September 29, 2020

iMonk 101: The Magnificent Young Men and Their Pastoring Machines (Revisited)

Our wayback machine today takes us to the first year of Internet, where you’ll find a lengthy essay called “Those Magnificent Young Men and Their Pastoring Machines.” (Excuse the spelling errors. No proofreading in the old days.) It’s my original rant about what was happening to the practice of the pastorate at the time. I could have hardly imagined where we’d be today. (Warning: this was written almost 8 years ago, when I was a self-identified Calvinist in the ranks of the SBC. I am NOT a Calvinist today, but little has changed in my view of what it means to be a pastor.)

I hardly recognize today’s pastors as doing the same job as the typical pastors of my younger days. Of course, expectations were changing at the time, as I could see from what was crossing my desk when I was a pastor and what was happening at the megachurch just up the road.

I have real respect for faithful pastors. I have similar respect for young pastors who are seeking to be shepherds. But I have no respect for those who, under various banners, have turned the church into a business and the calling of a pastor into the work of a CEO and salesman.

There’s a conversation about what it means to be a pastor that isn’t happening in very many places. Instead, the conversation about how to grow a church goes on and on. Contrarians like Eugene Peterson are voices in the wilderness. The field is dominated by those whose churches fulfill the expectations of their entrepreneurial methodology.

I’m sure some will conclude I’m one of those people who have no business talking about this subject because I couldn’t pull off what today’s successful pastors are doing. If you want to conclude that I’m just a whining loser at the game, that’s fine and fair. I don’t want lead a chorus of complaining and badmouthing men who are laboring at one of the most difficult, costly callings in the world.

But as I said, there is a conversation that needs to happen. Confusion is starting to become the norm. Something is being lost in the rush for the next big thing. If that conversation is encouraged here at IM through this essay, then we’ve moved in the right direction.

READ: Those Magnificent Young Men And Their Pastoring Machines

NOTE: I’m willing to allow personal anecdotes, but not personal insults. Speak respectfully about whatever pastor you mention in the comments.


  1. I like it. That is a vintage post that has aged well. As a pastor it is hard to fight the feelings of what we ought to be and what we are expected to be. I came to an early rejection of much of this pragmatic philosophy, but it is very pervasive and problematic as other pastors project it onto you often. I hope my example might open a few eyes, but a small town church never impresses.

  2. Michael,

    I have just written a response, that I felt was too long to post here. A tale of two Churches and Pastors is about how two very different Pastors with two very different churches in my area, have both done what has been needed to lead their churches in significant growth. I think the key is to get the right match between Pastor and Church. In my post I have also included a link to some resources to help accomplish that task.

  3. As a former pastor, I know how hard the demands can be. Especially if your Ephesians 4 gift is teaching, not being a pastor. I’m endeavoring to start a group where the pastor pastors and the teacher teaches. Where the evangelist is not in church on Sunday, but is out evangelizing people who ARE NOT IN CHURCH ON SUNDAY. Where the prophet is around but not always visible and the apostle is more concerned with starting new works than making hospital visits, because the pastor is already there. A novel concept? Not hardly. This ancient model is starting to re-emerge all over the world. This takes the pressure off of me to be a typical 1970’s do-it-all pastor and lets me concentrate on my gifts while others do the same.

  4. I occupy a strange place in the church we are part of. It is one that has molded itself after Willow Creek and the seeker-sensitive model.

    We have grown considerably over the last seven years. The church is full of young people with babies. I have no idea who they are. The faces change weekly. While over-all numbers growth is positive, the retention rate is poor.

    I have strongly negative views toward the mega-church, seeker-sensitive, all things pragmatic approach to doing church. I am by nature and experience anti-pragmatic when it comes to church. Church exists for no reason other than that the fertile love of Christ gives birth to it, sustains it, and nurtures it. We who are church are to become Christ for others. Pragmatism misses all of that.

    My voice is mostly one crying our in the wilderness, or so it seems. Though involved in leadership in various ways, the purpose I serve is always unclear to me. One of the “teams” I am part of (we have teams as opposed to committees) is called the Executive Team. It consists of four pastors and three non-staff people, of which I am one. It serves as a brain-storming sounding board for concerns or problems the two primary pastors are dealing with. When I speak, it will often be to suggest a theological and discipleship oriented approach to things. Christ, scripture, and discipleship are never addressed as pertinent otherwise. At most I will hear something like, “That’s interesting.” But then the discussion moves on to the important matters at hand. I don’t really know why I am there. Perhaps as a historical oddity.

