November 26, 2020

Ajith Fernando on Pastoral Ministry

By Chaplain Mike

In contrast to the “Disneyized” bigger, better, event and attraction oriented approach of much that we call “ministry” today, there are pastors who understand the importance of daily faithfulness, quiet consistency, regular personal interaction with those in their congregations, and ministry activities like pastoral visitation and encouraging people to fulfill their vocations in the world.

I have sometimes heard other pastors disdainfully refer to these ministers as “plodders.” In church growth terminology, they are “shepherds.” From that perspective, however, this is not a positive term. Church growth specialists believe that churches are better served by “ranchers.” This is their way of saying that growing churches require their pastors to transition from ministers to leaders. They must move from being personally involved on the congregational level to being overseers who supervise “under-shepherds” who do most of the actual ministry. They become the “CEO’s,” the “vision-casters.” They become the iconic faces of their organizations and keepers of the institutions, not servants who minister personally to the flock.

In contrast, I am an unapologetic proponent of small to mid-sized churches that are rooted in their communities and are led by shepherds, not ranchers. I have made the point elsewhere that there may well be a place for some larger churches in certain settings because of the nature of the community or because those churches self-consciously determine that God is calling them to marshal resources that can be shared with smaller churches in the same region. However, I think it would be much healthier if we had many smaller churches with faithful and healthy pastors who worked unceasingly on the level of personal ministry than the kinds of large corporate churches modeled on institutional principles arising from our culture rather than from Biblical example and theological reflection.

I have a heart for pastors in those kinds of churches because that is what I was for many years. I know how hard it is. I know how soon one can lose focus and get discouraged. I know how tempting it is to think there must be an easier way, a more efficient and effective way to achieve “success” in ministry and “grow” the church.

Today, I want to share some words from one of my favorite books on pastoral ministry. I hope they will challenge and encourage those of you who are out on the front lines and who believe strongly in your calling to be pastors in the true sense of the term. Your heart has been captured by God’s grace in Jesus, and the love of the Spirit has filled your heart. You want others to know that grace and experience that love. You want to make disciples of Jesus, not adherents of a brand-name church or followers of a particular Christian methodology. You have a heart to serve and you want to know how to become more like Jesus and the apostles in the way you serve.

Ajith Fernando’s book, Jesus Driven Ministry, is an invaluable resource for pastors who want to pursue a Jesus-shaped vocation. Here are a few words of wisdom and realism from it that reinforce the calling and give encouragement for how to fulfill it.

Some of us may feel that we are not gifted in ministering to the sick, visiting homes, and such pastoral duties. Yet that is our call. In our ministry we do many things that we may not like to do and for which we are not particularly gifted. However, tackling these tasks really enriches our ministries. We saw above that visitation gets us close to people and to their needs, and we get to know them better. This contact in turn enables us to minister to them much more effectively. These experiences will influence our preaching and improve our skills in apply the Word to our hearers. So whether we like it or not, we do it; for we are servants of the people, and we must be close to them and their needs.

I have found the words of the great British New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce very helpful. When asked about the principles he followed in determining God’s will for his life, he replied: “Very simply: First I do what I am paid to do; then I do what I have to do; and then I do what I would like to do.” I think we are not very skilled at doing many of the things we have to do in ministry. But if we have adequate opportunity to use our gifts, then we could handle having to do things that we don’t like and are not gifted for.

As a Bible teacher I have found that having to do things I don’t enjoy has really helped me to apply biblical truth to my hearers, even though I often complain about those things. So ultraspecialization can be a dangerous thing. We in poorer nations cannot afford it. But those who study in the West and come back to minister in poorer countries often feel unfulfilled because they are doing a lot of things deemed unnecessary according to the value system they absorbed in the West. But I think overspecialization is a luxury we don’t need in either richer or poorer countries. This practice can produce specialists who are out of touch with their context of ministry.

Christian ministers specialize out of generalist background. that is, while they do many different types of ministries they also take time to exercise their special gifts. I have come to believe that if we really like about 20 percent of the work we do and generally find about 40 percent acceptable, then we can handle the 40 percent that we do not like. but as we saw above, the 40 percent that we don’t like may be vital in giving relevance and depth to our ministry. If, however, we find that in the exercise of our responsibilities, there is almost nothing that we like and feel competent at doing, then perhaps we are in the wrong work.


