Why I don’t expect everyone in my church to agree with everything I say
A pastor spends hours researching a sermon, then someone in the church challenges one of the main points. A pastor prays for months about a new vision, then someone in the church disagrees with the proposed direction. A pastor studies in seminary for years, then a person in the church takes issue with a doctrinal stance. Most pastors know these frustrations. While pastors should care deeply about preaching, doctrine, and vision, it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to agree with everything you say.
If you’re doing your job well as a pastor, taking firm stances and having a clear vision, you will likely have dissent. This dissent is not an omen of malevolence, but rather a sign of trust in most cases. When you propose a bold vision or make a firm doctrinal stance, silence from your congregation is much scarier than a few people expressing dissenting views. When someone wants to discuss a disagreement, it’s an indication that the person trusts you to some extent. Rare is the person who uses dissent to be mean. Sure, that person exists, but most people won’t fault you for politely ignoring a curmudgeon.
What should you do with dissenting views? In short, listen. You might learn you’re mistaken or recognize you might need to pivot slightly. But why should you expect dissent? Why would I not expect everyone in my church to agree with me?
You don’t even agree with yourself. The future you will disagree with the present you. When I review what I preached ten years ago, I find I would change a lot of what I said. When I think about how I led ten years ago, if I could, I would tell my twenty-six-year-old self to change approaches. How can I get angry about dissenting views now when I don’t even agree with myself in the past?
You’re not perfect. We pastors preach about imperfect people all the time. Imperfection applies to our shepherding as well. You should expect dissent because you’ll be wrong, more often than you like.
Everyone needs to grow. When pastors disallow dissent, no one grows. The pastor stops growing because of pride, and the church never gets the chance to grow because their dissent was never heard.
Unheard dissent is dangerous. It’s a breeding ground for bitterness, especially in the church.
You need accountability. Dissent is a gentle reminder to take yourself off the pedestal. It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong. It’s tough to realize you’re wrong if you consistently squelch all dissent. Pushing back on dissent is a vicious cycle, one in which you become more ingrained in the thought that you can’t possibly be wrong.
Followers are more important than leaders. The congregation is more important than the pastor. If you believe in servant leadership, you must take the position that the people you lead are more important than you. When you expect everyone to agree with everything you say, you’re making yourself the highest priority rather than Christ and the people you shepherd.
There are non-negotiables in doctrine and some leadership decisions. You should not welcome dissent over the fundamentals of the faith or the church’s core mission. The bulk of dissent in the church, however, does not often come over non-negotiable issues. Expect dissent, listen, and learn. You’ll lead better because of it.
Sam Rainer serves as the president of Church Answers. He is also the lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church and the co-host of the Est.Church and Rainer on Leadership podcasts. Sam co-founded Rainer Publishing and serves as the president of Revitalize Network. Sam publishes a weekly article and two podcasts at ChurchAnswers.com and can be found on Twitter @SamRainer.