February 17, 2020

Peter the Pastor

By Chaplain Mike

I have written several posts over the past year on the subject of pastoral visitation and the importance of church communities taking seriously the responsibility for the personal care and tending of their members.

In a comment I received to one of those posts, a church leader wrote that some pastors should not be considered responsible for pastoral care or visitation because they serve in an “apostolic” role rather than a pastoral one. The commenter wrote:

I believe pastors who lead multi-campus ministries effectively have an apostolic gift. J. Robert Clinton defines apostleship as “the gift to have the leadership capacity to move with authority from God to create new ministry structures to meet needs and appoint leadership in those structures.” While the apostles in the early church were responsible for the church they were not obligated to do personally all of that for which they are responsible.

He then stated his desire to be “an apostle” someday so that he could devote most of his time to prayer and the ministry of the Word, instead of the “waiting tables” ministry he was in when he wrote.

Here is a part of my response:

With all due respect, I think you are reading an awful lot of contemporary culture back into the Bible. Peter was not the great CEO who holed up in his office, study, and prayer closet and then came forth to “cast vision” and delegate the ministry to others. These are American business concepts, not reflections of the way Peter and the apostles actually lived day by day in down-to-earth ministry.

Peter may have had apostolic responsibilities (which by the way, were on an episcopal level beyond the local church, not a local “church staff” level), but this did not release him from “tending the sheep,” as Jesus had commanded him (John 21:15-17).

Case in point: Let’s follow the Apostle Peter around for a few days.

  • Acts 9:32: The text says that “Peter went here and there among all the believers.” Despite his honored position as a leading apostle, Peter spent his time with “the common folks,” visiting with them and enjoying their fellowship. He did not remain aloof. He did not delegate personal ministry to others. He worked at building relationships with all the believers in the churches.
  • Acts 9:33-35: While visiting with the members of the congregation in Lydda, Peter took the time to visit the home of a man who had been bedridden for eight years from paralysis. By God’s grace, the man received a healing and was able to arise.
  • Acts 9:36-42: At the request of some believers in a nearby town, Peter made a death visit to the home of a well-known Christian woman named Tabitha (Dorcas). There Peter comforted the widows who had been her friends. Peter took the time to offer prayers for this woman, and God raised her up. Peter personally took her hand, raised her up, and restored her to her fellow believers.
  • Acts 9:43: While in Joppa, he stayed in home of a fellow Christian, Simon. Luke includes the interesting detail that Simon was a tanner, and that he lived by the sea (a common location for those in this profession, see 10:6, 32). This gives several interesting indications about Peter. First, he was willing to stay in the home of a tanner, a profession Jews considered unclean because of the constant exposure to dead animals. Luke’s little remark thus prepares for the story about Cornelius and Gentile salvation that follows, and suggests that Peter was already learning to view the ceremonial laws through new eyes. Secondly, to stay in a tanner’s home must have been unpleasant, for the smells would have been foul and the presence of animal carcasses repugnant, especially to a Jew. Thus, in this verse we see Peter’s humility and willingness to dwell in less than ideal circumstances to be with an individual believer in his home.
  • Acts 10: The chapter tells the story of Peter’s vision and the conversion of Cornelius. This was a significant event, for it shows how the Gospel broke through boundaries and came to the Gentiles. But what is interesting for our purposes today is that this happened in Cornelius’ home as the result of a personal request for a visit (and an impressive vision from God himself!). Peter and a few Christian friends made the call. There, in the home, Peter took the opportunity to answer Cornelius’ questions and proclaim the Good News of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard, bringing the entire household by grace into God’s family.

I love these stories. Imitating his Savior, Peter’s ministry bore the personal touch. He walked among people, visited people’s homes, touched and talked with individuals and small groups of people in intimate settings, gave pastoral care to the sick, comforted the grieving, entered places others would avoid, and responded to requests to go where people lived in order to minister to them.

Sure, Peter was an apostle. Sure, he and the other apostles delegated some tasks when appropriate (as in Acts 6). Sure, the apostles had episcopal-level responsibilities to keep the “big picture” in mind and make decisions involving the overall mission of the church.

All of that.

But none of it displaced or replaced personal, pastoral ministry.

I concluded my response to my commenter with these words:

Christian ministry is face to face, person to person, and house to house, meeting people personally where they are, or it is not the kind of ministry Christ and the apostles exemplified for us.

