The 21st Century Church: The Pastor

This is the fourth post in the series “The 21st Century Church” here on BeDeviant.com. You can read the rest of the posts here.

“Pastors over-function for their people.”

A seminary professor of mine spoke those words almost a year ago and I have not stopped thinking about them since. That day in class not only served as a pivotal moment in my education, but also my life. He verbalized the words that had been on the tip of my tongue for so long, but I never knew it.

In the West, we want pastors who:

  • Know the Bible backwards and forwards, able to quote verses from memory at will complete with numbers for book, chapter, and verse. (Nevermind the fact that numbering system for our bibles weren’t introduced until the 16th century!)
  • Rush to the side of any member of the church, for any reason, at any time of the day (or night). And they better be there within 30 minutes or less (or the offering check may not be so big next time ’round!).
  • Preach sermons that enable us to understand the bible in its entirety without any extra “work” (i.e. reading) of our own.
  • Sacrifice their family life for the life of their church.
  • Sacrifice every weekend, holiday (major or minor), and at least three weeknights per week without question.
  • Have the exact right thing to say in all places, in all situations, for all people, everywhere.
  • Won’t hurt our feelings.
  • Have perfect families, perfect marriages, and perfect lawns (even though we’ve asked them to sacrifice their family for their church).

In short, we want perfection. We want someone who will tell us exactly what we want to hear and do everything that needs to be done while we sit and watch and complain. I’m as guilty of this as the next guy (or gal) and it’s simply not fair.

The Pastor of the 21st Century will not over-function for her or his people. They simply will not allow it. If not for the sake of the congregation they serve, then certainly for their own sanity.

Why? Because it is “not good”. Need an example? Read Jethro’s dialogue with Moses in Exodus 18. Western pastors are Moses in this passage and I believe Jethro represents the Spirit of God saying to these pastors, “What you’re doing is not good! You are creating a culture of burn-out and depression … Stop!”

What if…

  • Pastors allowed their congregation to dream wildly and execute the visions that God had put on their hearts while having little say in how it happens? Is it messy? Yes. Does that mean there is less positional “authority” for the pastor? Yes. Is it healthier? 100 times, yes.
  • We believed in the “priesthood of all believers”, not just the ordained ones? What if when bad news struck, the first call you made wasn’t to your pastor, but to your small group? Your neighbors?  This seems to me to be the much more biblically faithful model.
  • We did not exalt our pastors to the place of “Superstar” and saw them as a fellow brother or sister in Christ with a different “Kingdom job description”–not better (or worse), just different.

Most pastors I know are exhausted on some level or another. That’s not good. Could it be it’s because most of us are over-functioning for our people?

I could keep going, but I won’t. I’ll let you add to the list.

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18 Responses to “The 21st Century Church: The Pastor”

  1. Makella May 19, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    Justin, this is great. I really like the 'priesthood of all believers.' We are all children of God who love him as a church community, and I know that everyone on my church would be willing to fulfill any of those roles thought that only a pastor can fulfill. I understand and completely accept the importance and role of a pastor… but for example my friends are interns at a church here at school and they have brought me and so many others in the community together with different roles to take care of this congregation that found itself without a pastor this fall, from speaking to helping me lead worship to caring physically for the church and it's members, etc… I think that is a beautiful reality for which the modern church can strive.

  2. jason kramme May 19, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Every Church wants a nine-commandment pastor. I think that you should do a post about 21st century pastor's wives. Equally as misunderstood.

    • Justin Wise May 20, 2009 at 4:26 pm #

      PS – what's a nine-commandment pastor anyways?

  3. Kerry May 19, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Shout out to the pastor wives of the world!!!

  4. Chris May 19, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    I definitely agree. I have the privilege of being part of a community that truly is a community. The vision is that church is not the building and weekend experience, church is the working out of our faith along with fellow believers throughout the week. Our small group makes it a point to be involved in each others' lives, raise resources when there's a need, be at the side of the sick or hurting.

    It's true, we are all priests. For too long we've put the onus on the pastors and teachers while we sit in our seats for 45 minutes, then go out to our separate lives the rest of the week. I can definitely see the shift in our generation to be proactive and responsive in our faith, like we should be.