  1. I’ve been a member of small churches and big churches, Catholic, Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Pentecostal, and I’ve never had a pastor “shepherd” me, encouraging me personally in my vocation in the world. Don’t they all do that through their sermons? The Catholic priests came closest to seeming to care about me as a person and my vocation. It was such a joy to go to a Catholic conference on spiritual gifting and have the leader call out mothers to come forward for a blessing for their vocation as a wife and mother. The others seem more interested in helping everyone find their “ministry” within the church but don’t seem to help people live out their Christian life every day in their vocations whether as farmers, accountants, homemakers, etc. Or even care. What ever happened to pastors like you read about in the old days where they would visit the farmer or businessman and spend a day working with him? Now it seems to be more about building their churches up and using peoples gifts for that.

    And perhaps women should mentor women and men should mentor men in this area? I do not think I’d feel comfortable with one on one mentoring from a male pastor. Too much room for potential gossip or worse.

    • Kathy –

      As a pastor I can say “Amen” to your sentiments, and there are some of us who believe that ministry happens where we are – not in the church building or even as a vocationally-called worker. Those “in the marketplace” have a true calling, to live lives of integrity and Jesus-likeness, and they need our care and our prayers!

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. You’re right, Mike, that far too many pastors are neglecting the day-to-day, person-to-person work of a pastor in the name of big dreams and visions. But I also think that many of those with a true pastor’s heart fall into the trap of taking on too heavy of a burden for too long and end up burned out and disillusioned. Maybe these pastors are failing to see or take advantage of the wealth of ministerial gifts and eager hearts to be found within the ranks of their own congregations. While there are certainly plenty of church members with the “that’s what we pay the pastor for” attitude, I would dare say there are many more who are itching for some real, practical ways in which to serve the Lord and their fellow believers. But I think many such Christians have been given the impression that they are not qualified or educated or gifted enough to engage in ministerial activities — and that their only functions in the body of Christ are to listen to sermons, sing hymns, pay tithes, and warm a pew. What they need is permission and then a real opportunity to serve.
    And why not? Why shouldn’t pastors take one or two of their flock with them when they make the visitation rounds? And why shouldn’t pastors mentor these willing servants — investing in them the things they’ve learned about encouraging the lonely and comforting the grieving and praying with those suffering hardships and sharing the gospel with the lost? And in those times when there aren’t enough hours in the day, pastors would then have a reliable list of people they can call on to do what they don’t have time to do or go where they don’t have time to go.
    I think many churches can be compared to an audience of spectators gathered around an Olympic-size swimming pool, watching and applauding as professional divers perform tricks for them. And those who seek that applause will try to make sure this arrangement stays in place. But a true pastor will set his aim at getting his flock out of the bleachers and into the water with him — and maybe even up on the highdive. And a true pastor will seek to diminish his flock’s reliance on his ministerial abilities, while increasing the Body’s capacity to minister to itself.
    I guess what I”m saying is that sermons and studies and programs are just fine — but they just aren’t sufficient when it comes to equipping the saints to do the work God has ordained for them to do. In order to start breaking down that invisible but very real barrier between intention and action, most people need some hands-on experience. And most need a trusted hand to hold as they take that first leap. I would submit that being that trusted hand is part of a true pastor’s job.

    • I understand your point, and I believed this for most all my life. Then, I had a realization that having a “Rancher” pastor makes the problem you talk about worse, not better. “Rancher” pastors create a congregation where large numbers of people gather to listen to the “Show” on Sunday, and almost no one is doing ministry. Not only is the pastor not visiting the sick, or ministering to the grieving, but no one else is either.

      A “Shepherding” pastor can fall into the trap of trying to do it all himself, but with proper mentoring from older pastors, that problem can be fixed.

      • I certainly hope I didn’t come across as promoting rancher pastors over shepherding pastors. Ranchers seek out the “gifted” people in the congregation in order to expand the leadership structure in a pyramidal fashion underneath them. They delegate work and responsibilities in order to free themselves up for what they see as their “true” calling — or they just free themselves from stuff they’d rather not do. And, like you pointed out, everything becomes even more focused on centerstage, while the real, not-so-glamorous work of personal, relational ministry is neglected.
        What I”m suggesting is that shepherd pastors invite and encourage and disciple those willing among their flock to join them in their daily work and routine of personal, relational ministry.

