The expression of pastoral ministry in the church can tend to aggregate at extremes in the Body of Christ. On the one hand you can have pastors who are oppressed by domineering and controlling board members and elders, whose mission in life seems to be to be to break pastors down and keep them in poverty. On the other hand, you can have pastors who think themselves as demi-gods at the top of a pyramid hierarchy who think people are little more than resources given by God to them to fulfill carnal ambition rooted in insecurity and thinly veiled as “corporate vision.” In Part One here, by my friend, Nick Vasiliades, explains why fundamental values and ideas in most western churches of how pastors are expected to function are the underlying reasons for so many misconceptions and malpractice of one of the necessary, precious, and legitimate gifts of the resurrected and ascended Lord to His church. Is it possible to be a supernaturally gifted “carer of souls” and avoid reactionary expressions? Yes, but not as long as we cling to biblically baseless definitions, values, and expressions of pastoral ministry.
Meetings under the direct headship of Jesus Christ? Sounds great but is it really possible? The Body of Christ fully functioning, each member doing his/her part? Is it just a pleasant metaphor?
There have been numerous responses to this idea with the vast majority of folks saying they’ve tried it and it simply doesn’t work. Furthermore, they add, a leader must be present to preserve order, exercise authority, “give the word,” etc. But not only is a functioning body of believers possible in theory, I have lived in an environment of participating in meetings under the headship of Jesus Christ for over a decade. Furthermore, to be in a gathering of Christians where the leading of Jesus Christ by His Spirit is evident for all to see is one of the most glorious privileges every believer ought to experience. So why does the reality seem so elusive?
There are numerous hindrances and addressing them all would take a book. This short article seeks to address one significant obstacle to experiencing a fully functioning body who are exhibiting the manifold wisdom of God through each member. I consider this one issue to be the primary hurdle for most groups. Are you ready?
It is this: Pastors are in the Fall.
This provocative statement may need a bit of uncrating. So here goes:
We see Moses, needing to be the intermediary between God and Israel. God- appointed yes, but an old covenant paradigm.
Or I sometimes hear modern day Christians looking down their noses at ancient Israel because of their clamoring for a visible king. We are appalled at their lack of spirituality, shocked at their lack of confidence in God. Completely ignoring the benefit of our 20/20 hindsight, the thought kind of goes like this: “If I were alive back then, I would never have been crying out for a human king. I would have stood with God being my direct king.” Most of us seem to come away from reading the Old Covenant quite confident we would have stood strong and faithful to what God really wanted.
Yet, if truth be told, the modern day pastor functions very much like a Moses for us. Or a David. Or sadly, like a Saul.
What’s the Point?
Humanity, ever since the Fall, has had a preference for not dealing directly with God. We Christians, even though having access to a better covenant, do the same exact thing the ancients did. We have hired guns. Furthermore, we try to cover this fact up with supposed biblical camouflage.
This need for someone else to do our spiritual heavy lifting for us is the main reason why the current pastoral system evolved in the first place. For a short period immediately following the birth of the Church, she gloriously lived under the headship of Jesus Christ. I don’t say she didn’t have leaders, she did, but their roles were practiced in a vastly different way than what we see on today’s Christian landscape.
As time went by, believers found it far easier to pay someone to shoulder their spiritual responsibilities for them. And thus the modern day pastor was born. Others have written extensively about the evolution of the modern day pastor and their work is certainly worth reading. While the term pastor does in fact appear in your New Testament (once I think), the position and day-to-day function of what we today understand as a pastor was an utterly foreign, never imagined notion to first century believers. You cannot justify the existence of the modern day pastor with one flimsy verse out of Ephesians and maintain any scriptural integrity. I’m not suggesting you run your pastor out the nearest door but I am pleading that you own up to the fact that you can’t justify the position on anything connected with the Bible and the first century narrative. At least be that honest.
Your initial reaction may be, eh, who cares? If that’s the case, you probably won’t want to waste any more time reading further. But the fact is, it matters. It matters greatly.
If the modern day pastor is so toxic, then why does the position of modern pastor exist?
In short because we want it to. We want to be Christians, yes. But we also want to live our lives and do what we want to do. There simply is not time enough for both. As Mr. Shakespeare would say, aye, there’s the rub. Our dilemma is classically Western: we want to have it all. As Christians, the existence of the modern pastor allows for this possibility.
Unintentionally or not, we came up with having a paid professional whose job it is to seek God, come up with spiritual “content” and then, once or twice a week disseminate it to the rest of us. This arrangement works out perfectly because it allows us to still have time to watch movies and go golfing or work more (or whatever) and still receive regular spiritual edification if only indirectly from God.
The modern pastoral position is like a mother bird who works tirelessly flying all over creation seeking worms and seeds and bugs. Then, exhausted she flies back to the nest and regurgitates the gathered nutrition directly into the clamoring beaks of the birdlings, only to repeat the process again and again.
Now, that is normal– for a while. But even in the bird kingdom this arrangement comes to an end as the chicks eventually grow wings, get shoved out of the nest and learn to gather food on their own and eventually start an entirely new nest. Not so in the church of Jesus Christ these days. No, the way we practice now, the average believer remains an infant forever. The need to suckle at the breast of the mother never ends. And to ensure this arrangement we pay the professional to provide us the teet until we grow tired of his brand of milk and bring in the next breast from which to suckle.
The result is that the vast majority of God’s people remain in a perpetual state of Christian immaturity all the days of their lives. It’s Christian daycare under the guise of the Church. And it never ends. When that pastor dies or moves on, we simply replace him with another. When does the church ever reach the point of having been equipped that she outgrows her need for such constant ministry? The answer is, under this arrangement, she doesn’t. Ever. A small number of individuals do in fact grow up and move on but that is despite of the pastoral system, not because of it.
