The first 16 years of my life, my dad presided as my pastor and primary spiritual teacher. When he preached, he regularly encouraged his listeners to be like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures daily to see if what they were being told was true (Acts 17). In other words, he’d say,”don’t take my word for it,” but “test all things and hold fast to what is good” (I Thess. 5:21). So, I was raised to have a discerning ear, allowing the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to determine what was valid and what was merely human opinion.
Ninety percent of the time, I agree with our pastor and greatly admire his passion and desire to boldly proclaim the truth, but like us all, our pastors and teachers are human, and thereby, fallible (as I am). Some things they preach as black and whites, aren’t so. Some personal purposes or personality inclinations are promoted as absolutes. This shouldn’t be. Put several wise and godly people in a room and you’ll still have several theological standpoints represented. Scripture is our foundation, but how that foundation lays doesn’t always line up for everyone.
A few Sundays ago, my pastor made a derogatory comment about people who desire to regularly attend Bible studies (and other events) being spiritual gluttons. He has always made a firm stand against being a program-led church, which I appreciate. Due to our similar upbringings, I understand the imbalance in many traditional churches to guilt people into coming and doing within the doors and not being and doing out in their own neighborhoods or families. But sometimes, to avoid one rut we veer too far to the other side of the road and end up in another rut. Currently, our women meet for 16 (out of 52) weeks to study Scripture and encourage one another in small groups. Hardly gluttonous in my estimations. When our pastor criticized people for wanting to extend “a program”–we’ve been advocating for longer Bible study sessions–I felt discouraged. Many of these women don’t have supportive families to lean into, and these Bible study groups are family. They are their Bible-based weekly small group.
Furthermore, spending time within the Body and serving outside of it do not have to be mutually exclusive activities. In order to better serve our fellow brothers and sisters (and reach out to the unbeliever), we need to have a firm foundation and support group within as well. We need to be encouraged and challenged to walk out our faith and hold up our lives to accountability. And as Biblically-based as Sunday morning may be, our time there is not interactive nor as deep as weekly Bible study is.
Hebrews 10:25 encourages believers to “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We can all interpret the frequency of this command in varying terms, but we need to be sure that we daily delight in the God’s Word and “meditate on it day and night” (Psalm 1). We obviously don’t need to meet with other Christians on a daily basis, but I do think–especially for new converts–that weekly accountability is vital for Spiritual growth. The women in our Bible study groups don’t attend each week because they feel obligated or more worthy as a Christian if they do; they come because their marriages, their families, their circumstances are imploding and they found a family of sisters to rally around them, pray for them, challenge them to keep walking in the light, to love and forgive when both seem impossible and to know that they aren’t alone in this journey. To promote less time at church and more time at home with your family sounds good, but when you don’t have a family to go home to, then what? Who do you turn to as a support system? The local bar?
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Ecc. 4:9-10
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:1-2
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed […]” James 5:16a
Some argue that Bible-study time doesn’t have to be church sanctioned, and I’d agree. However, many of these women have small children. They are single moms (or women whose husbands don’t attend church) without family around to babysit their children. Many are struggling financially just to make ends meet together and wouldn’t be able to attend a small group without free childcare. Our Bible study (with provided childcare) allows them to be a part of this small group time, learning and growing together in ways that would otherwise be impossible for them in a group setting. For many of these women, Wednesday morning Bible study and prayer time is the only time they have away from their children. When my husband and I were first put in a small group, we were required to pay for weekly babysitting just to attend (something our tight budget couldn’t afford). People who have family close by or excessive funds don’t understand these setbacks, but they are real hindrances for many.
In these situations, I do think it’s the responsibility of the church to provide an avenue for community and Bible study. It’s not a program; it’s a neighborhood of sisters. It’s family. It’s a place for accountability, encouragement, and Biblical grounding.
Obviously my position and that of the church leadership doesn’t coincide, and that’s okay. This area isn’t an absolute and I don’t have to demand my way or “take my toys and go home.”
When we disagree with the direction of our church, we contemplate these principles:
Is the leadership doing something wrong (heretical or unbiblical)?
Can I still fulfill God’s call on my life while being here?
I need to forgive for being misjudged or told ‘no’ and move on.
Would a conversation with my pastor help bring better understanding and unity (or is that even welcomed/encouraged)?
How can I supplement and minister to people even if I feel like I’m meeting a wall?
So, when you don’t agree with your pastor, make every effort to understand, extend grace, expand your perspective, and move forward.