    • I agree with you humanslug, and I think we are talking about the same thing—you just brought up an additional detail. A key point you made is “getting his flock out of the bleachers and into the water with him.” The key words there are “with him.” Pastors are not coaches who stand on the sidelines and don’t play the game. They are more like “player-coaches” who go on the field and play right alongside their teammates. I’ve heard far too many use the word “equipping” to mean, “You are supposed to be doing it, not me.” No, we do it together.

      • Well said, Mike.
        But what I see in so many churches is this strange, unspoken state of affairs where the members of the congregation live their spiritual lives vicariously through the words, actions, and performance of the church leadership. And I don’t think it’s so much a matter of the leaders wanting it that way — it’s more an issue of either not recognizing that divide or just not knowing how to breach it. There’s just something about mounting a stage or a podium or a pulpit that creates a real psychological barrier and an unrealistic bubble of expectation between performer and observer. And that barrier and bubble will persist as long as the performer/observer venue remains the primary context of interaction and relationsip between shepherds and sheep. If pastors truly want co-workers beside them in the field (rather than fans or admirers or even critics), then they are going to have to find ways to bridge that divide and burst that bubble.

      • I’ve heard far too many use the word “equipping” to mean, “You are supposed to be doing it, not me.” No, we do it together.

        Oh my; this word, like “discipleship’, is near ruined for me (but not yet); I realize that I have to choose to NOT be disaffected by my experience; the word of GOD is true , HIS promises are true, and we are all fallen. An encouraging sign is that I think many of the next generation of pastors/shepherds (or at least some of the more visible ones) get this and are starting to demonstrate it and teach on it.


    • Your picture of the olympic pool is excellent. I go to a tiny church and I’m thankful for what we have…but the sunday morning ‘show’ is still a temptation. I think it’s a huge struggle in most american churches and I’m not sure exactly where it comes from…is it our laodicea culture – is it our Western Enlightenment heritage? I’m just really thankful for places like here and the emergent movement that have actually shaken things up and started asking these questions. The church of my youth and most churches in my area – this subject would never have come up – the rancher and his musician cowboys/cowgirls sunday rodeo show was taken for granted.

  3. Another Mary says

    Thank you Chaplain Mike. I’d begun to think that I was either just too old (61) or so busy with my professional life the past 30 years that I’d somehow missed changes in church philosophy. I felt my discontent with the ‘ranch’ style ministering at my church was just my own complaining. And, I’m still not sure it it’s not a better idea for the younger members….I don’t know. They seem enthused by it.

    In the meantime I will continue to pray for my Pastor and seek the Lord in my daily life. I don’t know what else to do. My husband and I have tried to approach the subject of a more shepherding style of to the Pastor and the idea has been quickly dismissed as out of date and no longer effective.

    I am really gratefule for this site and the discussions.

  4. Man. First the Ken Ham/Disney post, then the Eugene Peterson interview, and now this. This is why I love this site.

  5. I realize that one reason we have a shortage of shepherding pastors is training. I am familiar with three worlds (Lutheran, Southern Baptist, and Non-denominational). I know the Southern Baptist seminaries seem to do almost no training on shepherding. Graduates seem to be experts in over-analyzing every verb and noun in the Greek and Hebrew, but seem to know nothing practical. Non-denominational either seem to come out of the SBC world or have no training at all. I have been pleasantly surprised by Lutheran, they seem to do quite a bit of training on shepherding and ministering to the grieving.

    • It’s good to see it recognized. It is a huge emphasis in Pastoral Theologie’s going back to Luther himself. If you don’t know your people how can you preach to them? If you don’t visit your people, how can you know them?
      this is also why mega churches and Lutheran churches don’t mesh. there are some that call themselves Lutheran, but the ethos is lost.

  6. My father-in-law, who passed away in 2007, pastored small churches for 35 + years and was beloved as a shepherd pastor by many people. I’m sure there were discouraging times, as there are in all our lives. But he personally touched the lives of people on a deep level. My husband and his brothers recently visited a small church their dad had pastored 40+ years ago and were greeted like brothers. The members who had attended all those years ago told the brothers that their dad had touched their hearts and lives in a way no other had. What a legacy to leave! And my husband and all his brothers and all their children are serving God in various ways around the world. God has blessed the faithfulness of this pastor and his wife.

  7. Chaplain Mike,

    If you want to I’d like to get your thoughts on a couple of things if you feel they are on topic.