Folks, we have a Christian culture that is addicted to hearing preaching. We need a word, a message, a sermon and we need them continuously. So embedded in our minds is the notion that church is where we come to hear one person present us with a sermon, we are utterly incapable of conceiving of a church meeting where preaching a sermon/message is not a cornerstone of our spiritual existence. But it was not always so.
The modern-day pastoral arrangement is a symbiotic relationship, tacitly agreed to by both clergy and laity that, while perhaps initially positive, eventually turns parasitic because in reality, it should only exist for a very finite period. The New Testament is totally void of such a creature as the modern day pastor. You simply will not find him there anywhere in the pages of your Bible. Paul was not a pastor. The 12 were not pastors. Many of the letters that make up the New Testament were pieces of crisis literature, yet remarkably, not a single letter is addressed to the pastor. Or pastors. Because there were none. He wasn’t invented yet. Yet amazingly, each time you read your New Testament, you’re somehow blinded to that startling fact. That should bother us all a great deal more than it does.
The pastoral arrangement continues because it is extremely accommodating to the natural man. As I mentioned earlier, it allows us all to set the bar of what it means to be a follower of Jesus at an astonishingly low level. Essentially, all that is required of me is to show up once or twice a week, drop some money in the bin, roll up my sleeve, stick my arm out and get a spiritual injection from the paid professional. Then basically go back to my life for the other 164 hours a week doing what I prefer. And if the paid professional is particularly gifted, that’s even better. This convenient arrangement allows me to discharge my religious obligations, thus assuaging my conscience, while at the same time preserving the lifestyle I prefer to live. It also allows the guy who perhaps has a bit more fuel in his spiritual tank than the average believer to get paid doing what he loves to do. Additionally, it meets a range of psychological needs in both parties.
Ouch. You say, that’s harsh. That’s unfair. That’s judgmental. That’s generalizing.
No, it’s purely observational. What I am speaking of is largely an unconscious act. This pastoral arrangement is deeply imbedded in our fallen DNA. At its foundations, it is largely self-preservational. On both sides. That’s part of what I mean when I say pastors are in the Fall.
Personally, I have nothing against pastors as people. I have friends and family members who are pastors. Some of them are people I deeply respect. I can’t imagine a more untenable position than the modern-day pastor. Trying to perform a job that exists nowhere in scripture, they are attempting the impossibly futile. In most cases, my heart goes out to them. Short of being Jesus Christ incarnate, their frustration is assured. I would be more optimistic about using a rusty spoon to level Mt. Everest than I would about seeing the modern-day pastoral arrangement result in a functioning, mature body of believers. I have almost two millennia of history on my side with only a handful of exceptions.
Still, dear pastor, I am for you. The call to end this dysfunctional dynamic has both yours and God’s people’s best interests at heart. Really. What I am speaking about here doesn’t end in your demise; it results in your liberation! It also results in the unleashing of God’s people! That’s something you envisioned when you first entered the ministry. But for many of you that dream lay buried in a pile of dusty old dreams. It doesn’t have to be that way friends.
If you’re honest, most of you in pastoral ministry are frequently frustrated with God’s people. And they are often frustrated with you. The old quip about football comes to mind because it’s so spiritually applicable to the pastor/laity dynamic:
“Football is 22 people on the field who need rest and 22,000 people in the stands who need exercise.”
Pastor, the same is largely true in your church. There is a way to change all that. But it will require heaps of courage, a sense of adventure, a boat load of creativity and a very un-American dose of humility. One more thing: it could possibly cost you your regular paycheck. Quite frankly, that’s the main reason why I can safely say we will have the current pastoral system with us until the day the Lord reappears.
In the final analysis, as most of us have already discovered, the hired gun arrangement doesn’t work. Either the pastor grows exhausted and breaks down or fades out. Or in order to keep the arrangement going he needs to become a dictator. Or our spiritual taste buds grow weary of his brand of food and we replace him with another, fresher flavor. Or whatever. The members get frustrated with the pastor. The pastor is frustrated with the members. Relationships are brought to an end and new people are brought in only to repeat the cycle. But no one ever questions the real culprit: the modern pastoral system. I am not picking on just pastors here. This is a two way street. It takes two parties to continue this type of arrangement.
Pastors are in the Fall.
Following Jesus Christ can have pretty exacting requirements. But we all have the same price to pay. The price of salvation was exactly one life: His. The price of experiencing the kingdom here and now is also one life: yours. Yes, in order to see the kingdom we all claim we want so badly to see manifested here on earth, it will require you to die daily. That daily dying will probably take on a different form each day. This can get exhausting. And in the end, we can find ourselves willing to let someone else go searching for the riches of Jesus Christ and His kingdom and bring them to us, pre-chewed and pre-digested.
Yes, pastors are certainly in the Fall.
I am not calling for an end to it either. That would be like calling for an end to weather. It ain’t gonna happen folks. We will have this clergy/laity thing until the day Jesus returns. Pastors are in the Fall. And the Fall will be with us (even us believers) until the end.
But none of this is even the point.
If your church is great and your pastor is great, God bless you– stay right where you are. Pastor, if your congregation is the best group of people, keep riding that horse. Godspeed.
But if, like me, you are one of those incurable cases who can’t seem to shake the notion that there must be more to the Body of Christ, you might want to check out the next article. If you long to be in a gathering of believers that are clearly being led but you can’t tell who is doing the leading and what you behold is wonderful and glorious and dynamic and rich in Christ, then the next article might be of interest to you.
The real question is, how do we break out of this stagnant dynamic?
Ah, now that’s where the real fun begins.
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