trying to figure out what hill to do die, it is important to truly consider your heart. Just because we are pastors does not mean that we are always in the right about everything. Ask yourself why you feel that this issue is something that must be confronted. Often, if we are honest, we do not check our heart and simply lead our churches to go a specific way simply because that is our preference. Again, I like a specific style of music but my church’s Sunday service is usually piano and organ. After reflecting on my motivations, I decided that this style would work for our church. I was only able to do that by checking my heart.
Make sure that the issue is important enough to take a firm stand on, because if not, you may find yourself truly dying on a hill that was not important.
Check Your Flock
Some things are a matter of preference but some things are a matter of spiritual significance. Knowing the difference can make or break a pastor. When Scripture has been surveyed and our hearts scrutinized, the flock must be shepherded.
If a hill is worth dying on step up and shepherd your flock. No one else will do it. As Peter reminds us: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
As the under-shepherd, you must be willing to die on gospel-centered hills. Just recently I made the decision (after several people asked us to do so) that we would not sing the National Anthem in church at our Sunday morning worship service. I have nothing against the Anthem and find myself to be a very patriotic person (I am actually looking at concepts of patriotism and citizenship in my PhD dissertation at Midwestern), but I feel that songs that are sung at our worship service should be entirely about the Lord. To me, this is a hill worth dying on.
Check your Wounds
I wish that I could say that every time you are willing to die on a hill that everything would turn out for your own personal good. Sadly, that is not the case. Pastoring broken people requires you to interact in their lives in a way that makes both you and the person vulnerable. It is not easy to stand firm on biblical grounds, so making yourself vulnerable by taking a biblical stand will cost you. This is why Paul reminds Timothy, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
When you take a stand expect people to get upset. When you take a stand expect a cheap shot or two. When you take a stand expect some difficulty.
But remember: when you take a stand, “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Our chief Shepherd died on a hill for us, so we must be willing to die on a hill or two for our sheep and His glory.