September 19, 2020

Is It a Pastor?

By Chaplain Mike

The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

– 1Tim 1:5, NASB

I have made my views known early and often on the subject of pastoral care, pastoral visitation, and relational pastoral ministry here at Internet Monk.

In my opinion, such practices lie at the heart of pastoral ministry. If a pastor does not spend time with people, getting to know them outside of church activities–in their homes, schools, places of employment and recreation, and caring for them in times of need–I do not believe that pastor can preach, teach, pray, or lead effectively. Such a pastor cannot truly help people with spiritual formation. Such a pastor cannot gain the relational wisdom or have the personal access required to “show and tell” others how to love God and love people.

Please note. The scripture above from 1Timothy says in the plainest way possible that this is the goal of Christian instruction, which is one of a pastor’s main duties. The goal of our instruction is not sound doctrine or right opinions. The goal is not Bible knowledge. The goal is not even people’s spiritual formation. The goal goes beyond all those things. The goal of instructing others in the faith is to help them be people of love. A relational goal requires a relational approach, a relational ministry.

Awhile back, I was talking about this with someone, and a particular pastor in a large church came up in our conversation. This minister spends nearly all his time either studying or preparing studies, teaching and preaching, writing or speaking at conferences. Many folks I have known in seminary and pastoral ministry have considered him a model. They aspire to be like him. They believe (rightly) in the power of God’s Word, and can think of nothing better than immersing one’s life in studying it and teaching it to others.

I myself have been in their shoes, coveting such a ministry. I have been the “teaching” pastor, filling my sermons to overflowing with content. I have cloistered myself in my study. I have taught classes in local churches that I would have been proud to present at a college or seminary level.

As we discussed this particular minister, it became clear that he had other staff members handle pastoral care and visitation and such ministries. And then my friend said, “And I was told, to be truthful you really don’t want Pastor ________ to visit you in the hospital!” In other words, he was no good at it. His relational and caring skills were less than adequate for the task. In all likelihood, you would feel worse after he visited you than before.

I am going to be brutally frank here. I don’t know how you call such a person a “pastor.” And I will say something else, with equal honesty–I would not want him as my pastor.

I don’t know who your models for ministry are, but my primary Biblical models have been Jesus and Paul, and to a lesser extent, Peter. One of the great epiphanies I had in seminary was that I could read the New Testament not just to learn its doctrinal and ethical content, but I could also learn how to be a pastor by observing the examples it contains of how to minister to others.

It was Paul’s letters that threw the curtains back first for me. The most meaningful passage over the years has been 1Thessalonians 2:1-12–

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness–nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (NASB)

I won’t do a full analysis of this passage; I merely want you to see the images Paul uses to describe his ministry. Note how personal they are, how relational. He speaks of the gentleness of a mother, laying down his life for those who had become dear to him, working hard beside them and not wanting to be a burden, passionately encouraging “each one” as a father would his own children.

This is not mere imagery. This was Paul’s life. Background studies tell us he most likely moved into a type of working man’s dormitory called an “insula” when he got to Thessalonica. These dorms were behind the “agora,” the open city marketplace, where the craftsman manufactured their goods and then sold them to the public. Paul was with these folks 24/7. He slept in a dorm with them. He ate meals with them in the common dining hall. He worked beside them and sold his wares out of the same stalls.

The most profound teacher Christianity has ever known did not hole himself up in a study. He never had the luxury to do that until the Romans decided he needed a sabbatical–in prison! Paul lived, worked, ate, and slept among the people every day. He got to know them so well he could rightly use family images of mother, father, brother when describing how he loved them and ministered to them.

He was imitating his model for ministry–Jesus himself. Certainly Jesus spent time alone in prayer and we have several examples of his public sermons to crowds. But if you want to get a handle on a normal day in Jesus’ ministry, take a look at a chapter like Mark 1. From sun-up to sundown, he was with people. He was talking to them, touching them, caring for their needs, learning about their problems, teaching them, exhorting them.

Someone once wrote a comment on one of my “visitation” posts, saying that his goal was to have a more “apostolic” ministry. His thinking went like this. Right now I am an associate pastor, on the staff of a church. All the ordinary and sometimes unpleasant tasks get assigned to me, including a lot of the “people work.” One day, however, I will be in a senior role, where I will get to be more like an apostle. My job then will be to seek the Lord for his vision. My job will be to plan the strategy. My job will be to proclaim the word, cast the vision, be the great communicator for the church and prepare for that by studying and praying. All the other tasks I will delegate to my staff and volunteers.