    I don’t feel good about these things. God will carry on, I’m sure. But I fear we’ll one day awaken from the all our hip-church buzzing about to discover that the cloud of God had departed years before, and we will have no idea where to look for Him.

  5. A post that has stood the test of time. *Dictatorship of the Pragmatariat*….. that is priceless. I wish I’d read this 5 or 6 years ago.

  6. I agree

  7. Is God ever pragmatic? Scripture begins and ends with God. It reveals an arc of God’s movement in time. There is a place toward which all time flows, but it seems there is little about how the fullness of time comes outside of the fact that God has promised it, and that we are to involve ourselves in the work of God through faith in that promise and lives lived so as to reflect his love for the men, women, and children of earth, and beyond that toward all creation.

    Was not Judas an icon of pragmatism? He bristled at the wastefulness of Jesus when he allowed Mary to pour out on him the precious oil she possessed when it could have been sold at great profit and used “for the ministry”.

    To die on a cross, leaving behind only a handful of miserable nobodies, when he could have led a rebellion that would have restored the Kingdom was another waste. What was Jesus thinking? Where was his pragmatism?

    Dictatorship of the Pragmatarian indeed.

    Joel Osteen and all other posers! TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!

  8. Michael, when was this first posted? Sadly, it was very prophetic.

  9. I had to quit reading the books. I needed to stop attending the conferences and get away from the noise. I love my impossible job. I am firmly convinced that if I preach the Word of God and do not add to it or take away I have done my best. We have never recruited or marketed for people, and yet little by little the body grows.
    Humility, love, study of the bible is what we need as preachers, not a “flavor of the month” idea guaranteed to drag ’em in. I shudder to be responsible to teach one more soul than the good Lord gives me.

  10. Very early. No later than 02.

  11. MDS,

    The church is full of young people with babies. I have no idea who they are… the retention rate is poor.

    Hmmmm, could there be a more obvious correlation. New people come, existing church people don’t make an effort to get to know them, new people leave.

    When I speak, it will often be to suggest a theological and discipleship oriented approach to things.

    The seeker sensitive churches that I am most familiar with do small group very well. That is where their primary discipleship happens. If your church is seeker sensitive, but has no concrete way to take people beyond that point, then there is an obvious issue that needs to be addressed.

  12. What a great article. Along with these points, we can now add liturgy to the list. It has pretty well been thrown out, along with any sense of the sacred. Liturgy is old-school, and not pragmatic, as MDS has stated so eloquently.

    Michael Bell is right. The small group IS the church. I’m not sure what Sunday is all about anymore…

    Is it just me, or has the Lord’s Supper became a sort of meaningless formality? I was struck by the Lutheran emphasis on the importance of personal preparation and examination for communion in the Treasury of Daily Prayer. Heavily liturgical, but also heavy on meaning and tradition. Also included, and popularly ignored, are the dangers of taking communion unworthily.

    MDS: “I don’t really know why I am there. Perhaps as a historical oddity.”
    May I suggest that you, as well as some of the rest of us who wander the evangelical wilderness, are in similar churches for one reason: Leaven.

  13. Absolutely a first rate article. I have been privileged to have been educated and mentored by one of those kindly retired Presbyterian pastors who teaches how to really seek out what a Bible passage says . . . not find the Bible passages and pop culture books that “fit” our particular rant for that week.

    Long live the Revised Common Lectionary!

    And yes, in my parttime Presbyterian call, I consider my main responsibility to visit and pray, and pray and visit with the congregation. I think my congregation understands when I admit I am not the final word (and certainly don’t have the only interpretation!) of scripture, and my sermons aren’t completely perfect– but they aren’t going to understand if I’m not there to hold their hand and pray for them when they’re struggling. I refuse to practice counseling without a license, however. There are professionals that can handle that job.

    The only part of your essay where I stand on opposite ground (pun intended) is that I don’t preach from the pulpit. Number one, my high school speech teacher absolutely prohibited reading a speech and standing behind a podium, and two, the hard-of-hearing members of my congregation can “hear” me better from the floor because they can read my lips. I’m not trying to be hip–I’m trying to be a sincere, if imperfect, pastor, speaking in the way I’m most comfortable. It’s not for everyone–but it does keep the congregation on their toes when they know you’re actually going to make eye contact with them, if they were hoping to doze off. :-).

  14. Dave Mc, when you say “May I suggest that you, as well as some of the rest of us who wander the evangelical wilderness, are in similar churches for one reason: Leaven.” – Does this mean that you see leaven as a positive thing? It’s a small point to make regarding the larger topic, but I thought that leaven was negative, changing the purity of the loaf (the Body of Christ).
    That is, business models could be considered an example of leaven, because it something not of Christ that is added to the church.
    Just curious about the interpretation of “leaven” that you have.
    Great article, iMonk.

