Every Luther Needs a Fred: Supporting Your Pastor Through Change
When you hear the phrase “Protestant Reformation” what names come to mind? Luther? Calvin? Or maybe you’re a little more of a history buff so you think of Zwingli, Wycliffe, Erasmus, Bethancourt, or even Geoffrey Chaucer. Each of these played their part as did countless others, but perhaps the man who tipped the scales towards cataclysmic change was Fred. You know Fred. Frederick III, the Elector of Saxony. Many of us know him better as Frederick the Wise, and for students of church history, his name is familiar. We mostly remember him as the man who had Martin Luther “kidnapped” and taken to Wartburg Castle on his return journey from the Diet of Worms in order to protect him from certain arrest and death. But Frederick did so much more than that, and his contribution to the cataclysmic change of the Reformation is hard to measure.
God Was Luther’s Mighty Fortress, and Frederick was the Faithful Guard of the Gate
I’m not trying to impress anyone with my knowledge of the history of the Reformation, which is embarrassingly lacking, but as I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’ work Martin Luther: The Man who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, I’ve been amazed at the importance and actions of the man we remember as Frederick the Wise. If you want to know more about him and his role in protecting Luther, I suggest you read Metaxas’ book, but let it suffice to say that without Frederick taking incredible personal and political risk and going out of his way on multiple occasions to protect the stubborn German monk who reawakened the western world to justification by grace and the authority of Scripture, Martin Luther would have been just another martyr in the tradition of John Huss and the Lollards.
Why Frederick Why?
What has struck me as so noteworthy about Frederick’s role is that he wasn’t a theologian or priest. He was a politician who was almost as wrapped up in indulgences and many of the other superstitions of the church as Johann Tetzel, the famous (now infamous) preacher of indulgences. While no one can be sure of Frederick’s motivations for protecting Luther, at least some of those motivations were political and financial.
Frederick gained power and increased his wealth by resisting Rome and protecting Luther, but at some point, his protection of Luther began to counter his personal interests—yet he remained steadfast in his support. Had Frederick ever removed his protection, Luther would have surely been arrested, tried, and executed. Like Constantine before him, Frederick the politician had more influence on church history than many of the names we often associate with that time period.
Concrete and Rebar
The next time you drive past a tall building, remember that what you don’t see is just as important as what you can see. Buried within the concrete walls of every building that rises to any height is rebar. According to construction management expert Oscar Morejon, founder and president of John Bell Construction (and my good friend!), concrete provides strength to withstand the weight, or compression, of the building, while rebar provides the strength to withstand the impact of outside forces, or tension, like the wind or the impact from a vehicle. Remove the concrete, and the building crumbles under its own weight. Remove the rebar, and a strong wind sends it crashing to the ground. That’s what Frederick did for Luther. He was the unseen support that allowed the building to rise. Without him, the 95 These would have been Luther’s death warrant rather than the spark of the Reformation.
Frederick’s role in church history is illustrative of the importance of strong non-staff leaders in local churches. Pastors with visions of reaching their communities and the nations need support. They have grand visions and make big plans, but without the strength of strong, non-staff leaders behind the scenes, most pastors will not survive leading change in a local church. Luther needed Frederick, concrete needs rebar, and your pastor needs you.
Growth Requires Change--And Change Requires a New Pastor!
The tried and true maxim of growth is “Growth requires change. Change requires conflict.” In many cases we could add, “Conflict results in the removal of the pastor, a reversal of the change, and no growth.” In fact, if you want a great recipe for failure, take a great pastor with a close walk with God, a heart for people, powerful preaching abilities, great leadership skills, and the willingness to stare down Hell to reach people for Jesus, and add him to a church that desperately needs change. Nine times out of ten, the pastor will not last long very long, and the church will fail to see any real change or growth.
Watching It Happen
The Lord has given me the privilege of being a part of several churches that experienced massive change, and as a result, growth. In each case, the church was stuck in unhealthy patterns, and a new pastor was hired. The new pastor was full of energy and vision, but that’s not really what made the difference. I’ve witnessed many pastors with as much passion, energy, wisdom, and godliness as any other crash on the rocks of change. The difference, in each instance, has been the ardent support of two types of people, 1) new people reached under the ministry of the new pastor, and 2) long time, strong, non-staff leaders in the church who stand by the pastor even when they don’t personally understand or even like all of the changes.
If He Goes, I Go
One of the first churches I ever had the privilege of serving on staff with needed major change. Within the first few months of the new pastor’s tenure there, several of the long time members and even a few deacons were ready to ask him to leave. That’s when it happened. A long time member of the church threw his support behind the new pastor stating clearly, “If he goes, I go.” While the deacons were inclined to ask the pastor the leave, they weren’t willing to lose the long time member. So the pastor kept his job. One year later, the church was full of new believers, young families, and people committed to sharing their faith. That was almost 20 years ago, and the church is still experiencing explosive growth and witnessing amazing life change.
Please don’t miss the point. Some pastors are bad leaders, and they need to go. In those cases, it is our duty to help them leave. We cannot allow someone to stay in such a place of high honor and responsibility if he is a man of poor character or inadequate ability. But many God-called pastors are forced to leave for reasons that have nothing to do with character or ability. In my experience, churches will allow members to stay in positions of leadership even when they are living in open, unrepentant sin, but they will ask a pastor to leave if he has the audacity to introduce a new style of music or small group strategy.
Change Hurts, Stagnation Kills
If you are a long time member of a church that is dying for change, please count the cost—change hurts, and the hurt can be deep. If it’s a price your church is willing to pay, find the right leader, and support him. Do not underestimate your role in the change process. You won’t like some of the changes. In fact, you’ll probably despise some of the changes, but unless it’s a matter of sin and biblical fidelity, support the change and the pastor leading it. Without Frederick the Wise, Martin Luther would have been just another preacher who paid the price for ruffling the wrong feathers. Without rebar, concrete skyscrapers would crumble, and without men and women like you, your pastor and the growth he is working so hard to bring will likely be short-lived.