That was his view of what an apostle did.

So I went to the Book of Acts to find out what an apostle did. Yes, the twelve did delegate the ministry to the widows in Acts 6 to others so that they could devote themselves to “the ministry of the word and prayer.” But as I kept reading, I got a better idea of what “the ministry of the word and prayer” was all about.

Take Acts 9:32-43 for example. Here is one of the most prominent apostles, Peter. The text says he was out, moving to and fro among all the people. He took the time to visit the saints in Lydda, where he did “hospital visitation” of a kind, going to see a paralyzed man named Aeneas and speaking the word of healing to him. This led to others coming to faith in Christ. Then he went to Joppa and attended a funeral visitation for Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, a dear woman in the church there. He met with all her friends, and spent time learning about her life while, through tears, they showed him all the items she had made. He spoke the word to her and restored her life. While in Joppa, the text says he stayed with a man named Simon, who was a tanner. If you know anything about tanners, you know that their houses don’t smell too good because of all the animal carcasses and skins. So these houses were usually not in the best parts of town. For a religious person, such a setting would also be considered unclean. But Peter, the great apostle (!) was willing to stay there and receive hospitality. He did not demand that he be put up in the Hilton so that he could spend time in prayer and study and receiving visions!

Among the people. Visiting the saints. Visiting the sick. Speaking words of healing. Evangelizing among non-believers. Going to funerals. Speaking the word of life. Staying in common homes. That is the work of an “apostle.”

I don’t think that is what my friend had in mind.

But if that’s not a description of what you do, I hesitate to point at you and say, “That’s a pastor.”

Comments

  1. I have been thinking about this much as of late and it seems that being a pastor is both a gifting and a calling. I am a pastor to those in my life that God has sent me to pastor and, quite often, that includes people that I am just meeting. I don’t work at a church, I work in finance. As I read Acts I see a bunch of pastoring going on among the brothers and sisters and to the “crowds” not just by those in leadership.

    It’s crazy to think we get a guy/gal to be the Minister/Priest at our church and then have an expectation that they would be able to DO all of the tasks that are associated with that role – teacher, pastoral duties, accounting, budgeting, vision, adult formation, children’s formation, service planning, recruiting, etc, etc, etc. The only “jobs” that has been expected of me are when I have worked for the church – it’s insane. Insane especially in light of the fact that there is a wide cloud of witnesses that all have gifts, talents, calls that could do much more than I alone and, if I am concentrating on the things that God has specifically gifted me in I will have more of an impact.

    I don’t think this absolved the “Pastor” or any of us from teaching, pastoring, forming, planning, recruiting, etc, etc etc. Those are things we are all called to in some way.

  2. It’s pretty much what I do each day. On days when studying or admin. work takes a priority I will make a phone call or two. Thanks for this post, it reflects good study habits! 🙂

  3. The “leader” of one of the largest churches in my city does not ever mix with the congregation. He has bodyguards, er, ushers to keep people away from him after he preaches. He hardly meets with staff members, and never with just “normal” people. He preaches. And he is the CEO. And he is unavailable.

    Joel Osteen does not even have an office at his church. He is only there when he needs to preach.

    I’m afraid plain ol’ shepherding is out of style, Chaplain Mike.

    • JeffD: if you want to get in to see Rev. CEO: I’m willing to testify on your behalf that you are NOT “normal people..”
      A small referral fee might be required.

      GregR

  4. I think some caution is needed. Relational skills are important. A pastor needs to show he or she cares. But ultimately what makes a pastor is the Word and sacraments, of which he is a conduit. One can get hung up on expecting pastors to be kind and compassionate as much as people think a pastor needs to be a gregarious public speaker in the pulpit. If I were in a hospital, I would want the pastor to bring me the gospel and the eucharist, not warm fuzzies.

    • I generally like your posts, but we’ll just agree to disagree here. What I want, and what I understand the NT to promote, is a pastoral visitation in the hospital from a pastor who ALREADY know me, my wife, and my situation (beyond just the circumstances of the stay). I understand that this might not always be the “head guy”, but in my church, these kinds of things ALWAYS fall to delegated others, while the head guy works on the two jobs I mentioned above. And the texts Chap Mike quoted point to a relational piece that incarnates the gospel and the sacrament. To avoid that is to make them empty, IMO.