    I am now a Transistional Deacon awaiting furhter ordination as a priest in the future. (Anglican) I was a baptist pastor for 7 years. Rural, country, hardshell, fundie type churches. One thing I did learn there, and it probably had more to do with it being rural than anything else, was that folks really welcomed their pastors into their lives. It was very common for men who pastored in these churches to keep very regular visitation of folks in thier homes, at ball games, in hospitals and all that. So I learned some good pastoring skills there. But here are my two things I’d like to see you interact with.

    1. Burn out in these churches is incredible. I think it is because the preacher here is expected to have some new great revelation each and every week. The sermon is always the central part of the service and the entire “success” of the service is tied to the pastor and his sermon. I was at my wits end. I didn’t change for that reason, but one benefit I found in liturgical worship was that the pastor’s sermon was now not the focus of every service. The Table was.

    2. You may have addressed it before, but I’d like to here your thoughts on bi-vocational ministry. I’ve always been bi-vocational but it is very very tough. You feel like you never get it all done and you often feel as if you don’t devote enough time to the church, your family, or your secular work. You just end up feeling inefficient. This has gotten better since I’ve learned over the years to prioritize, but I’d really like to here some of these full time guys say they feel the same way. It would make me feel better.

    • 1. I think you’ve given your own answer to your first question. That’s not to say pastors in liturgical churches don’t burn out. But listen, I am not saying the pastor should do it all. Appropriate, common sense boundaries are always in order. And it does require a life of personal discipline to maintain those boundaries and properly delegate responsibilities. I’ll confess I wasn’t always good at that.

      2. You are also right about bi-vocational ministry. Unless someone has extraordinary capacity, I would imagine that’s a tough road. Though I’ve not done it in the way you describe, I would imagine it requires even stronger boundaries, more teamwork with members of the congregation, some lower expectations about what “excellence” may be with regard to ministry, and a very disciplined life.

    • Well austin,
      I know of full time ministry guys that are burned out. I find regular prayer and devotion, as well as exercise to be of help staving off burnout. But I’ve only been at it for going on seven now.
      I just picked up part time work as a hospice chaplain, and I’m tentative about it.

    • Austin, have followed your journey here on IM for years now as a fellow reader. Would love to ask you a few questions sometime, but don’t have access to an email address for you. Any way I could get in touch?

      • Bill,

        I just went to your website and submitted my email. Didn’t know if was allowed to post it here.

        Let’s talk sometime.


    • As someone walking the Canterbury Trail alongside you, Austin, and as a bi-vocational pastor myself, I understand the challenges.

      Years of doing college and youth ministry in evangelical churches, trying to come up with the next sermon series that would “radically transform” young people, and putting just as many hours into building relationships, sermon prep, ministry planning, etc…as the full-time pastors was frustrating, indeed.

      For me, moving into a more liturgical setting has helped me order my creativity, instead of stabbing into the dark for sermon series. The lectionary is a lifesaver. I feel like the sermons I’ve composed over the past four months have been richer (and shorter) than any I did previously in ten years of ministry. I also value the Table being the center of worship highly.

      Being bi-vocational is a challenge. Sometimes I feel as though there are certain things I must accomplish as a pastor in order to be able to do ministry full-time, then I conversely feel I won’t have time to do those things without actually being full-time. Everyone will agree that prioritizing and having a good support team is key. It’s hard to not want to be the rancher, though, grabbing hold and taking charge.

    • Austin,

      I gotta say, your questions are the same ones I have. I’m in the early stages of discernment toward ordination in an Anglican Church, but spent significant time in ministry in a previous tradition (the deaconate and in music ministry). Burn-out was a HUGE issue for so many in my prior ministry. And I expect that I will spend much of my future ministry bi-vocationally. I put my business website as a link in my name just now (usually I leave that blank). My email addy is on that site. I’d love to correspond with you on our respective ministry journeys.

  8. I resonate with this post and feel it has corresponding applications in any work that God gives you to do.

    ” Your heart has been captured by God’s grace in Jesus, and the love of the Spirit has filled your heart. You want others to know that grace and experience that love. You want to make disciples of Jesus, not adherents of a brand-name church or followers of a particular Christian methodology. You have a heart to serve and you want to know how to become more like Jesus and the apostles in the way you serve.”

