IFB pastors seem to expect a certain level of reverence and respect as someone who is set apart from, or even above the congregation. It seems to be a level of respect based on position rather than based on being earned. It’s a common unspoken rule among the IFB that the pastor (the Man of God) is in a position of superiority.
As I have recently been thinking about this phrase, I remember that we were taught to do our ministry jobs in a way that would make the pastor look good. For instance, when I worked in the Bus Ministry, we were told to have a program on the bus. This was supposed to manipulate (my word for it) anybody visiting and possibly walking into the church at the exact time the buses were pulling in, to automatically have a good feeling about the church. Having a “program” on the bus each week to showcase happy, smiling children as the bus pulled into the parking lot, was a way to boost the “Man of God.”
Another thing from my IFB days that came to mind was in the area of music. One pastor wanted everyone who usually sang a song for Special Music to have their own music file. We could choose two or three songs to go in our file and we could take songs out and put new ones in whenever we wanted. When it was almost time for a person’s scheduled time to sing, the pastor would go into that person or group’s file and choose which of their songs they would be singing at the upcoming service. The reason that was publicly stated was to make everything about a service, center around whatever topic the pastor would be preaching about. But in my view, it was a way for the pastor to have more control over the service.
When I was a very small child, I can remember being in awe of my pastor. Some of his kids were slightly older than me, but I could never think of this man as just someone’s dad. He was the pastor. He was the Man of God!
I learned how to take sermon notes when I was in high school. I recently came across some old notes from when I was a teenager. One of the sermons which I have notes for was called “How to Take Care of the Man of God.” My pastor at that time gave us 7 things that we were to do in order to take care of him. There is not a bit of Scripture noted here, but when I read the list that was given, I can see why. Scripture does not back up what he said.
- Go soul winning.
- Leave messages on his answering machine of how many folks you lead to the Lord.
- Pray for the man of God.
- Go by his house and spend about 5 minutes in prayer for his family, then write a note and put it on his windshield.
- When he goes on vacation, make a big deal of his return.
- Give to the needs of the church so the cause of Christ can go on.
- Write him notes of encouragement.
I was shocked when I first read this after having not seen it for a number of years. Why is my service for God dependent on what the “Man of God” likes? When did soul winning become about the “Man of God?” Why is he giving people a time limit on praying for his family and why must it be done directly outside his house? Why does he have to know who is praying for him at all? Why should a person make a point of making a big deal of the pastor’s return from vacation? Why can’t I just write a note of encouragement if I decide that I want to? This pastor was always talking about money. It seemed like we couldn’t give enough to the church.
1 Peter 5:2-3 tells us how pastors are supposed to behave towards their congregations. In the NIV it says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Do IFB pastors (as a whole) follow these Biblical teachings? Pastors are supposed to model Christ and become servant leaders. It’s not supposed to be about status or position.
In thinking about this issue, I began questioning this particular phrase. Where did it come from? Why is it that IFB pastors think of themselves and train their people to think of them as “the Man of God?” Do any other religions have this same mindset? Why are IFB pastors placed on such a pedestal? In some cases, it could even be a place of idol worship. In my experience with IFB pastors, they set themselves up as someone who can do no wrong. Once a wrong is made known for some reason, it is quietly dealt with instead of holding the pastor accountable. Are pastors automatically not supposed to be held to account by anyone? I have had pastors who acted as if (and in some cases they have even said) their word was Law. We were supposed to come to church to hear what they had to say. What they said came directly from God and however they told us to live our lives was supposedly directly from Him. Are we supposed to put another man before God? Where is the Holy Spirit in this equation?
As I started researching this, I found out some very interesting things. For one thing, “man of God” is a phrase that is used in the Bible. It is predominantly an Old Testament term. There are quite a few verses in the Bible that refer to the man of God. It was a term that was always used of a prophet, or someone who spoke God’s truth in God’s behalf. There is not enough room for me to recount every single instance in this article, so if someone wants to read the list I found, they can do so at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_God All of the Old Testament usages of this term were used for men who represented God by speaking the Word of God.
There are only three uses of the term in the New Testament. In 2 Peter 1:21, this term is used to reflect back to Old Testament men of God. The phrase is used of Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:11. The phrase is used in a generic form in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I find it interesting that up until this time, it had been uniquely used of certain men. In this instance, it is broadened to include anyone who is called by God to teach the Word of God. I also personally believe that it can be used in an even broader sense to include both men and women who are saved.
So according to the Bible, what is a true man or woman of God? In beginning to really look into the answer to this question, I started reading the Book of 1 Timothy. In Chapter 1, Paul told Timothy to beware of false teachers. Chapter 2 is where Paul gives Timothy instructions on the church service. Chapter 3 lists the qualifications for pastors and deacons. In Chapter 4, Timothy is again told to be aware of those who would teach things that are contrary to the Word of God. He also commands Timothy to point out these doctrines that are not Scriptural. In Chapter 5 and in the beginning of Chapter 6, Paul gives Timothy advice about widows, elders in the church and slaves.
In Chapter 6, Paul starts talking more about false teachers. According to verses 3 & 4, a person who does not agree with and teach sound doctrine and Godly teaching is “conceited and understands nothing.” (NIV) This type of person “has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”
When we get down to verse 11, an immediate distinction is made between Timothy and these false teachers. Paul reminds Timothy that he is a man of God and therefore has greater responsibilities. Timothy is told to “flee all this.” Flee what? False teaching and the love of money. The person who is a true man or woman of God is going to flee false teachers and teachings. They will not be conceited. They will be discerning. They will not engage in controversies that cause envy, strife, evil talk, etc. They will not look at godliness as a way to earn financial gain.
Instead, that person will pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance (meaning endurance in their Christian walk) and gentleness. They will fight the good fight of the faith. I take that verse to mean they will engage in fighting for the cause of Christ. They will fight against false teachers and those who cause controversy with envy, strife, evil talk, etc. They will fight against those who just use godliness or a Christian ministry as a way to amass wealth for themselves. They will take hold on (or firmly grip) the things that have to do with eternal life. I guess that would mean they would be more focused on the eternal than the temporal. They will remember their own conversion.
Being a man of God has nothing to do with a position as pastor. Being a man or woman of God is about actions and attitude. Many members of the IFB will defend their “Man of God” with unquestioning loyalty. Most will say that their pastor is being a servant. But, actions speak louder than words.
To me, a true man or woman of God is described in 1 Timothy 6:11-12. I want to be a person who pursues “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” I want to be a woman who fights for the faith. I want to fight for sound, Biblical teaching. I am not a Bible scholar, but I believe a true man or woman of God will try to find out what the Bible actually teaches. I believe a true man or woman of God will seek to share with others what they are learning from the Bible, but not in a way that sets themselves up as the authority on God. They will seek to lovingly point out to others when a teacher or preacher is not teaching or preaching the Scripture correctly.
So, instead of holding up a pastor as a man of God, why don’t we try to be people of God on our own? Why don’t we dig into the Scriptures for ourselves and see what they say? Why don’t we let the Holy Spirit reveal to us what a certain passage of Scripture means instead of relying on a pastor to do it? Why wait for someone else to give us a standard of living when that is one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is capable of convicting individual people as they read and study the Bible.
I read something in a book by Jeff VanVonderen called “When God’s People Let You Down.” On page 194 of that book he says:
“Spiritual authority isn’t taken or asserted. It doesn’t come because you hold a titled position, receive a degree or get a salary. It is given by God for the purpose of shepherding God’s flock. In grace-full churches, those with authority use it to serve, build, and liberate the members of God’s family to be successful in the Lord’s call on their lives. They do not use it to manipulate or control.”