      Blessings
      GregR
      PS: judging from your posts over yrs past, I think you’d make a great pastor 🙂

  5. While I completely agree that our ultimate goal should be to to love and serve others as Jesus did, I found myself struggling over this post a little.

    My husband just met a well-known teaching pastor of a large church this last weekend. We have downloaded and enjoyed many of his messages, and have been very blessed by his ministry and obvious passion to teach God’s Word. His teaching style is warm, humorous, and very engaging. However, when my husband met him in person, it turned out that he’s kind of awkward and does not have the same social presence at all when interacting one on one, as opposed to his stage presence. My husband said that the second he got on stage, however, it was obvious that he was truly in his element, and was completely comfortable in that setting, using his gift of teaching in an incredibly effective way.

    And I don’t really have a problem with that. I actually found it comforting to find out that he’s not “super-human”. He’s got strengths and weaknesses.

    Some people are just naturally more charismatic, and know how to express love in a seemingly effortless way. I don’t believe that anyone gets a free ticket exempting them from giving, serving, loving others and trying to imitate Christ. I agree that pastors should not lock themselves up in their studies to pursue a “holiness” that does not involve other people. However, I’m okay with my pastor being human, and not being able to be everything to all people. If he’s great at teaching, and is sincere but not necessarily incredibly socially gifted, that’s okay. It’s a journey, and we’re all on it together. We’re meant to help each other out in those areas of weakness.

    • OK, so he’s an inspirational speaker. And maybe very good. That’s a different thing from being a pastor.

      • I hate whining and if that’s what this is, rebuke me, but at this stage in my life, one of the hardest things in my life is to listen to things that are true, but from a man who has no real desire to be out amongst the flock. Can we put ourselves in a listening frame of mind and just look past that if it seems like this will be the church home for awhile ?? I’m trying to Phil 4:8 myself into an OK place, but some weeks I just have to go out for coffee mid sermon. Or doodle. Hope you don’t mind the ‘cafe vente’

        GregR

      • So if we called him a “teacher” instead of a “pastor”, then we’d all be happy? To me, it wouldn’t make much difference which title would be used. Maybe it should, and I’ve just accepted inaccurate labels in the church. Something for me to think about!

        • And just for the record, the “teaching pastor” I described does not avoid those important relationships with people. He just isn’t as gifted socially as he is at teaching. I can completely agree with the fact that an “anti-social” pastor would be extremely difficult to listen to. Never been in that situation, so I can’t even imagine.

        • Your pushback is thoughtful and welcome. I’m glad that your pastor has a sense of who he is and what he is, and isn’t good at. I think the problem goes way beyond labels, and way beyond parsing what an individual pastor does here or there. IT’s actually a systemic thing where the general expectation of what it means to be a pastor, at least in the evangelical neighborhood, just doesn’t do justice for what we see Jesus, Paul, and the apostles doing.

          Sure, some people are much more gifted and adept at the relational peice, granted. But the paradigm promoted, explicitly or implicitly, is “hey , he’s kind of aloof, but man can the dude TEACH…” or “have you seen this year’s numbers ??….. we’ll hire a small groups pastor to be all touchy feely….no big deal, we’re growing and GOD is blessing..” . The actual work, and it is work, of shepherding people is getting pushed to page 35….. next to our favorite hymns and creeds….

          One other point that is not a response to your post, but someone else’s: “equipping the saints” is not NT code , IMO, for delegate down…. the equipping is NOT just by sermon giving, it’s by showing and modeling, much as a father or mother would, the doctrine or practice being taught on. When this modeling is absent altogether, this becomes, “do as I say….not as I do….” At least that’s how it appears to me. This is one reason why it’s been said that Amercan christians are educated way beyond their level of obedience. It’s not just stubborn sheep, it’s also a shepherding issue (if I’m allowed to use the word in a positive way: forgive me HUG and others who have lived thru the other crap)

          GregR

          • “Educated way beyond their level of obedience” — What a great phrase! That’s one I’ll remember.