If we’re going to call our leaders “pastors,” this is not optional.

Comments

  1. This is excellent, Chaplain Mike. As Judas asks in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” why did Jesus come when he did, to where he did? “If you’d come today, you could have reached the whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.” He could have been a CEO if he’d wanted. We’re supposed to be like Jesus, not like Augustus Caesar.

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Hehe, speaking of JC Superstar, every time I think of someone who aspires to becoming a Bishop, I can’t help but hear the line from the Last Supper song where the disciples drunkenly sing “Always hoped that I’d be an Apostle, knew that I could make it if I tried…”

      • “…Then when we retire we can write the Gospels, so they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died.”

        I was just thinking of that song myself, Isaac, when I read Chaplain Mike’s article!

  2. Seems to me that those who felt their only calling was deciphering the Word and then applying it to other people’s lives were called “pharisees” and “scribes”, not apostles……

    • Wow. Good word, jim.

    • Perhaps….but what made them (us ??) hypocrites is not what they did, but what they lacked: AUTHENTICITY. They were not real behind their words. I think that’s what’s lacking in a lot of praching and teaching today, and what gave the MONK such a wide platform…still does.

  3. Just an additional note (and this is from a faulty memory, so don’t quote me unless you do the homework): “apostle” was a term used by the Sanhedrin of its agents. Jesus’ followers use of the term and the word “brothers” (conspicuous of the Sanhedrin) to refer to their college of apostles, suggest that the word implies almost a parody of the Sanhedrin’s praxis through its apostles. This makes the term a claim about where the true kingdom of Israel lies. And supports Chaplain Mike’s contention that the Christian apostles, unlike the Sanhedrin’s apostles, servant-leader-pastors.

  4. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    It wasn’t until I started exploring the idea of the historic episcopate that I really began to get a picture in my head of what an apostle is like. I think of St. Augustine (not of Hippo) being sent to evangelize the Britons and then establishing the See of Canterbury. I think of our local former Catholic Archbishop (Abp. Gomez, who just got moved to L.A.) with his pastoral letters and the way he was such a “mensch” (to borrow some Yiddish) in the local community. I think of Bp. NT Write’s student telling about when Bp. Write spent an afternoon to help him with a “crisis of vocation” that is all often pretty common in seminaries. That is, these guys all seem to operate as pastors on a grander scale than the local parish pastor. Sure, things may be bigger in picture, but they still have to get their hands dirty.

    • Nice post…..maybe not exactly an apostle, but I think of all the personal letters that C.S. Lewis wrote and the relationships he kept afloat while doing a zillion other “more important” things…. stooping to do the mundane to help out a common Joe/Jane.

  5. Hi Mike,

    How providential. I just wrote a small bit about how underrated Peter was as an apostle and here is a more than complementary article complete with fresh insights. Thank you.

    Brad

  6. Jesus once said that those who humble themselves will be exalted — and vice versa. People like Peter and the other apostles have been exalted as almost superhuman figures in Christian history and tradition — but that’s only because, in their own lifetimes, these people humbled themselves to an extraordinary degree, forsaking their own ambitions and dreams and desires and ultimately their very lives for the sake of the gospel of Christ. Sure, Peter was highly respected and looked up to in first century church — but that was only within the context of a tiny little subculture of mostly Jews and God-Fearers that didn’t even make a bleep on the larger cultural radar until Nero picked them out as the ideal scapegoats for a fire that burned down a sizable slice of the empire’s capital city. Peter never made the top 100 list of famous and influencial people of his day. He never controlled vast financial resources — and, even when the church laid money at his and his fellow apostles’ feet, they handed every penny right back out to the church according to individual needs without even keeping any kind of administrative fee or salary for themselves. Peter never headed up a monolithic institutional structure, hierarchal government, or well-oiled organizational machine. And neither scripture nor early church tradition record that he ever oversaw a single building project or real estate development.
    What Peter and the other apostles did do, however, is pour themselves out to the very last drop for the gospel and their brothers and sisters in Christ. And to portray these men as lofty religious leaders in the style of high priests, popes, televangelists, or megachurch CEO’s is to misrepresent them entirely.

    • David Cornwell says

      RonP you are right on the mark. Thanks for this.

