As a pastor, there are two situations I find myself in at times. I’d like to explain why I handle them the way I do.
First situation: “Pastor, YOU should talk to Brian!”
James sees Brian do something he thinks is wrong, so James makes this request of me. I tell James to go directly to Brian based on:
- Matthew 18:15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
- Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
Neither verse encourages people to first go to their pastor. Instead, the verses instruct Christians to go to each other. Matthew 18:15 gives one reason with the words “between you and him alone.” In case the person repents, God desires to keep knowledge of the sin to the fewest number of people. Including even the pastor.
I might also add the verses don’t mention age or maturity. The words “you who are spiritual” is a way to refer to believers, not ultra-mature believers. Sometimes when I’ve told people they should go to the person, they say something along the lines of, “But I haven’t been a Christian long enough.”
There are only two situations where age matters:
- If Brian is still under his parents’ authority it would be appropriate for James to speak to Brian’s parents.
- If Brian is much older than James, it might be appropriate for James to encourage someone older to speak to Brian. I base this on: 1 Timothy 5:1-2 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father [and] older women as mothers.
Second situation: “Pastor, what do you think about Brian doing _____.”
Sometimes people come to me for counsel, genuinely wanting to know how/whether to confront someone. Even when I share my thoughts, I try not to condemn what Brian did. I don’t want James going to Brian saying, “Pastor Scott said it was wrong for you to _____.” You see the potential problems with this:
- Brian will feel like I gossiped about him. This happened some time back when someone talked to me about someone else’s actions. No names were mentioned; it was presented like a hypothetical situation. So I thought it would be okay to say, “No, I don’t think it would be a good idea for someone to do that.” Next thing I know the other person contacted me accusing me of gossip.
- James shouldn’t pass along my thoughts to Brian. He might misquote me.
- James should share his own thoughts. If the Holy Spirit burdens James to confront Brian, then He’ll give him the right words to say.
- James should not go to Brian on my behalf. If I think Brian did something wrong, I should go to him myself. Like we’ve been discussing.
One of my biggest mistakes as a pastor has been involving myself in situations that shouldn’t have involved me. Most pastors want to help or they probably wouldn’t be in ministry. But oftentimes the best way to help is by saying, “No, you should go talk to that person.”
Discuss: Have you felt pulled into a situation that really shouldn’t have involved you? Can you think of any other reasons it’s best to send James back to Brian?