      • I agree, it is different from being a pastor. But in my church experience, there is room for two separate ministry gifts as recorded in Eph 4:11, “some to be pastors and teachers.” I know that some people don’t read it that way and see it as two aspects of one ministry, but I just don’t see that.

        Having said that, I keep coming back to this as a prerequisite for any type of public ministry: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” (Heb 2:17). If God’s mercy is central to our message, whether preached on Sunday morning or taught any other time, we have to be “made like” those we teach, and I just don’t see how anyone can forego the types of relationships you describe and encourage.

        When I was in seminary I met many people who were very intelligent, knowledgeable and capable of crafting great sermons and teachings. But at the same time they hadn’t yet been “made like” their brothers. For that reason, when I talked with them I could tell their knowledge was miles away from touching people where they lived. I woudn’t want them as a pastor, but that’s what many of them became as soon as they finished their studies.

        • “Miles away from touching people”–Yes! Our church gets students from the local Seminary on Sundays (so they can learn how to do a service, etc.) and I’m amazed at the number of them who don’t seem to think “people” skills are necessary for the pastoral office. Some have even told me that their dream is to be in a very small rural or small town congregation so they can spend most of their time studying. They tend to view practical courses of communication or administration as somehow beneath them, but realistically, most of them do go to small churches as a one man show and can’t just be the “teaching” pastor. I’ve also seen quite a number of them crash and burn within 4 or 5 years of graduation because they completely to not get people.

    • I could have written your post EXACTLY regarding my situation , and I agree with almost all of it….except for the little fact that the guy you described has the job title “pastor” and the truth is, the very effective teaching things he does for the kingdom is just a small subset of what some pastors do, and the lion’s share of what I THINK pastors are all about is just not on his (or the guy I’d be writing about) radar. In short , great effective guy, but NOT really a pastor.

      The problem is we’ve gotten comfortable using a job title that means ONE thing for a group of folks who predominantly do basically two other things: 1) teach, esp. the sermon on Sunday and 2) “vision cast” or administer the big plan; run the church. Both very needed, but what about the stuff about being out among the people and caring for people that you know PERSONALLY ??

      Sorry if this sounds so abrupt. It seems we’ve dug ourselves a big hole on this one. Not sure how we’re getting out except at the grass root level, and it may not be your pastor, per se, that one will have to look to in order to find the shepherd, the “nurse mother”, the helper, the friend. I know in my case , I’ve had to go looking elsewhere, even as I remain in this local fellowship.

      Hope this helps
      GregR

    • Under the “fivefold ministry” (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher), this might make that pastor a teacher. I think all pastors should teach, but not all teachers are pastors.

    • I have read that A.W. Tozer was mighty with the pulpit and pen, but awkward with people. He turned over the duties of counseling and visitation to his associates. If visitors came to the house, he would usually not eat with them, but eat outside or in another room.

      Even my own pastor has admitted that he is a not a good person to come to for counseling, as he usually does not have the patience for it. Instead, he would refer them to another elder who was more skilled in that area.

      • I would not have liked Tozer as a pastor. I love his books, in the same way I love the writings of certain monks and mystics. He was a very odd person, perhaps like some of the OT prophets. From what I’ve read, relationally he was a disaster.

      • A.W. Tozer: fantastic and prophetic in the biblical sense writer/teacher/ admonisher. Would NOT want him to be my pastor either, at all.

  6. I had a pastor who was truly gifted at preaching sermons that touched people. A wonderful, comforting preacher for a funeral. Pastoral care was not one of her gifts at all, but people were OK because she did try.

  7. the obvious element is how interactive a pastor is within the crowd he is ministering to. one-on-one? a small group? a peer age group? congregation? visitors? sunday morning gathering? men’s group? retreat setting? intellectual level of group? public setting? conference/seminar?

    i think we can agree that the size of the group determines the level of effective interaction possible. but the celebrity status component that has worked its way into the ‘ministry’ feeds upon itself if the individual in the spotlight allows those that surround them to cater to those peculiarities associated with the artificial status.

    Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

    yet any individual will have a small circle of people that they do interact well with & often. certainly not in a public setting, but they too are going to be personable or more pastoral to some. stage+spotlight ministries do not appeal to me as a general rule. i am not enamored with any one great (fill in the blank ______) type that i put on a pedestal higher than they were meant to be placed. they do not interact with me at all & i am not part of their social circle. i was never intended to be popular so it is not something i need to deal with.

    just a thought: how much is God’s true gifting vs. that artificially inflated PR+hype that feeds the ego & is fueled by human staff & supporting elements that let it develop into what it becomes???

