Open Forum: Should an Inability to Encourage and Show Compassion Disqualify a Pastor?

In their article, “What are warning flags to watch out for when considering a man as a potential elder?” 9 Marks ministries offers 13 warning flags. Two of the warning flags stood out in a discussion I had with a good friend in early 2011 as I was going through my seminary courses. The discussion was part of the ongoing process of understanding how one’s theology works out in real life; a road that never ends.

While all of the warning flags are worthy of discussion, the two that stood out and seemed to go together well were 6 and 7.

6. An inability to encourage others.

7. An inability to show compassion and tenderness. A man may be rigorously strong and biblical, but if he can’t be tender and compassionate he’ll make a poor shepherd.

What exactly is the connection between robust theology fleshed out in teaching and preaching and the ability to encourage others while being tender and compassionate? Getting theology seems the easier part, but working that theology out in our relationships tends to be a bit more difficult. However, there are others who more readily encourage and show compassion to the detriment of a robust theology.

I would argue that theology, encouragement and compassion should go hand in hand. I admit that it took me some time to learn to really love people while working through a high view of theology – but I’m not a pastor.

I once scoffed at the cliche attributed to John Maxwell: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. However, the better I got to know myself, my sin and my Savior, the more that cliche resonated. But maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I’d like to have an open forum to discuss two questions inspired by the 9 Marks article.

For pastors and laity.

  • Should an inability to encourage and show compassion/tenderness disqualify a pastor?
  • As a church member, how are you effected if your pastor lacks compassion/tenderness?

Bonus: How would you know that it is not just an incorrect perception about your pastor?

tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,morality,theology

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mburatov September 18, 2012 at 10:11 am

Great question. It seems to me that it is a matter of degree. No pastor is perfect. Some are so-so preachers, but great counselors. Others are great preachers and so-so counselors. Others have remarkable emotional intelligence while others are the relational equivalent of a wet blanket. If as pastor struggles with being compassionate, then my question is, “how much do they struggle with it?” Are they compassionate in some cases but not with others? Are they compassionate, but not very touch-feely? A lack of compassion can manifest itself in many different ways. The pastor may be incredibly blunt and potentially hurtful in the way he says things, even though he might be right. Alternatively, he may simply not appreciate the struggles some people experience with things like substance abuse, same-sex attraction, a wandering eye, etc. When people confess their struggles to him, he may brow-beat them for having such temptations in the first place, or he may simply listen impassively. Which is more bereft of compassion?

It seems to me that a pastor must care deeply about the spiritual well-being of his congregation. The way he outwardly shows that care is not as important, provided he is not rude or brusque in his manner. 1 Thessalonians 5, I think it’s verses 10-11 says, “We ask you brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those among you who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love. And live in peace with each other.” (OK I messed it up a little, but I’m going on memory here so cut me some slack). The righteousness that we are called to have that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees must be others-centered, or it is not true righteousness. Caring about others is a big part of that but I think that we are all people and we all outwardly show that compassion in different ways.

Having said all that, if a pastor clearly does not care about people, I think that would be good grounds for disqualifying him as a pastor. He should be an academic and not a pastor in that case. If the Thessalonian church could do love as well as they did, surely a pastor should be able to as well.

2 Mark September 18, 2012 at 10:56 am

mburatov, thanks for the well thought out comment. Given that we each have our own perceptions, how would you discern that a pastor clearly did not care about people?

3 Dan Phillips September 18, 2012 at 11:07 am

Love you help you with your issue, Mark, but I




4 Dan Phillips September 18, 2012 at 11:07 am

(See what I did there?)


5 Mark September 18, 2012 at 11:16 am

Maybe you’re practicing replacement commenting.

6 MarieP September 18, 2012 at 11:26 am

What mburatov said! Excellent point about the Pharisees. They had neglected the weightiest measure of the law, love of God and love of neighbor. They were zealous about the traditions of men rather than those of God and thus were weighing the people down with burdens they couldn’t bear. They probably didn’t want people to get close to them but they were really full of dead men’s bones.

As for how to know that it’s not just an incorrect perception, I would be humbly honest, explain to him the perceived coldness, and ask him if there was anything I was doing or had done that I needed to repent of or work on. Pastors are men, and they are burdened (more than we are), many times with things we don’t, and in many cases don’t need to, know about. Sometimes they can feel dogpiled, You might find something you need to change, or even that your pastor did not realize how he was coming across and makes changes on his end.

I believe the charge of not caring about others is a chief weapon of Satan, whether it be God or our brethren. Isn’t that half of his lie in the Garden of Eden, that the reason for the prohibition is not to keep them from death but that He knows they will be like Him? If love of God and love of neighbor is that upon which all the law and prophets hang, then Satan knows that attacking this love is to cut us off from obedience.

