Not everyone who identifies themselves as a pastor, or religious teacher, should be listened to. Peter warned the believers in his day, “But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…” (2 Pet. 2:1) The church today needs pastors who will faithfully represent Jesus in their preaching and lifestyles. If you sit under this type of ministry, give thanks to God. If you’re not sure whether you do, here are six characteristics of pastors you need to avoid:

1. They rely more on personal intuition and feelings than they do God’s Word.

God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jer. 23:16; See also Eze. 13:3) Pastors who are keen on sharing “what’s on their heart” and “how they feel” every Sunday, can come dangerously close to speaking the visions of their own minds. No matter how interesting your pastor’s personal life is, God has charged him to proclaim the life of another, Jesus.  Your pastor has the sobering task of letting you hear God’s voice through the text of Scripture every Sunday. When pastors spend more time sharing their thoughts than they do the text, they squelch Heaven’s voice. Any pastor who functionally ministers as though their words are more important than God’s, should be avoided at all costs.

2. They’re self-appointed and weren’t sent by God or the church.

The apostle Paul assumed that those called by God to minister on His behalf were sent by local churches that had observed their integrity, and faithfulness to God’s word (1 Tim. 3:1-7). He wrote, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:15). In the Bible, God’s call on a pastor’s life is confirmed by the external affirmation of believers within the local church. Self-appointed religious teachers may feel “called by God,” but if a body of believers isn’t affirming that call, there’s a cause for concern. Ordinarily, God calls people through the church, not apart from her. Self-called religious teachers can fall under the category of Jeremiah 14:14, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.”(See also Jeremiah 23:21)

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3. They don’t talk about sin or treat it lightly.

Throughout the entire Bible, this is one of the key identifiers of a false teacher. Your pastor may have a great smile, and be very encouraging, but if he’s afraid to talk about sinhe’s a poor shepherd. This was God’s primary contention with the prophets in Jeremiah’s day. “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.” (Jer. 6:14-15)

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