    This exerpt from you post is so key for all of us in life and ministry. If we stop drawing our life from this reality, any work or ministry or even everyday life will lose itself and become something less than Jesus shaped reality. OTOH, If this remains central to our life, the grace of God can bless various shapes and sizes of churches or work. And as we remain rooted and grounded in the above, these shapes and sizes will become less important as Jesus becomes greater while the forms (incl. ways and means) will also be transformed. If we lose Christ as the center in our life, our “gifts” and “strengths”, along with what system or method seems to be the most successful will become the center rather than Christ.

  9. My family has not received an unsolicited pastoral visit in 15 years.

    (Part of that is our fault for living several of those years in a muslim country and for repatriating out of reach of Chaplain Mike — for he was one of the pastoral pair who made the visit I spoke of.)

    Things certainly have changed since I was a kid growing up on the farm. Preacher Larry loved to make the rounds, and would turn up at odd places and unexpected times. I remember looking up from the corn I was harvesting one October and seeing Larry waiting at the end of the row just so he could jump on the combine and ride a couple of rounds with me before moving on to the neighbor in the next field. There was no question of ‘burn out’ in his case. He loved visiting, and he was energized by it.

    Is it fair to question whether anyone who takes the job of pastor and doesn’t like visiting (or refuses to visit) his flock is really called and qualified to hold the job?

    • andy,

      I agree. I once was in talks with a pastor about a new position at his church “outreach pastor” He said that really wans’t his calling. Strange I thought.

    • Different people have different gifts and abilities, yet are “called” to ministry. I have a stutter. This makes it very difficult and draining to preach. There are many other roles I can play in full time ministry, all of which have the title “Pastor”. Preaching however is not likely to be one of them. Yet good luck trying to get a job in a church when you are not a fluent speaker. The same thing goes for visitation. One Pastor I knew was not very comfortable with visitation. So he set up a structure where the elders took over that responsibility. For that church it worked well.

      My point is, use people according to their strengths, and complement them with others where they have weaknesses, and the kingdom of God will be advanced.

      • This sounds well and good. But forgive me if I press a bit harder.

        Would you ever say someone is a good carpenter except for the sawing and nailing parts? He’s a good doctor, though diagnosing and treating illness isn’t his thing? Our quarterback’s strength isn’t on offense?

        No! Sawing and nailing, diagnosing and treating, and offense are clearly seen as essential to these jobs. The question is whether a pastor who doesn’t visit is a pastor at all.

        >>My point is, use people according to their strengths, and complement them with others where they have weaknesses, and the kingdom of God will be advanced. <<

        This can work, but it requires a staff of several pastors or demi-pastors. Most churches don't have that many, and the vital pastoral function gets neglected. Is the better solution to have more megachurches with dozens of pastors on staff, or is it the type of church Mike describes in the OP?

        • In my case I would be an excellent “Pastor” (or at least I think I would), but would struggle on Sunday morning. Others are excellent teachers, but struggle with the Patoral side of things. Team ministry is only possible in a small percentage of churches.

          What you rather that I do? Offer myself up as the broken imperfect vessel that I am, or not offer myself up at all?

          Unfortunately we use the word “Pastor” to refer to almost all of those in full time ministry, were as the word “Minister” has a wider meaning of one who serves. But “Minister Mike” has a funny ring to it, and I never did like the title “Reverend”.

          • >> What you rather that I do? Offer myself up as the broken imperfect vessel that I am, or not offer myself up at all? <<

            I don't presume to tell anyone what they ought to do. But I would say that every church, regardless of its size or denomination or setting, ought to embrace the whole task. Shouldn't any church that is putting off pastoral service to its current congregation (and I think that is most churches), either because none of the staff enjoy it or because something else is a higher priority, feel obliged to correct the oversight?

          • Shouldn’t any church that is putting off pastoral service to its current congregation (and I think that is most churches), either because none of the staff enjoy it or because something else is a higher priority, feel obliged to correct the oversight?

            Absolutely. I am not saying that it should not happen.

            You started off your comment by writing “My family has not received an unsolicited pastoral visit in 15 years. ” So what solutions did you bring forward to correct this issue? I haven’t received an unsolicited Pastoral visit in 6 years. But I have become part of a “Small group” that ministers to each other. And, in recent years I have taken leadership responsibilities for that group.

          • we’re up against some sort of limit to the number of posts that can nest inside another. I hope this will fall in the right place in the thread.

            >> So what solutions did you bring forward to correct this issue? <<

            I don't think there is any other solution than responsible people doing what must be done. When I was working as a missionary, I made those visits.

