Whenever I have the occasion to do membership interviews, one of the points I bring up is the reality that my fellow elders and I will eventually — though hopefully, unintentionally — let that person down. I learned the importance of stating this from my former pastor, observing him saying those exact words in membership interviews. He generally stated it like this, “We want you to know, we as elders are mere men. We will eventually and unintentionally let you down.”
As a pastor this is a hard thing to admit. I’m thankful for the candid way my former pastor has dealt with this reality. I am also thankful that I have learned to not only say this, but that God has allowed me to experience it as well. Yes, I know it comes as a shock, but I have let people down. In fact I hate to say it happens all the time. The reason we as pastor/elders should let people know this is because they tend to unintentionally put us on pedestals.
To some degree there is a cause for this. Elders are held to a higher accountability (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4) and the congregation is held to a standard of conduct in regard to their leaders (Heb. 13:17). So it’s understandable that when a pastor/elder disappoints a member of the flock, that it can be a huge deal.
The question then is, “What do I do as a pastor/elder, when I unintentionally let someone down?” We must do what the Scriptures tell us. We must humble ourselves (1 Pet. 3:8) and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with those whom we serve (Matt. 5:23-24). This does several things. Firstly, it puts actions to the words spoken about sometimes disappointing people unintentionally. If I am unwilling to admit that I am wrong or have done wrong, then I am a proud leader, who is not willing to serve the body rightly. Secondly, it allows me to be a real person to that other person and should hopefully take away the possible pedestal upon which they have placed me. Thirdly, it allows me to exhibit the kind of humility to which Paul call us in Philippians 2:3-11. Fourthly, it engenders trust between that person and me. Fifthly, it makes the next unintentional disappointment a little bit of a softer blow. Lastly, and most importantly, hopefully it points to our need of ultimate dependence on Christ and not men.
I'm not saying that pastors/elders should not do their dead level best in fulfilling promises and everything else that is included in shepherding the flock. This is a non-negotiable in the mind of Paul according to Acts 20:28, as we see that it is the precious blood of Jesus that has purchased the flock we oversee. But there are times, even with the best of intentions and the hardest striving, that we will disappoint our flock.