    That said, the role of a pastor is not to be taken lightly. The biblical standard of teacher/overseer/elder shows us there is a different standard to which they are held. It is the responsibility of the pastor to oversee sound teaching. It is the responsibility of the pastor to oversee the well-being of his flock. I think a lot of pastors out there really shouldn't be a pastor. They decided they were fit to be a pastor because of a piece of paper rather than the recognition and shepherding of that gifting among the community of believers.

    • Justin Wise May 19, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

      "Teachers are to be held to a higher standard." My paraphrase of James.

      I liked your comment on pastors who shouldn't be pastors so much I tweeted it. I totally agree. There are people leading the Church in the office of a pastor who have no business being there. They're just the ones who can sit out the bureaucracy.

      Conversely, I would say that a lot of good leader who should be pastoring are not because the system for ordination in many mainline churches is painful at best, unbiblical at worst. They don't have the stomach to jump through denominational hoops.

      • Chris May 19, 2009 at 4:20 pm #

        For sure. We just need to do a better job of acknowledging, equipping, and training in the context of ministry. See a high school kid with a gifting in leadership? Shepherd it! Get rid of the hoops and we'll have a much healthier church. And Church, for that matter.

  5. Jay May 19, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    Excellent post. My Pastor had some very strong words about the whole sacrificing family for the church in an entry of his:

    http://www.gregpeterslive.com/?p=63

    "With my current schedule it is very important that I keep every week night free for my family. Most pastors don’t have every week night free but I have worked very hard at that for several months. My family is more important than the church!"

    As for the priesthood of all believers, it's part of the reason why our church started a program called Timothy which seeks to disciple and train others in the church to fill in at times when the Pastoral staff just has too much on their plates to deal with every issue.

    It's important that our Pastors don't burn out and that requires the church body to step up and volunteer their time. Unfortunately, we have too many people attending church these days with a "What's in it for me?" attitude rather than a, "What can I do to help attitude?"

    Excellent post Justin.

  6. Justin Wise May 19, 2009 at 4:09 pm #

    Ooh. That's a good one… Pastor's wives. Poor things, they really get misunderstood. Maybe more so than the pastors…. Feel like doing a guest post? Let me know justin [at] bedeviant [dot] com

  7. Joanna May 19, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

    As a pastors wife, I have seen a lot of this stuff firsthand, and it's never pretty…. I love your comment of how pastors are "fellow brother or sister in Christ with a different “Kingdom job description”–not better (or worse), just different. "… so important for people to realize that! With that realization comes another one – that each role in the church must be fulfilled for it to function properly (not just the pastor's!). The pastor isn't any more important than anyone else, so it's just as important for ushers to ush (?) faithfully, for childcare workers to do that faithfully, etc… no role is more important than the other, each person's gotta step up so the pastor can fulfill his role as God intended!
    Great post.

    • Justin Wise May 20, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

      Joanna… Being a pastor's wife, what would you say is the biggest misconception people have about your role and relationship with the church?

      • Joanna May 20, 2009 at 5:44 pm #

        One thing I noticed right away is that there were people who inferred that they felt I would quit my full time job to just be a "pastors wife" as soon as my husband and I got married (definitely not the case!) but most people haven't said anything (to me) about their ideas of what I should/shouldn't be doing in the church.
        I think some of the biggest misconceptions (from people in general, not necessarily our congregation) about pastor's wives is that they've got everything figured out, have all the answers, know just what to say at the right time, etc…
        If you want to get a broader view on things that various pastors wives face, check out: http://www.withpurpose.com/2005/08/01/you-know-yo
        It's a posting by a woman who used to be a pastors wife, she just talks about things that are pretty standing for pastors wives… but all of the responses after her post show many, many sides to what it's like… some are hysterical, some are heartbreaking…

  8. brodie May 19, 2009 at 6:02 pm #

    i am wondering if our church structure is not ready for something new. the church in the west adopted a business model for doing "church" complete with a pastor as CEO and the smorgasbord of programming, blah, blah, blah. i wonder if church should not adopt another "thing" to model itself after. perhaps a "family" where everyone does their part for the whole. which brings me to my next question…in this model would we need paid clergy? how many of us who have sunk major cash into seminary training would have/be willing to serve the church as a teacher or care giver or administrator or worship leader free of charge? Just us serving the church the way God gifted us (much the same way so many of my friends serve)?

    is there a better way?