  8. David Cornwell says

    I had a District Superintendent who would constantly stress the importance of being a pastor to the people. He always practiced this himself in the churches he was assigned to and was much loved by the people. I’m sure he wasn’t the best preacher in the world, neither bad nor great. While serving the greater church, he was a pastor to pastors, including me during some times when I needed him.

    Preaching is best when it is connected to the needs of the congregation, not doctrine or theology. People will talk about these things, but I wonder how often it really makes a difference in lives. There is a place for teaching of course and some of it can be done in preaching. But things like being with a family when a tragedy has hit them and knocked the foundations from their lives is far more important. Or the death of an elderly loved one, taking time to meet with and listen to the various family members talk about the person. I’ve seen rebellious teen age boys break down and cry when talking about grandfather. Or ministering to a wife who attends to a husband of many years who is now in a nursing home unable to speak. These are the places where God moves and speaks and heals. This is the true work of pastors. And it takes hard work and prayer.

  9. I was once led to think of Ephesians 4:11 only in terms of explaining the reason for the pastoral office. Now I read it in terms of how God has gifted people: God has enabled some to be pastors. Other people have other gifts of value to the church.

    That we should label someone a “pastor” who does not demonstrate pastoral gifts could be, among other things,
    (1) a semantic issue of our own making because we associate a variety of ministries with the label “pastor”,
    (2) evidence of a mismatch between the leader’s gifts and the congregation’s needs, or
    (3) a sign of dereliction of pastoral duty.

    Blessings within the church do come from different kinds of leadership. Congregations can certainly be blessed by excellent preaching from a man who does not exude a warm pastoral demeanor one-on-one, for example.

    Construing this concern in terms of whether the person we call a pastor is being pastoral seems somewhat out of focus. I might characterize the concern more in terms of how knowledge of God and love for one another are being cultivated, and the quality of responsiveness to people’s needs inside and outside the congregation.

    Church leaders are to use their gifts to equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). If church ministry is a team effort, then perhaps that means being transparent about gifts and weaknesses of both the pastor(s) and lay leaders, and learning how to work together to see that ministry is done to the glory of God.

    • Paul K, it is interesting that your comment and David Cornwell’s appear one after the other here. I agree with you that pastors should share the ministry and equip others and work together with them to meet the needs of the congregation. I am most definitely not saying a pastor should do it all or be the sole dispenser of care. But when it comes to the pastor’s duties, I have to say I’m with David on this one. I simply don’t see how anyone can give truly “excellent preaching that blesses the congregation” unless he/she is also doing the kinds of ministry David talks about. But then again, maybe we differ on what “excellent preaching” is.

  10. “The goal of instructing others in the faith is to help them be people of love.”

    Truer words were never spoken, Chaplain Mike. Thanks for this posting.

  11. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Eph 4:11-14, ESV

    Without getting into the whole issue of the so-called five-fold ministry, I think a major part of the problem is that we have combined multiple functions into one position. The church today essentially lumps everything, with occasional exceptions for evangelism, into the position of the pastor.

    Teach & preach? Pastor’s job.
    Visitation? Call the pastor.
    Oversee the board and manage the finances? Perform weddings and funerals? Offer a neutered, ACLU approved prayer for a city council meeting? Yep, you guessed it.

    A major step in the right direction would be to de-emphasize the role of the pastor and have the elders in the church step up to the plate, and to do a better job of distributing work to others in the church in keeping with their qualifications and giftings.

    Is that going to happen in your typical evangelical church? Sure – just as soon as we start seeing postings for ski instructors for the slopes of the Alternate Destination. 😉

  12. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s no surprise that we are called to do something like that in ministry, and I really appreciated the thoughtful reminder.

    But so many things work against this. The pastor as CEO certainly, but also the whole system of programs and systems and scheduled busyness that is part and parcel of almost any evangelical church. Human needs have a way of constantly interrupting and disrupting such programming, so, whether intentionally or not, they are soon given secondary status.

    And although the Bible does, western culture, the American ethos and the protestant work ethic do not view relationship building as real work.