            Small groups are good things, but aren’t they a substitute for secular friends — rather than for pastoral involvement?:

          • Good job on the nesting!

            I think that if we get too much into small groups we will be getting too far off of topic.


            No, I never considered small groups a substitutions for secular friends. In fact December 30th, our small group is hosting a Christmas party and skate, and we have challenged each other for each of us to invite 5 of our outside the church friends and neigbours.

            If I look over the last 25 years, small groups has been the context in which I have grown the most spiritually, and where I have felt the most “cared” for. My current group is one where we can share some of our most difficult problems, and know that we have a caring and praying ear.

    • >> My family has not received an unsolicited pastoral visit in 15 years. <<

      I shouldn't have said this.

      When we were overseas (a period that falls within the past 15 years) we were mostly visited by our agency bosses for their own supervisory and developmental purposes. But we also had a few visits that were genuinely pastoral. (And to again give credit where credit is due, Chaplain Mike was one of those who came to see us with a suitcase full of shampoo, M&Ms, bandaids and sermon tapes.)

  10. Great article and an interesting blog. Visiting for the first time, and reminded it’s just about a year ago our small congregation completed construction of our 100 foot tall church cross cell tower. The project, with some small amount of public relations effort, earned newspaper and television stories around the world, from the Times of London to the NY Post and even a late night monologue joke.

    Importantly, it all began with some out of the box thinking about ministry and outreach. That is nothing though, if there’s then no small amount of leadership to take the ball and run. Since then, I’ve heard from churches all over the country, and I’ve even added that to the marketing tools I offer churches to promote themselves, and our congregation and preschool have grown in spite of the downturn.

    Epiphany Lutheran Church

  11. Chaplain Mike, I’m on internship in WV where God willing, I would like to pastor after I finish seminary (ELCA) next year. In this synod, the bishop is adamant about the importance of visitation. If a pastor isn’t willing to spend much of his/her time in visitation, he doesn’t want them here. In a couple of churches that have had problems and are now without pastors, the pastors had stopped visiting members of the congregation. Here it is expected.

    Great post and thank you.

    • David Cornwell says

      You bishop is on the right path. I had a District Superintendent just like that. He was one of the most sought after pastors in the conference, mainly because he did the work of a true pastor. He had other gifts as well, but he core of his ministry was his pastoral role.

      Have fun in WV. I was born there and still love it.

  12. Chaplain Mike,

    I agree with your preference for smaller churches (that makes two of us!).

    I have read some of the things that Michael Spencer wrote about the drawbacks of smaller churches. Mr. Spencer labored long as a pastor, and I have no right to question his wisdom, yet I don’t think he ever specifically called for larger churches, just many new smaller churches (he said new church plants were always good).

    For me, coming to the realization that smaller localized churches are a more ideal way to do ministry came from reading Wendell Berry’s writings. After reading Berry, I haven’t fully recovered. For many years I attended a church many miles from my home, and Berry made me feel guilty about that. Did I really know the people I saw at church? Did I see them in other contexts? Did I have a shot at influencing the community?

    Today I attend a small evangelical church about a mile away from my house on top of a hill. It isn’t perfect, but those people are my people, and I think God wants me to love them even if they don’t cater to my specific “needs.”

    I don’t mean to condemn or cast aspersions on anyone who attends a large church or a faraway church. God calls us to different things; you have to walk in the Spirit. This is where I am, not where everyone should be.

  13. It seems to me that the idea of the CEO mentality stems from a how a person perceives the Church as an institution.

    If the pastor and the church are to teach people about the faith so that they will do…. X,Y,Z then the CEO is an acceptable model. However, if the church is the place that creates faith in people through very ordinary means and sustains that faith through repentance, prayer, communion, fellowship of believers than the model cannot work. My pastor knows me, knows my selfishness, knows me as a forgiven sinner. At times in service, when he is pronouncing forgiveness of sins (at Christ’s command) or through communion, he looks at me to make sure this reality is proclaimed to me. Why people would give up this shepherding for the latest video spectacular, a charismatic hot shot young pastor in jeans, or a fancy building to here about the the law (confused as if it was the gospel in disguise) I do not know.

