I have been a pastor for some 36 years now. Most of those years have been on the mission field, in a church that I worked starting (church planter). I have seen a lot of things both in my own work and in the many hundreds of churches that we have visited while on deputation. Let me explain what I mean by this post title (“Don’t demonize your people.”). Most commonly the pastor (and/or his wife) have problems with individuals in the congregation. This is ALWAYS going to happen. Want a perfect church? Run everybody off, and then resign, and that is about as close as you will get.
Cause of “Demonization” of your people
So what happens is that as the church dynamics move along, activities happen, and some members become closer to the pastor/wife as they offer to help, and others grow farther away. Usually this is because they (1) oppose what the pastor is doing, (2) they enter in and help with the idea that the pastor/wife cannot do it alone (because of their inability or ignorance), and this member is an expert that will tell everybody how to do it, (3) shear jealousy takes over because somebody is doing something and some member is not in the lead or the glory spot, so they speak ill of pastor/wife and cause problems.
At this point, the pastor or his wife begin to make angels out of some members and demons out of others. Their attitude is really, “If we could only get these (the demons) to leave, and get more (angels).” The people is unrealistic viewpoints and attitudes by pastor and wife.
We are shepherds, not Friends
In a very real sense, we have little control over who attends our church. God gives us people that He chooses, and we must work with what God gives us. That is not to say we can go out into the world and evangelize and try to change the mix somewhat, but even so, those that accept Christ as Savior are not always those who will be most “helpful” to you.
We are shepherds, and by that I mean that we must work according to the directions of the sheep’s owner (God), and we must fulfill our charge, not do what we want to do. It is extremely important that every pastor and his wife understand and have the working concept that these people are neither our enemies nor our friends, they are our responsibility. Therefore we must not seek to make them our friends, nor demonize them when they cause problems. We must tend to them according to their needs and problems as well as fulfill our charge given to us by God as to their spiritual life.
Selective Treatment between Different People
It is extremely important to discern how to deal differently with different people. We must not deal kindly towards those who are “yes men”, and aggressively against those who do not do things according to our desires. This is very foolish and just wrong.
Our attitude should be just and righteous. When a friend tells us we are wrong, or questions our judgment, the correct thing is not to remove his halo and stick two horns on his head, but evaluate honestly and with a pure and sincere heart what he says. Maybe he is right. Maybe he is wrong, but his perception should tell you something anyway. Many more people may be seeing your right action as being wrong. Maybe your action is right but you are not providing sufficient biblical defense for what you are doing. Maybe you are not understanding the entrenched false beliefs you are trying to deal with, and you need to go back and reaffirm basic positions, like basic doctrines.
We must understand the nature of sheep. Many times they are just dumb, and act against the best for their own life and welfare. So we work against them trying to work for their spiritual good, but often they resent and fight against us. Like a vet who works to save the life of an animal, he supports the thrashing, kicking, and biting even though it is aggression directly against him and his good intentions.
When our people as pastors do things to hurt us, we must not take it personally, nor work “with a chip on our shoulder”. We must follow Christ and be fair, evenhanded, and righteous towards them even though this is difficult. It is very important to keep your balance when others work against you. You must have Bible principles (represented by correctly exposited explanations of the corresponding verses) and you must both know and understand intimately these principles, and you must constantly affirm them before your people. All involved must know what is God’s will, and your work must be a realization of doing that work of God, both in theory and in actuality (both as a church and you as a personal example).
When false prophets come in, our response is different. A false prophet must be confronted strongly and rebuked. This false prophet is defined as a person who has incorrect doctrine and/or practice, and is trying to spread that falsehood among the church members, whether he is present in the services or not (like cults). We are not to have pity on wolves; we are to strike them soundly across the head so as to discourage and stop their activity in the church family.
A member that has personal problems takes a different attitude. First of all, he usually doesn’t start out trying to spread his error to other members, rather he tells them his situation to seek pity and support from them, especially in the face of harsh words or actions by the pastor. Secondly, a member basically will have an issue with the pastor, or against another member, but a wolf will have an issue against the church’s doctrinal stand first and foremost, and secondly against anybody, especially the pastor, from stopping him from teaching his doctrinal heresy.