    Correcting this is gonna be an uphill slog. I’ve thought deeply about this issue and it’s been a key element in my becoming a post-evangelical. It’s nice to see it as a topic of discussion here.

  13. Nice thoughts but I am not sure I would have yanked that out of the context of your primary verse. You might have trouble reconciling some of your conclusions about pastoral responsibilities with 1 Timothy 4 and Paul’s exhortations to Timothy which are given in continual imperatives. The command to love is for all of us and not just the pastors. And those come from the heart conscience and faith grounded in the Messiah. It’s not our love, it’s His love.

    • Not out of context at all Mike. The goal of Paul’s instruction was that his hearers would become people who exhibit the Messiah’s love. That’s what I was saying. And if that’s the goal, then what should the ministry look like that seeks to achieve that goal?

  14. 1 Timothy1:5 has been a prayer verse of mine my entire ministry. I love it, and this post was great. But I’d like to say that sound doctrine delivers the goods. The goal of sound doctrine is the same as that of this verse. You probably did not want to create a false dichotomy there, but you have come awfully close to doing so. If sound doctrine does not bear the fruit of love issuing from a good conscience it is not sound. The two go hand in hand. A pastor that does not spend time with the sheep, has not sound doctrine. Just saying.

  15. I love this post. I have known pastors who are fabulous teachers, but not great at pastoral care, and those who are good at pastoral care, but, wow, really tough to sit through those sermons every Sunday. I wonder if the giftings are somehow mutually exclusive?

  16. David Cornwell says

    I think part of the problem today is how large churches have become and what they are trying to do. The mega churches provide all kinds of things for people today that go beyond what churches have done traditionally. They are BIG and someone needs to be the CEO. Every Sunday the speaker on stage must have the morning’s entertainment ready and an ultra high tech presentation. But how many of the people does he know? How does he know about the people who hurt? The goal seems to be to bring more and more into the “fold.” People are lucky if they know the person next to them in the pew. If you attend on Sunday morning, even over a period of time, the true elements of what it means to be the church seem absent.

    In smaller the churches the pastor can have a staff, but he/she can also know the people and be a true pastor to them. The staff can do whatever they are called to do, whatever their gifts may be, but everyone needs to be involved in knowing the people and being a pastor one way or another.

    Some of it goes back to “Is it a church?”

    • Bingo.

    • Five years ago, I would have argued against this post. During a pastor search, I was told that it wasn’t that important or unusual if a pastor lacked compassion and mercy. Though our candidate did list “shepherding” as a spiritual gift, I really think this was confused with “bossing people around.” So we hired a guy who was a good teacher but lacked that intangible 1:1 / pastoral quality of someone who just cares about other people. The rest of the story for that church with him was not good.

      We moved and came to a church where the church hired a gifted teacher and visionary. He was upfront with the church that he lacked pastoral spiritual gifting. The church hired him anyways, and they got exactly who he said he was. The problem was that a whole lot of people needed care and encouragement. So the rest of that story did not turn out well.

      We live in a broken world and we are broken people. Nothing has changed since Paul wrote his letter to Timothy. We have designed a job, however, where people can preach to thousands of people on video screens to remote campuses or around the world. This is upside down. Like others who have commented before, a true pastor has many gifts, and being able to provide pastoral care is a key gift. This is not to say that the pastor must provide all counseling or professional counseling, but he or she must be a compassionate, loving human being who goes out and lives among the flock. Ergo, the mega church model is not sustainable.

      • I don’t think CM’s post necessarily relates to the size of the church. Once a church is above 70, the pastor can’t maintain a personal relationship with everyone. But, as long as the pastor is engaging in personal, loving pastoral relationships, the teaching will have the relational quality that CM is discussing, no matter the size. In one multi-staff situation I know, the lead pastor required all pastoral staff to lead a small group in their home – so that they were all engaged in pastoring, not just preaching/teaching.

        • Calebite,

          I take your point, and pastoral care is possible with larger churches. I think the risk is with a really large church is that it almost automatically takes on a corporate structure, which structurally distances the senior pastor from the congregation. If you add on top of that a multi-site campus with video feeds, I don’t know, but it just seems impersonal. It may just be a matter of taste, as I know it’s not for me.

