How to Disagree with Your Pastor

*Note: I’m not writing this because someone disagreed with me and I’m passive aggressively blogging about it instead of dealing with it directly. Just in case you were wondering.

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month and I thought I’d offer a few posts about how to have healthy, encouraging interactions with your pastor, which is a way that you can appreciate them well.

This one is about how to disagree with your pastor. Because did you know that it’s absolutely normal to disagree with your pastor, or with brothers and sisters in the faith? We kind of live in an all or nothing time–we either agree about everything or I’m refusing to associate with you. That’s so unhealthy! And in Jesus’ church, our unity is so important to our identity, and it does not require that we agree about every hot topic, share every theological position, or land on the same page about mission and ministry.

I always remember a quote I read a long time ago from Ruth Graham. Speaking about herself and her husband, the Rev. Billy Graham, she said, “I and my husband are one, but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. When two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” When I think of those words, I hear them with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality that pastors’ spouses are so good at embodying! My hunch is that we all realize that this is the reality in our relationships–we can love and affirm and support each other very much, and still have things on which we disagree.

So, say your pastor has said something in a sermon and you think, “I don’t agree with that!” Or maybe it happened in a meeting. Or maybe you disagree about something they have decided to do or something you read from them in a post on social media or their website, and it seems important enough that you have to do something. How should you handle it?

Stick around.

Listen, sometimes we reach a point where we know we can’t stay–the conflicting views and understandings are too profound, there’s a whole lot more to this, and something has happened that is now the last straw. If you’re going to leave in the midst of disagreement, try to do so in a way that is open and gracious. This is a case where you can appreciate your pastor by being honest about it, acknowledging that there are too many reasons or a couple of profound ones–whatever they are. Leave with health for you, your pastor, and the church as your goal, not because you want to hurt the pastor or other church leaders by storming out.

But otherwise, stick around and be there for the next sermon or the next meeting. Pray about the disagreement and pray for your pastor. Commit to unity even if this has created some discomfort. In Ephesians 4:1-3, we are encouraged to lead a life worthy of our calling in Christ, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. As much as it is wise and in your power, stick around for the sake of unity.

Talk to your pastor, not about your pastor

Especially if we are conflict averse (where are my fellow Enneagram 9s?), it doesn’t feel good to have to go to the person with whom you disagree and tell them. But if it’s important enough to talk about, make sure you are speaking to the person you disagree with and not about them to other people. It seems like venting to share with someone else about what tweaked you off in the sermon or at the meeting, but a lot of time you are triangulating or seeking assurance that someone else is on your side, and that can often devolve into gossip or creating conflict for someone else as well.

Can it be awkward or difficult to have this conversation directly with your pastor? Of course it can. But remember that we do not actually expect that everyone will always agree with us and sometimes we know we have stirred the pot. Offer your honest reflection to your pastor and have the honest conversation.

Assume your pastor’s understanding or viewpoint is valid

Here’s the thing–I am not dumb. I am intelligent, with education and experience. That does not mean I am always right, and I still have a lot to learn, but it sure is hurtful when someone disagrees with me and they appear to assume it’s because I am an idiot. For example, I’ve heard “you need to read your Bible!” or some version of that shouted at me more times than seems necessary. Y’all, I have an undergraduate degree in Bible, I was a Christian educator, teaching the Bible across all age groups for eighteen years, I have gone to seminary, and I have passed at least two ordination exams about the Bible. When I prepare a sermon, I look at the scripture in the original language. I may have something wrong, but we don’t disagree because I haven’t resorted to reading the Bible yet, you know?

But also, in general it helps to have the posture that a person with whom you have a differing viewpoint has a good reason for thinking that way. Because they usually do. And if you approach the situation with that understanding (and they do too), you may be able to teach each other something about the topic at hand. As James writes, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). And in Proverbs we read this: a fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing a personal opinion (Proverbs 18:2).

Finally, remember your pastor was called and is called to be your pastor!

And remember that you are called too!

Even in the midst of disagreements or difference of opinion or conflicting understandings about things like mission or vision, your pastor has a calling (and you do too)! Remember–“when two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary!” Okay, I don’t believe anyone is unnecessary, but differences and disagreements will happen. It does not negate either of our callings and it does not supersede our unity or mission together.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11, NIV).

A photo around the Baptismal font, symbol of our unity in Christ, in the before-Covid times.