  9. Chad Ryan May 19, 2009 at 7:45 pm #

    Wow, the Exodus 18 reference is great, and so is this post.

  10. Daniel_Berman May 20, 2009 at 5:24 am #

    Excellent Post! I would love to hear from some of our brothers and sister in the rest of the world beyond N. America and Europe concerning they face in regards to their pastors. My guess is that we would probably find some commonalities, and perhaps some answers to the questions that are running through many peoples heads rightly so in regards to the questions which have been raised here.

  11. Barb May 20, 2009 at 5:07 pm #

    I have to admit I got a little aggrevated when I read your post. Do you think that other people's jobs don't require sacrifice?

  12. A. Amos Love May 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    “What you’re doing is not good! You are creating a culture of burn-out and depression … Stop!”

    Much agreement with Brodie –
    “Pastor & CEO in a pulpit” model is NOT working…
    Calling a – 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax $ deductible, Religious $ Corporation,
    “The Church of God” is NOT working…

    Should we call a Corporation – “The Church.” AAAARRRGGGHHH! ;-)

    Is it possible the reason “Burnout” is such a problem
    for **Today’s** “Pastor/Leader” is they have found themselves

    with a “Title” and “Position” NOT found in the Bible?

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor” in the Bible?
    Was anyone ordained a “pastor” in the Bible?
    Were any congregations “led” by a “pastor” in the Bible?

    And every “pastor” I’ve met also had the “Title” “Reverend.”

    Does anyone have the “Title” Reverend in the Bible?

    Does anyone have the “Title” and “Position” – “Pastor/Leader” – in the Bible?

    Jesus taught “His Disciples” NOT to be called “Master/Leader”
    For you have “ONE” “Master/Leader” The Christ. Mat 23:8-10 KJV

    Ezekiel 14:1-7, speaks about “Idols of the Heart,”
    and now God will speak to us according to the “Idols of our Heart.”
    Has that “Title” “Pastor/Leader” become an “Idol?”

    In my experience…

    Titles become Idols.
    Pastors become Masters.

    Heavy weights on shoulders NOT easy to lay down.

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear my voice;”
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for Truth… Jesus.

  13. A. Amos Love May 23, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    “What you’re doing is not good! You are creating a culture of burn-out and depression … Stop!”

    Much agreement with Brodie –
    “Pastor & CEO in a pulpit” model is NOT working…
    Calling a – 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax $ deductible, Religious $ Corporation,
    “The Church of God” is NOT working…

    Should we call a Corporation – “The Church.” AAAARRRGGGHHH! ;-)

    Is it possible the reason “Burnout” is such a problem
    for **Today’s** “Pastor/Leader” is they have found themselves

    with a “Title” and “Position” NOT found in the Bible?

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor” in the Bible?
    Was anyone ordained a “pastor” in the Bible?
    Were any congregations “led” by a “pastor” in the Bible?

    And every “pastor” I’ve met also had the “Title” “Reverend.”

    Does anyone have the “Title” Reverend in the Bible?

    Does anyone have the “Title” and “Position” – “Pastor/Leader” – in the Bible?

    Jesus taught “His Disciples” NOT to be called “Master/Leader”
    For you have “ONE” “Master/Leader” The Christ. Mat 23:8-10 KJV

    Ezekiel 14:1-7, speaks about “Idols of the Heart,”
    and now God will speak to us according to the “Idols of our Heart.”
    Has that “Title” “Pastor/Leader” become an “Idol?”

    In my experience…

    Titles become Idols.
    Pastors become Masters.

    Heavy weights on shoulders NOT easy to lay down.

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear my voice;”
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for Truth… Jesus.