  14. CM, I agree that the CEO model which is so prevalent isn’t a good one. But you seem to be advocating that the alternative is someone who handles all aspects of “ministry”, of course within certain reasonable limits. How does that match up with Paul’s establishment of a separate caretaking ministry (deacons) and teaching ministry? It seems there was to be the sort of separation of responsibility which you (and others) advocate against. I understand there’s a difference between having someone who is primarily in a teaching ministry but also cares a lot about the people around him and strives to make and maintain personal relationships as opposed to a CEO who just looks at the “institution” and never gets out among the people. I tend to agree with your view—not arguing against it—but I’m interested in your thoughts about the balance between the jack-of-all-trades approach versus the Pauline separation-of-duties approach.

    • Is not Paul’s stance of “I cared to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified” not the most pastoral position and activity a pastor can do? At least at the popular media level, these mega CEO pastors do not even proclaim this.

    • Delegation of duties is entirely appropriate at times. I don’t see that contradicting what I’m saying here. No one is saying the pastor should do everything. He should not avoid, however, what is central to his calling.

      • Hi Chaplain Mike,

        As Pastors, do we all have the same calling? It seems to me that within the “Pastor” role, there can be quite a difference in the gifting and exercise of gifts. I am not putting down the importance of visitation. It is very important. But I also don’t see, as some have insinuated here, that you can say to someone, sorry, you are not very good in this area, you are not suited for full time ministry.

        I feel strongly about this, because I have had those words said to me by a district superintendent who didn’t know me very well. In my case it was speaking ability.

        In my case there is almost a 100% correlation between how fluent my speech has been, and my success in job interviews. Some of us are meant to be part of teams, or if they are in a solo position, in a place where their weaknesses can be compensated for.

  15. This is un-American!!!!!!
    I like it 🙂 Thanks Chaplain Mike

  16. Before we start listing home visitation as the essence of pastoral ministry, perhaps we should step back and see how deeply the New Testament deals with it. Okay, a shepherd should know his sheep, right? What else do we have? How many examples in Acts of church leaders going to peoples home for visitation purposes? How many times did Paul say he did it and others should follow his example? How many times is is talked about it the epistles? Surely it’s a major theme in the pastorals?

    If It is argued that the cultural norms were different, that only proves the point that the expectation that an ordained clergy should visit every members home is a cultural one. Andy, when is the last time your doctor made a house call? Certainly he could help you better medically if he knew more about your family and lifestyle. My point is not to equate the ministry with medicine, but point out that many of the expectations we place on pastors are more cultural than strictly biblical.

    • Home visitation is one method, JR. The practice is knowing your people, their lives and their vocations. I would include visiting people at their places of work, meeting for coffee at the local restaurants, making good use of the telephone to keep in touch with people, participating in community projects with others, etc.

      And I heartily disagree that this is not in the NT. In fact, once you start asking the question, “HOW did Jesus and the apostles minister?” you will find almost nothing but personal interactions in homes, public places, work places, etc.

      For example, look at 1Thessalonians 2, where Paul describes his personal ministry among them. Background studies indicate that Paul most likely lived in an Insula, a sort of boarding house that was attached to the workplaces and shops of the agora, the marketplace. He lived with the people, he worked with the people, he ate with the people, he socialized with the people. Also, I would suggest looking at the end of Acts 9, where Peter (an apostle!) is described as being “among the believers.” In the course of his time there, he visits a bedridden man, attends a small funeral gathering, and stays in the home of a tanner (which was not in the best part of town because of the mess and odor created by that profession).

      With all due respect, I think you totally miss the mark with your comment.

    • JR says:

      >> Andy, when is the last time your doctor made a house call? Certainly he could help you better medically if he knew more about your family and lifestyle. My point is not to equate the ministry with medicine, but point out that many of the expectations we place on pastors are more cultural than strictly biblical. <<

      Doctors don't make housecalls because they are in business for their own profit, and they can make more money scheduling patients in 20-minute blocks at the office than by driving from place to place. When doctors did make house calls, their patients typically had no cars or only one, and the doctor had to travel to the patients if he wished to transact business with them.

      And yes, your analogy is fitting. A pastor who is chiefly concerned with his own convenience, comfort and personal expenses (as a doctor is concerned with maximizing his own profit) has good reason to sit at home or in his office.

      Chaplain Mike has shown that the New Testament DOES provide examples of pastoral outreach. So it is Biblical. But I accept that it is also cultural. And its true that Americans don't visit each other nearly as much now as 30 or more years ago. The question is whether pastors ought to conform to that change, or oppose it.

      Are there any good, positive reasons why pastors ought to stay away from their flock's homes?