The pastor needs to say with Paul that, “Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” but lets work to ensure he never needs to say, “though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Cor. 12:14-15)

7 MarieP September 18, 2012 at 11:31 am

Don’t know if I should say “half” of the temptation because it seems more than half of it- I began with saying it’s the “heart” of the temptation, but I’d have to think about it more!

8 Dan Phillips September 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm

To do that, I’d have to say something almost totally unrelated to your question, then insist I’d given a much fuller and deeper answer to The Real Question.


9 Jared Moore September 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

It would be difficult to disqualify a man based on a “lack of compassion” or a “lack of empathy” alone. If this issue kept coming up in the congregation, then the pastor would need to be talked with. I think part of the problem is that we wrongly assume everyone else is like us. I imagine that most pastors think they’re empathetic, but they probably show their empathy towards others in the same manner they themselves would like to receive it. Take, for example, a pastor who is rather private, reserved, an introvert, etc., he may be good to go when tragedy strikes his family with you saying, “I’m praying for your family brother,” but another church member may actually need to “feel” your empathy as you express, “I’m praying for your family brother.” For one, merely saying, “I’m praying for you is enough,” but for the other he/she needs to “feel” the empathy as you express empathetic statements. This issue would be difficult to diagnose due to the relative nature of “empathy.” I mean, on the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want a pastor who too empathetic either. He’d never preach an exegetical sermon due to his constant uncontrollable weeping! On the other hand, if this issue kept coming up at my church, I would do my best to make sure the love I have for God’s people was evident in my actions. (But, even that is kind of relative)

10 Mark September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Thanks, Jared.

Do you agree or disagree then with the 9 Marks points 6 and 7?

11 Jared Moore September 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Mark, yes brother, I agree with their points. I just think it’s difficult to diagnose if a pastor has no compassion. It’s not cut-and-dry. If a pastor lacks compassion, he should be talked to (multiple times if need be). It’ll help him and all the Christians and unbelievers he ministers to in the future.

12 Mark September 19, 2012 at 10:26 am

If it’s difficult to diagnose whether or not a pastor has compassion then it would be difficult to act on these warning flags. Subjectivity is certainly involved. Interesting too that a pastor who is perceived to lack compassion may be using these warning flags to disqualify someone else whom he thinks lacks compassion. 🙂

13 MarieP September 19, 2012 at 11:24 am

Having “faithful kids” is somewhat subjective too…

14 Even If Ministries September 22, 2012 at 2:27 am

Hey Mark,

I was talking to a Pastor and his wife (people I both served under at the time) about how we were each gifted. They both informed me that their lowest “score” was in mercy/compassion. I thought this odd for leader of a church but forgot about it for some time. I remembered it immedietly when the following happened:

I am going to change the story a bit so as not to embarrass anyone – you will get the gist.

A young teenager accepts the Lord, is baptized, and 1 year later gets cancer and goes into a coma. In their mercy and compassion, they make it a focul point for the church – money is raised – local media gets involved. The father loses his house to forclosure (It was never brought up in front of the church – no one knew but the Pastor and his wife – maybe elders too). With no where to go, no help from the church and his child dieing, the man moves in with a woman in the church that offers this homeless man a place for him and his other son. One thing leads to another during a very tough time. . . The church is aware of it but no one else is. The boy in the coma never recovers and dies. After the death, the couple is approached about stopping the relationship in its present form or they will be handed over . . . I wrote a post where I used it as part of a story about redemption:

Anyway, the boy’s brother wants to be baptized as a result of his dead brother’s testimony 1 year earlier. The pastor refuses – something about give it a year until you arent just doing this from emotion. . . .

A couple of points about lack of compassion:

We found out about the man losing his house at the end and we also found out he had asked the church for help a year earlier. The response from leadership when he lost it was that he would have lost it anyway with help or not . . . With a little compassion in a very tough time, we may not have been able to save his house but maybe we could of – maybe supplementing his income would have let him save it

The relationship happened prior to the death of the child – if you feel it is sin that you have to hand them over . . . the point is was it compassion or the rise in attendence for the church and that the media would not have been real thrilled? In light of the fact that this wouldnt of happened with the church helping or many of us could have given the man and his child a place to stay if we had known about it . . . you do the math.

Most people would be devestated with the loss of their house – house and child – devestating! House, then child, then church? Has to be one of the worst things I have ever witnessed in my life.

I don’t condone the couples sin but there are so many ways simple acts of compassion could have helped them avoid that sin. The boy that wanted to be baptized that has witnessed all of this from this church? Not interested – not because he lost interest, but because he views the church and what it did to his dad as evil. My wife and I and friends reached out to this couple and found them some time afterwards – they are so hurt and so bitter it breaks your heart! The boy wouldn’t come – wants nothing to do with church people.

