Before I became one, I had all kinds of ideas about the role of the local pastor. I often saw these men preaching, praying, and visiting church members. And I had some beliefs about pastoral ministry that I discovered were unbiblical. In some cases I held attitudes and expectations that were entirely unhealthy. Over the years I’ve encountered scores of people who have either excoriated me or left our church because of some of these bad and unbiblical ideas. So, it’s time for me to go on record.
Your Pastor is Not…
- An Entertainer. Sure he may be good with a story element here or there. He may even be adept at orchestrating a worship environment that holds the interest of entertainment obsessed believers. But that is not his biblical responsibility. If you want Vegas, then get a ticket and go there. It’s not your pastor’s job to turn the church into cirque du soleil. He is a shepherd who leads the sheep, bleeds for the sheep, and feeds the sheep (Jn. 21:17). That is his biblical responsibility.
- Your Professor. I don’t know how many churches I’ve seen over the years that have basically been turned into very ingrown mini Bible colleges. The people in those churches know the word like nobody’s business, but they are often mean Christians. They often don’t reflect the love of God for others, they speak harshly and have a tendency to judge the world around them as “going to hell in a hand basket.” If your Bible study doesn’t produce the same love and character in you that was in Christ Jesus, then you are morphing into a modern day Pharisee. Jesus told these snarky and snooty leaders, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life. Yet, you refuse to come to me and I would give you life.” Learn your Bible. And act like Jesus.
- A CEO. When I was a kid we used to fold our hands a play a game called “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple.” You turn your hands over and wiggle your fingers around a bit, and finish by saying “Open the door, and see all the people.” This game is absolutely wrong. The church is not the building that houses a bunch of church people. The church is the people. It’s not a business, it’s not a corporation, and it’s not a charity organization. It’s an existential reality—a living breathing thing. Now, there are undoubtedly business realities that pastors face in American culture. Yes your church will have to comply with state laws, it will have to handle and report its finances well. And no one wants to attend a mismanaged church. Often this will require your congregation to interact with a very business-driven culture in a savvy way. But the church is individual Christians coming together—gathering, growing, and scattering—that is what it means to be the church of Jesus. And your pastor is a godly leader who is called to assemble, teach, and send the faithful into a world that Jesus died for.
- The Holy Spirit. The Spirit is everywhere all the time. But your pastor is one, limited human being who cannot do what only God can do. It’s the Spirit’s job to form your character as you practice spiritual disciplines. Your pastor can encourage, admonish, instruct and even occasionally inspire you to a life of discipleship—but he cannot change your heart and your values. In fact, not even the Holy Spirit can make this change unless we cooperate with him through obedience and faith (Rom 1:5).
- A Rock Star. Congregations who turn their pastors into celebrities often end up disappointed because these flawed men turn out to be (surprise!) flawed men. The recent situation surrounding the resignation of Mark Driscoll highlights this fact. To distill it: Driscoll was a young, hot, up-and-coming pastor-celebrity who simply flew to high and went too long without accountability and without checks on his out-of-control ego. And like Icarus he came down hard. And we should not be at all surprised that his arrogance and hubris was followed by a fall. That is what Scripture says happens to those who are exalted in their own eyes and propped up by a celebrity hungry church. Mars Hill church, and the rest of us who bought his books and put up with his crap, to some degree are complicit in creating a charismatic superstar who was long overdue for his come-upins. Your pastor is to be a humble manager and overseer of a local congregation.
- Your Mom. He isn’t going to wake you up in the morning and read the Bible to you on your way to work and lead you in prayer in the morning. He can’t be there to individually coach you on how to raise your kids and treat your spouse. His job is to lead you to the green grass of God’s Word, to commit you to prayer and to train you how to live a god-honoring life. But at some point, you as the church member are going to have to pick up the Bible for yourself, read it, pray through it, read some books, and engage in Christian community.
- Your Personal Ministry Assistant. Believe it or not, it isn’t your job to equip your pastor for ministry. It’s his job to prepare you for the work of serving with your spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:12). I can’t tell you how many times someone has come into my office and shared their vision for a wonderful ministry in the church, only to end the conversation by asking, “So when can you start this ministry pastor?” My response is always to recruit them immediately on the spot.
- A Solo Act. He cannot possibly do his job without other elders (Acts 14:23), servant-leaders (deacons) and other paid pastors (if finances allow). Pastoral ministry is a team sport. And any model of ministry where one pastor does all the decision making without consulting other smart, spiritual, and gifted leaders is foolish. That pastor will either fail morally or run that church into the ground by repeated blundering. It takes the collective wisdom and integrity of a team to lead a prevailing church.
What are your thoughts on what a pastor is and isn’t.
What experiences, good or bad, have you had with pastors in the past?