      • “And neither scripture nor early church tradition record that he ever oversaw a single building project or real estate development.
        “What Peter and the other apostles did do, however, is pour themselves out to the very last drop for the gospel and their brothers and sisters in Christ. And to portray these men as lofty religious leaders in the style of high priests, popes, televangelists, or megachurch CEO’s is to misrepresent them entirely.”

        Amen. Peter loved Jesus. Period.

        Brad

  7. Dan Masshardt wrote in another comment thread (June 18)

    ‘As a young pastor, I’ve found that caring for people in their times of need brings a new openness to changes in the church that they might otherwise be resistant to.

    Also, it builts the trust necessary to be able to effectively preach hard things and call people to follow Jesus in radical ways.’

    I haven’t been able to get this out of my head since reading it. When you know someone loves you, you are more likely to listen. Those of us who feel called to a ministry of preaching/teaching – less ‘hands on’ – are also still disciples who are called to love and demonstrate that love in ways that we might find time consuming but mean so much to the recipient. If we forget the command to love each other then we shouldn’t even be preaching in the first place (although devoting ourselves to prayer would still be a good practice!).

  8. Thank you for addressing the pastoral calling and how Peter demonstrated it. I’ve run into the same problem in the missions setting in which some leaders prefer to be the visionaries and leave the caring part to others. Jesus adeptly rolled all the parts into one and did it magnificently for us to follow. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  9. I wonder how much of this is personality driven. Perhaps some struggle more with certain aspects of that office.

    It brings to mind Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church. Steve McCoy (Reformissionary), an introvert, reviewed it and wrote:

    “What is realized is that I’ve been working hard for years at being more extroverted. After all, the more extroverted I could be the better I could function in ministry. I’d be a better evangelist and preacher and counselor and networker and so on. Imagine the hunger to be in constant interaction with the people around you in pastoral ministry. I romanticized that idea, but struggled to follow through. I have been streaky at best. And the more I felt guilty about it, the more drained I became and harder I worked to be something that didn’t *click*. McHugh explained a picture of me in the book that opened my eyes.”

    For many, perhaps they feel they excel and serve their churches best when they are (as Chaplain Mike says) “holed up in his office, study, and prayer closet”.

    • Traditionally there has been a place for the introvert in Christianity, as a contemplative, an enclosed religious, a “prayer warrior.” When pastor is the only visible calling, it’s hard on people who are called to service in the church and aren’t gifted as pastors. And yet their service is also worthwhile.

      • “it’s hard on people who are called to service in the church and aren’t gifted as pastors”

        Are you saying introverts cannot be pastors?

        • Not necessarily. I’m saying that being a pastor is a particular gift, involving daily care of people. Not every Christian has that gift, and not all Christian work involves being a pastor. It may be that some people who have wanted to serve God have tried to force themselves into a pastoral role, thinking it was the only valid one, when they may have been better as scholars or workmen or administrators or intercessors.

        • Surely a good pastor ensures an effective pastoral ministry is in place for those who need it even if they are not good at delivering it themselves. We all have different gifts to use in church – if the pastor does everything then he/she may be denying others the opportunity to serve in the church. I don’t know why we expect the pastor to be able to do everything. Where did we get that idea from?
          Personally I’m all for introverted compassionate pastors visiting me in times of need – the enthusiastic extroverts are too much to handle at such times.

  10. Chap,

    You’re right on target.

    I’ve worked with “big ministries” over the years and have come to believe these “celebrity status” pastors and Christian leaders, who are surrounded by plain clothes security / assistance people, have lost touch with the average follower of Christ. As time passes these “super-star” Christian celebs become distanced and unapproachable except under very controlled circumstances.

    Paradoxically these same Christian celebs will look for a staged opportunity, to touch a spiritually needy person, all while they are neglecting their own flock whom they hold at a distance behind the receiving lines.

    Then all those tearful pulpit stories the celebs tell us, of touching that needy person in the staged setting, sound very hollow to anyone who knows the leader refuses any personal contact with all but the most wealthy in the organization’s donor files.

  11. I like the both/and of apostle and chaplain showed here Chaplain Mike.

  12. For the introverted pastor I would think that all the Sunday morning greetings before and after services would be more difficult than one-to-one visitations.

    I visit at nursing homes and it seems to me the most important requirement is to simply show up and listen. You don’t have to know what to say. Just let them talk and listen.