As someone that has served and led in several churches, I would disqualify someone without hesitation that lacked compassion because lack of compassion is part of a bigger problem – lack of dicernment. Most of all, I belive Yeshua himself would say his is unqualified. Why?

A man can know every inch of the text, have it memorized, give all he has to the church, hit a homerun every Sunday from the pulpit but . . . without love, what does it matter? Romans 12 tells us to weep with those that weep. Compassion isn’t a “would like”, it is a “must have!”

Sorry for the long post brother – I guess I am a little passionate!

15 Joshua Tilghman September 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm

I think it should definitely disqualify someone. If a person is not compassionate then they can’t empathize with people. If you can’t empathize with them, how can you reach them or lead them? Maybe they would be fit for another ministry, like teaching.

16 flea September 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I am in the military been on several deployments and have seen alot of things. A few years ago my family and I joined a church along with another couple, they were with the church for a short time and then we didn’t see them anymore. nothing was never said. A few years past and I found out recently that the couple left because the wife attempted suicide and the pastor was not compassionate tp them saying she was just looking for attention. My dilemma is I was deployed last last year I had to come home on emergency leave for something traumatic that happened to my family. Since October of last year my family and I have experience 7 deaths and 1 attempted suicide on top of everything else which brought me home in the first place. I think about suicide all the time but I feel I can’t say anything to my pastor or even my spouse I am too ashamed that I even thought about it. I do not put my pastor on a pedistal but I definitely look at him differently since then.

17 Luke Landry September 28, 2012 at 12:34 am

The biblical qualifications for an elder are listed in 1 Tim 3. In this passage there is a clear emphasis on gentleness (1 Tim 3:3) and in 2 Tim 2 Paul writes ” the Lords servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness “( 2 Tim 2:24-25). This text points to a quality of character that is evidently filled with the fruits of the Spirit. Of course, he is not a coward, hence his ability to correct opponents, but the manner in which he does that is not through harsh words that stir up strife and arguments (see v 23 & Prov 15:1) but instead he will attempt to destroy every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of Christ, while keeping a man’s dignity intact. perhaps you have something other than this in mind when you refer to compassion, but the word itself is a compound word: “com” meaning “with” and “passion” meaning “pain”. The word literally means to feel ones pain, an extremely gospel-grounded attribute which is seen throughout the lives of saints both in scripture and church history. A few examples are worth noting. Stephen as he is being thrown to the ground about have his skull crushed by rocks prays for the pardon of his adversaries (Acts 7:60). Paul demonstrates this trait of compassion in 2 Cor 11 as he refers his many trials and sufferings that he endured during his ministry ( v23-27) and yet in verse 28 he says “apart from other things, there is my constant concern for the church.” This phrase in the Greek is very intense. the word “concern” is translated from “merimna” which comes from a root word that denotes a sick stomach hence the ESV says “anxiety” which perhaps captures the idea more accurately. And notice the adjective “constant” or some translations say “daily”, implying that this is a continual condition that Paul was in for the various churches that he oversaw. In other words, while Paul was being tied to a post and beaten he was thinking about how the Philippians were doing. and while he was bobbing in the middle of the Mediterranean sea on a peace of drift wood he was praying for the Ephesians. and while he was in a rat infested dungeon he was concerned for the Corinthians. Paul was given a heart of compassion that was able to look past his own trials and pain in order to bear the burdens of others, thus fulfilling the law of Christ $Gal 6:2). If anyone doubts this he need go no further than the opening statement of Romans 9 where Paul expresses anguish at the fact that many ofhis fellow Jews had rejected the Messiah, he says that he would be willing to tradw places with them and be cut off from Christ and become an Anathema for the sake of his kinsmen (Rom 9:2-3). And one example from church history isvthe courageous Mr Tyndale who as he was being burned at the stake for translating the New Testament into English and thus ushering in the reformation in England, prayed while prapring to die that God would open the eyes of the king of England. Last but not least, in Matthew 14 Jesus after hearing of his cousin Johns horrific murder was engaged by a large crowd in need of ministering . Jesus could have rightly turned away from them and went away to pray, but instead the text says that he had compassion on them (v14). the parallel passage in Mark says “he had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Is there any greater description the the pastors calling? To lead and feed and shepherd the flock of God (see John 21:15-17 & Acts 20:28)???. I conclude…. if the pastor is not following hard after the shepherd of his own soul and striving to be like Him in everyway, he should retire, less he invoke Gods strict judgement upon himself (see James 3:1).



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