The work of pastors and other church leaders has drastically changed in my lifetime. A generation ago, had you asked most people to define the work and responsibilities of a pastor, you would have heard some variation of “teaching the scripture; shepherding a flock; coaching people’s spiritual life and so forth.” Now, many people – including pastors – are a bit unsure about what pastors are supposed to do.
If you notice the models for church leadership through the centuries, you will see a pattern that looks something like this:
33AD -300AD a pastor was a shepherd/worship leader;
300AD – 1500AD, the lower clergy pastors were meant to be models of spiritual life, teachers/spiritual fathers while upper clergy were community leader and political authorities;
1500 – 1900, the model for Protestant pastors was scholar/teachers
1900 -1970, the model for Protestant pastors was businessman/community developer
1970, the model for Protestant pastors has been entertainer/entrepreneur
Well, why not?
If Holy Matrimony is no longer a sacred covenant one is making between people and God but rather a photo op that acknowledges a secular marriage contract in a church building – what is the pastor except a nice man that stands in the center of the wedding for some reason saying a few lines the bride and groom agree for him to say?
If church is a business involving making unbelievers as comfortable as possible, the crowds as large as possible, and the finances as dependable as possible – then the last thing one needs is a pastor getting too preoccupied with teaching the scriptures, or overly concerned about the spiritual health of the flock.
In the spiritual shifts we have made, the biblical role of shepherd can become an obstruction to the development of a “great church.” Some leadership development conferences say as much.
In today’s reading (2 Samuel 12) Nathan the prophet confronts the king with an uncomfortable message: there is sin in your life and you must repent. In this case, the king humbly accepts the message and repents. That is the exception rather than the rule! Most of the time, people are unhappy about being confronted and quickly move to: “and who made you a judge over anyone?” Most of us pastors respond to that reaction with an admission of our own sinfulness and an apology for having brought the matter up in the first place.
In this matter as in so many, the church has been going the wrong way and is cooperating with the world, the flesh and the devil to dismantle everything holy, sacred, and “other” about the work of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a lost world. Pastors and church leaders have lost their belief in their own calling. They have been frantically trying to remold ministry in ways that remove the threat of the pastoral office to contemporary culture and secular power.
Moving the other direction is difficult and full of spiritual peril, not the least of which is pride and the seduction of ecclesiastical power. Nonetheless, we must move in the other direction if our churches are to be places of holiness and grace instead of spiritual amusement parks.
The generic word for church leader in the New Testament is “elder.” Eldership was an office in Israel before the coming of Christ. In fact, the English word “priest” is merely a shortened form of the word “presbyter,” or elder. Elders have different gifts – he or she may shepherd people and thus are called pastors. Others are prophets or evangelists. Still others teach, have gifts of administration or functions of church government. Some elders are called into full ordination, and may serve in some full-time capacity, whenever possible. Other elders are, in essence, lay pastors.
Together, elders are called to lead local churches and the Church universal in ways that are consistent with the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” Since the earliest times, three major orders of ministry have been recognized within the Church, and thus most groups, of whatever denomination will have some sort of three-tiered leadership structure as follows:
The Bishop - The bishop emerged early in the government of the Church as something like a chairman of the local elders. Evangelicals in independent churches normally call the person who functions as a bishop, the “senior pastor.” In older denominations, the bishop will “oversee,” – that is what the word means – the leaders of many local bodies. A bishop ordains new ministers, represents the pastoral authority of his fellow ministers in any given local church or geographical area of the church, and connects his flock to the church of Jesus everywhere and in all times.
Pastor - The pastor, priest, or presiding elder – whatever we call him -- nurtures the flock, teaches the ways of God, and administers the sacraments. He or she is called to parent the spiritual lives of those who follow Christ in word, deed and example.
Deacon - from the earliest days of the Church deacons have served the people in whatever tasks required in its daily life. The earliest deacons were selected to oversee the benevolence department of the Church in Jerusalem. (See Acts 6.) Most Christian churches see the deaconate as a step toward full ordination for some, but a fulfilling role of service in and of itself for others. Trustees, administrative board members, lay pastors, and various types of local church leaders fall into this category. I like to think of deacons as serving churches in the way that nurses serve hospitals. They are the backbone and most precious of all the pastoral offices and one should not attempt any level of ministry unless he or she can function as a deacon.
So why can pastors be so irritating? Sometimes because they are tired. Sometimes because they are sinful. Sometime because they are dumb. These days, pastors can also be irritating because they have lost their way and are trying to please a world that is spiritually dead and has no category for the work we are called to do.