    The most difficult challenge, often the person will ask me to pray for God to take them quickly. I can’t pray that. It’s not my place. So I pray, “Lord you understand this situation better than any of us. Let your Will be done in her life.”

    I think some resist visitations because they fear they may not have all the right words, all the right passages to quote to sound like a knowledgeable preacher. That’s really not what people need. They need to know they are not alone. They need people to just be there. Then need listeners and hand holders and hugs.

    Pastors who think it is their role to be the visionary need to take some time just to be human, to spend time with other humans who are lonely, suffering and hurting. It may also be the best way to get those visionary insights.

    I have never felt the presence of Jesus so strongly as when I sat next to an elderly lady’s bed. None of her family lived in the area. She was so completely alone and miserably sad. She asked me to pray with her and my prayer became an anguished plea for God to help her. When I lifted my head I knew there were three in that room, not two.

  13. Your post reminds me of a cartoon I saw recently. Two white coat clad doctors are shown peering through their office window at a very crowded waiting room filled with patients. One said to the other “medicine would be a great profession if one did not have to deal with actual patients”

  14. Even monks in monasteries don’t completely seclude themselves from people. Very peculiar perspective on spirituality. I don’t think you can even find such seclusion among Buddhist monks. Instead, it sounds more like good ol’ fashioned narcissism. In John chapter 1, Logos becomes flesh and walks among us; it is we who did not receive Him – rather than He secluding Himself from us. Sin causes us to separate – from God, others, and even ourselves.

    • I know that the main reason I don’t want to be open with others is my history with an addiction. The funny thing is I long for the day when I can be open with others about my problems. It is a terrible paradox that the enemy has me in.

      By separating us the enemy is able to cull us like a wolf does sheep and take us down one by one.

  15. I once belonged to a church that was large enough to have 5 pastors on staff, but the senior pastor still had time for his people. Other than half-jokingly saying that you’d better be dying before you call him on a Monday, his day off, he still did hospital visitation and other “pastoral” functions.

    We also had an an associate pastor who was the church’s administrator. The interesting thing is that when the men’s ministry leader did something stupid that I wanted to take a baseball bat to his knee for (figuratively, not literally – my “baseball bat” is actually a pen, or a keyboard), it was the admin pastor that called me into his office for a little chat. So even the admin dude had actual “pastoral” responsibilities.

    My current (or perhaps I should say, most recent) church? They operate on the mega-church model, so I have my doubts.

  16. “Living in a fisheye lens
    Caught in the camera eye
    I have no heart to lie
    I can’t pretend a stranger
    Is a long-awaited friend”
    – Neil Peart

    I have to imagine that God has called nongregarious people to be pastors. I think the other side of this is that many with a true pastoral heart are scared away because they lack natural charismatic, out-going demeaner. Such a person isn’t everyone’s buddy. But they still lovingly and passionately administer word and sacrament. The weight is not on the pastor to be a social butterfly, just a willingness to bring those means of grace to the people. It’s hard to find a pastor who is both naturally charismatic as well as contemplative. But regardless how much the pastor enjoys the company of others, he or she needs to understand that working with people is part of the call.

    I also have to imagine that a pastor some days might have a hard time liking people, when the clique that tries to run the church tries to dictate everything and makes the pastor kids feel like they are living in a fishbowl. I think pastors need to know that they don’t have to be perky all the time. There is a reciprocal responsibility of the church to care and show grace to the pastor and his family, rather than constantly sucking the dry. Otherwise, more and more pastors will seek non-congregational responsibilities, burn out, flame out, or drop out of ministry entirely. The church needs to find its fill in the means of grace provided by the pastor – not in the pastor himself or herself.

    • Again, love your posts….and the theme of reciprocal, or dual responsibilities (vertically and horizontally) is right on. Let’s make the pastor’s job(s) not a burden to them. But let the pastor beware who does not openly challenge the typical dog and pony personality show that church often is (and of which I am a part of, I’ll admit) and help create a better bed for them to lie in.

      Love your last comment as well: for those looking for pastor Bob to take the place of Jesus (knowingly or unknowingly…..get ready for a life of unplanned immaturity.

      Good writing , bro
      Greg R

  17. Heaven help the Pastor of a church where Jesus isn’t enough.