  17. Dan Allison says

    My missionary friend who spends most of his time in Peru tells me about a congregation where everyone lost their homes to an earthquake. While my friend organized the purchase, shipping and construction of pre-fab homes, the pastor in Peru (with his family) spent two years living in a tent, insisting that all the other families have their new homes built first. Contrast this with the pastors I know in Florida, bragging about their boats and yacht club memberships, three vacations a year to their property in the mountains, mornings at Starbucks, avoiding like the plague youth groups and mission efforts. I just left a church where 59% of the 2011 budget goes to the pastor’s salary, 3% to missions.

    Somewhere here in the last fewdays someone said the problems with America’s churches can’t be fixed, we need to tear them down and start from scratch. I agree. I’ve simply lost all hope for America’s churches, both the mainlines and the evangelicals.

    • Though I have a lot of sympathy for what you say, Dan, I haven’t given up yet. There are many “salt of the earth” churches and pastors out there—mostly invisible but faithfully trusting God and walking in love. Remember God’s word to Elijah. Whether we are aware of it or not, he has multitudes who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

    • Mike (the other chaplain) says

      I think that may be the only solution for much of America’s problems. Let it crumble and start afresh.

    • If every American church were like the one you described, then heck yeah…but if Eugene Peterson can do it thru the Holy Spirit, then we can also (and some no doubt are); it’s the church MODEL that has to go, not all American churches, IMO

  18. Showing up at the hospital, nursing home, funeral home, ER, in homes, businesses, etc. develops trust and credibility. People listen to our preaching & teaching if they know we care, are kind, gentle, etc. It nurtures trust Pastoral care is an extension of Christian friendship (something I learned from reading Wayne Oates & have learned by doing it).

  19. Excellent post, CM. Our “church culture” dictates that we should be pursuing numbers growth as a primary goal…make Sunday mornings spectacular, put butts in the seats, offer programs so you can keep pace with First Baptist, etc.

    Somewhere lost in the mix is building relationships. I’m working on a church plant, and it’s been a slow process. The small group I have has grown very close over the past five months, though, with common purpose and love for each other.

    My vanity would love for me to pastor a megachurch, speak at conferences, write bestsellers, and be recognized on a wide scale. The truth in me, though, more desires a little neighborhood chapel, where people feel welcome and know each other. I’ve been on staff at a megachurch, and I can honestly say that it took me six months before anyone in the church invited me to lunch, or to their home. I’m not going down that path again, nor dragging a congregation down that road with me. Even though our group is small, we frequently have discussions about how we wish to plant new parishes once we have a larger congregation. Not satellites…not alternative campuses…new parishes, designed to build new communities within a community.

    Robert Kennedy once said, “Our goal should not be bigness. Our goal should be to invite people into the warmth of community.” The Church is a place where we should not only enjoy communion with God, but also communion with each other. Again, great piece, CM.

  20. Charles Fines says

    If I were to point to one person as a model for the job of pastor, it would be a Lutheran from my time learning that tradition. This guy started off every sermon with a joke. Don’t know that very many people could get away with that and don’t know about trying to fit disparate people into neatly labeled shoe boxes. What I do know is that this guy had helpers but no subordinate pastors and he took it upon himself to clean the toilets in the church restrooms. Absolutely no fanfare involved. I only found out thru a passing remark from someone who knew. I’m thinking that might be a good addition to the job description label on whichever shoe box of choice.

  21. This comes a little late, but I just saw this over on Holiness Today.

    Will Willimon was asked in an interview, “Finish this sentence. Beware of the pastor who . . .”, to which he had the following response:

    “Thinks ministry is mostly about relationships with people, about loving people, about listening to people, and about speaking to people and their needs. If you’re a pastor in a poor country, it’s one thing to talk about people’s needs. But here we’ve solved most of the housing and food issues. So we’ve gone on to non-biblical needs, like having a ‘purpose driven life.’ The hardest part of ministry is not in getting along with people, but in getting along with the Trinity. The people are a breeze. But I can’t get the Trinity to cooperate with my programs. I grieve for pastors who make their ministry hostage to the people-whether the people like it or not, or find you charming or not charming. It’s better to say you were called and were baptized. Don’t whine to me that this is hard. Your job is to equip and affirm the congregation’s sense of vocation.”

    http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/h2ol/article.jsp?sid=10005104&id=10009957