  17. An unexamined assumption lurking behind all this is that churches ought to have “pastors” at all. As I read the comments above, the question that repeatedly occurred to me is “Why do these people think they need a clergyman to come visit them, give them advice, etc.?”

    Historically, Protestant clerical roles evolved from the Catholic priesthood. Some of the radical reformers went further than the magesterials with the “priesthood of all believers” idea, and got rid of clergy altogether. The most familiar example would probably be the (nonprogrammatic) Quakers. Of course this assumes a relatively activist, self-motivated congregation, which is one of their traditional strengths, but perhaps this is a model worth aspiring toward…?

    • This is beyond the scope of this post, Werner, but I do believe a case can be made for an ordained ministry. I don’t necessarily think there is one specific shape that has to take, but the office itself is not in doubt in my mind.

    • Werner says:

      >> An unexamined assumption lurking behind all this is that churches ought to have “pastors” at all. <<

      I for one certainly do make the assumption that churches need pastors.

      I thank you for bringing up the "priesthood of all believers." Before posting I took some time to read about it beyond the familiar I Peter 2:9.

      I'm not competent to discuss that principle. But I'll reply just from my experience. Few of the church congregations I've known could get by without good pastoral leadership. The pastoral leadership some of them get isn't very good, but that is a different problem.

      • I understand why a church would need a “director” or “ringmaster” to keep the “show” running, and / or a “CEO” to keep it in the black. What I don’t get is why churchgoers would particularly want to have a personal relationship with this person, have him (or occasionally her) over to their house, and in general defer to their opinions on theology and personal ethics. That would be to confuse the roles mentioned above with those of “counselor” or perhaps “rock star.”

        I wonder whether IM posters who are clergy might not feel themselves to be more indispensible to the religion than they actually are. Many of the defenses I see are essentially theological, which I won’t comment upon other than to say that any interpretation of, or conclusion about, biblical or Christian tradition and what it requires will inevitably be contentious. (Probably less so in specific denominational contexts–but here we seem to be talking about a church in which basic issues of governance and structure are being debated.)

        • The Seeker says

          I think there is a very big thing you are missing Werner.

          The goal in the Christian life is that we love God with all our heart,soul and mind and love our neighbour as ourselves. As such, the life is all about being transformed and becoming more like Jesus Christ.

          As such, it is not unfair to say we are all apprentices. An apprentice really needs a mentor to encourage them along in their life. The intention in Christianity is that we live our lives in community, not as a a lone ranger wandering around. Part of what we need are people who play the role of father/shepherd/elder. You won’t pick up becoming like Jesus from a book (goodness knows I have tried).

          So a pastor/minister (whatever title you call them) in the body of Christ is not just another professional like your lawyer or doctor that you contract for a service. Perhaps that is why so many get burned out.

  18. Chaplain Mike,

    Another practical consequence of the difference between shepherds and ranchers is that when confrontation of erring sheep is necessary, the shepherd will more often lovingly use “iron sharpens iron” methods, whereas the ranchers will more likely call that dreadful “meeting with the elders” and toss grenades. When the pastors are actually the ones in error in such cases, the shepherds are more likely to “get it” and have things smoothed out, or at least will know there is an “agree to disagree” situation that calls for patience. The ranchers will more likely destroy lives to get their way. My observation and experience, anyway.

    • Good point Steve. A similar aspect is that ranchers often have the ability to have a confrontation, then within days (or even hours) forget that the confrontation ever happened. Whereas the wounded person may need weeks or months to work through the emotions. A shepherd is more open to how different personalities deal with confrontation.

      The opposite can happen sometimes too. A rancher will sometime get obsessed with some minute detail, and constantly belabor the point for weeks. Every one else wants him to forget about it.

      In general, the personality of the rancher becomes the focus of the church, and the church bends around his personality. Those who can’t bend leave.

  19. This is my first comment in some time. But I felt compelled to say how good and timely this post is.

    My pastor is a shepherd (“plodder”) and is really fantastic. He is the only pastor I have ever had (and I have been around the block) who lives out the one-on-one approach to taking care of the flock. He has pastored our church of @ 200 people for the past 20 years. I will soon become an elder and this post reinforces my conviction that I must be a good shepherd, not a rancher. I must be a generalist. I must do all the things I don’t like as well as what I do. And I must do all I can to care for my fellow shepherds, in particular the pastor, as well as the sheep.

    Thanks again Chaplain Mike!