  15. iMonk,
    Great article. I just read “God in the Wasteland” for a class a couple of months ago and it makes many of these same points. I am finding more and more that even as a new pastor (just over a year now as a “senior pastor”) that I am a throwback to a bygone time. Even here in the Dakotas it seems like much of the focus is on giving church the business so to speak. I just confided to a lady at the nursing home last week that I am not the greatest yet at getting around and visiting and doing some of the things you mentioned as traditional pastors used to do, but the difference is I am trying to learn to do better.

  16. Meaning no disrespect whatsoever but both situations described in Eclectic Christian’s first post are exactly the kind of thinking that has driven me and thousands maybe millions of believers out of the evangelical fold.
    Target audience?
    Are they selling cars or toasters?
    It reminds me of the shocking conversation I had with an associate pastor at a fledgling (now full blown) mega-church about demographics.
    I had stupidly thought we trying to reach the entire world or at least the entire community and not be a boutique for 32-38 year old engineers with 1-2 children who were upwardly mobile and unchurched.
    “both done what has been needed to lead their churches in significant growth”
    The obsession with growth IS the problem.

  17. By the way. That demographic also happened by chance to be the best tithers.

  18. Very timely regardless of the time written. I really had the motivation to study this a few years ago when our church “lost” its pastor. The elders and I as head deacon spent a great deal of time in prayer and study as to what we needed in a pastor. After a great deal of time spent in the book of Acts we actually discovered that we were perhaps led astray in what a pastor was supposed to be. Much of the “pastoral care” should really belong to the elders and deacons/deaconesses. The pastor is not the same as an evagelist, teacher, etc. But all that needs to work together to build up the body of Christ.

    Pastor has unfortunately become a catch all position, it relieves the body from the burden of actually doing anything. Emphasis on preaching is a great starting point.

  19. Mr. Spencer I really enjoyed this article. I am a young (31) pastor in a medium church in a large city who is considering where the LORD will lead me and my family to engage in lifetime ministry. I shocked my wife with the suggestion that we move to her hometown of less than 500 and start a small church to serve a shrinking and somewhat shaky community. It seems to me that the church growth movement has diverted attention from small town America and placed it mainly on urban and suburban America. The result is that rural communities are left in the dust. Pastors see these churches/communities as places to cut their teeth and move on rather than commit and faithfully pastor for life. The biggest result that I can see is poor discipleship. There’s certainly other ill-effects. Any thoughts?

  20. Jayson,

    While not a church staffer, I hope that you don’t mind me commenting on your desires.

    I am looking at the practical. Are you going to be able to support your family without any money coming in from the new church? Are you going to be able to give enough time and enough of your own money to do this. I suspect that at first, it will take both from you. I would also make the worst case assumptions (ie highest time and lowest money) when you calculate the risk.

    I truly hope that this is your calling, and that God will bless you, your family and your flock if you do this.

  21. When growth becomes the primary focus a body suffers.
    I have lived through it.

  22. Rob,

    I had stupidly thought we trying to reach the entire world… The obsession with growth IS the problem.

    When you try to reach the entire world, sometimes numerical growth is going to be a natural by-product. I have never had any sense that either of these Pastor’s were obsessed about growth. As for target audience, God used seniors to reach out to and minister to seniors, and young families to reach out to and minister to young families. In both cases I can point to examples how their vision was far smaller than what actually happened.

    By the way. That demographic also happened by chance to be the best tithers.

    Nonsense. The older you are the more you give, on both a numerical and percentage basis.

    For Canadian giving patterns try this link.

    For U.S. giving patterns try this link.

    These were the first google results that came up for each query, and are consistent with what I saw for years when working as Research and Information Manager of a Canadian Mission Agency.

  23. Rob,

    When growth becomes the primary focus a body suffers.


    Christ always needs to be the primary focus. What should follow from that is discipleship. Discipleship, if taught properly will lead to the creation of new disciples. Growth then, both spiritually and numerically, is not a goal, or a primary focus, but something that should come naturally out of healthy churches.

  24. Treebeard: On leaven: Yes, I was thinking of the positive effects of leaven. But, no, you are correct and I’m wrong. I have no idea where I got that misinterpretation of scripture.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I need to read more and post less!

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Just my first impression of these “Young Pastors” from the title:

    “Up! Down!
    Flying around!
    Looping the loop
    Then plowing into the ground!”