It’s a passage that I’ve read on several occasions. But this time, a particular observation about the passage heightened my thinking on the subject.
In 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter writes a broad and masterful exposition on the role of an elder in the local church, including a negative statement about how pastors must not conduct themselves when he says, “not domineering over those in your charge . . . ” (v. 3).
BDAG defines “domineering” as follows:
1. to bring into subjection, become master, gain dominion over, subdue;
2. to have mastery, be master, lord it (over), rule.
That’s what domineering means. If you were to teach this passage, how would you teach it? How do you encourage pastors to avoid this disastrous characteristic?
Here is how most Bible teachers would approach this. They would say: “Don’t be domineering because you’ll hurt people. Don’t be domineering because it’s not the way of Jesus. Don’t be domineering because it disqualifies you from ministry. See, look. Just look around. Look at all these pastors who are disqualifying themselves from ministry in our day. It’s because they’re domineering. Don’t be like them.”
Undeniably true. No doubt, faithful exegesis will require saying sound and simple observations about the text. But shedding light on biblical truths by using fresh language to teach old insights is a powerful pedagogical tool.
Recently, I heard one of these fresh insights when listening to a sermon on this text by a colleague of mine, who said: “It doesn’t take any skill to be domineering.”
Lightbulbs went off in my head. Immediately I was struck by the simplicity and yet brilliance of this statement. Finally, I had heard something on this topic that wasn’t being shoved down my throat but was tactful and winsome and appealing all at the same time. What lured me was the tonality and heart of the preacher. It was not condemning.
There are perceived benefits to being domineering. Domineering pastors get what they want. At least, at first. It provides short-term success. Being domineering will get you instant results. Who doesn’t want that?
In truth, being domineering is easy. Just be attractive and charismatic. Have a strong personality. Be confident and assertive. Know a lot about theology and Scripture. Get ordained. Get yet another degree. Get the position of Lead Pastor. And then, when something in your church happens that you don’t like, or there is something you want, impose yourself on others by flexing all of your credentials and all the things you’ve done to help the church. This doesn’t require skill. It’s also flat-out easy. Being domineering is lazy. Indeed, it’s indicative of an unskilled pastor.
You want to talk pastor skill? Here’s pastoral skill. Go to a church and love people and listen well. Build relationship capital. Grow in self-awareness, social competence, and emotional intelligence. Know how to navigate relationships well. And then, when push comes to shove and you feel like there’s a hill to die on, present your case in a loving, tactful, patient way, hoping you get what you desire, but displaying contentment if you don’t. Now that’s pastoral skill.
We should never excuse a domineering spirit, but most pastors understand why it happens. But by no means should we water down or excuse this disqualifying behavior.
There is a better way of pastoring than by being domineering. It’s by being gentle. It’s the path of godliness demonstrated by pastoral skill. Let us strive to become skillful pastors who demonstrate patience, perseverance, and gentleness in ministry. Doing this requires Holy Spirit-empowered skill.
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