I’ve never really been a fan of religious verbiage. I especially hate it when people call me Pastor Steve. God doesn’t call me that. But the problem with the word pastor, in the English language, is that it means just about everything. Thus it sometimes doesn’t really mean anything. Anything specific that is. The problem with me is that I tried to do and to be everything associated with the word and it just about killed me. But maybe, in truth, the real problem belongs to all of us who call on the name of Christ.
Part of the tension surrounding this technical term is the belief that somehow people in full-time Christian service are more holy than the rest simply because of their job title. That’s one reason why I don’t like being called Pastor Steve. I mean, I’m no more holy than the next guy because of my profession or title. I’m saved solely by the grace of Jesus just like everyone else. Sure, I’ll pray for people. But my role doesn’t make my prayer any better than that of an accountant who really knows and loves Jesus. Though I don’t know why someone would want to be an accountant anyway.
But really the bigger issue has to do with defining or describing the word, Pastor, itself. Think about it for a moment. I mean in all the ways this word is used. He’s the older guy that everyone loves and is always there for weddings, funerals, birthdays, baptisms, and child dedications. He is wise, kind, and always available with practical advice when you remember you really don’t have it all figured out.
The pastor is also the guy who preaches on Sunday morning and if he’s any good at it then he’ll put in several hours of preparation each week. Then there are the really big and famous pastors who do nothing but preach on radio and television programs. If you call a Christian Radio station you can talk to a pastor about whatever is causing you grief or confusion. I took my girls to a Christian Rock concert a few months ago and between bands a guy got up to speak for a few minutes and introduced himself as a pastor who was traveling with the tour. What in the world does that mean? Is that job open? Another guy does nothing but travel and preach in third world sections on the map. A friend of mine, who has no formal theological training, leads an amazing para-church ministry and is sometimes called a pastor. This mysterious man of God is expected to: counsel, teach, preach, organize, evangelize, nurture, lead, administer, visit, repair, vision cast, and care, and all the while be a nice guy to everyone he comes in contact with all at the same time. Of course the list goes on and on.
The problem is that very few, if any, of these guys actually carry out all of the assumed roles of a pastor at the same time. Or at least not very well if they try. The men who wear the title pastor and preach on a nationally syndicated radio programs hardly ever make hospital calls on you before a major surgery. I’ve met a number of guys who are great at pastoral organizational management and leadership but after years in ministry they don’t preach any better sermons than a young guy right out of Bible College. Is there more to the story and do we simply not have the right understanding of what this elusive pastor is actually called to be and do?
Early in my ministry I tried to be an expert in every realm imaginable concerning the pastorate and I did pretty well for a while. But it wasn’t long before my body and emotions realized that perfection in all areas was not only impossible but was killing me. Killing mostly the inner man and my heart. What I’ve discovered is that over time most pastors, the healthy ones anyway, just gravitate to the areas where they serve best and either delegate the other realms of responsibility or just drop them completely.
Part of the wrestling match here is dealing with the unclear and predominant cultural expectation of what this mythical pastor is and is supposed to do. But what does the Bible say on the issue? In Ephesians chapter 4 the apostle Paul writes about leadership in the church and notes that God gave to the Church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
In that text two things immediately jump out. The first is that there is more than one person, or role, doing multiple things that seem to all be thrust upon the title pastor today. The other is in the defined goal of the pastor and that’s not to do all the religious work and life, but to equip the people so that they can do it. The problem is that we often expect the official, pastor, to do the religious work while everyone else sits around and receives the services of the experts.
The solution really touches the principle that we are all created for a purpose. Not only are we created for a purpose in general, but that purpose is included in the greater Kingdom of God and also worked out in a local church setting in which every Christian participates. This principle is what theologians call the Priesthood of Believers. In 1 Peter 2 the apostle notes that we are “all a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Did you get that? Peter clearly noted that everyone who wears the name of Jesus is part of His Priesthood. On one hand, yes, there are people who are called to full-time ministry just like others are called and created for other places in life such as medicine, education, and yes, even accounting. But on the other hand, there are so many pieces of daily ministry that do not require a theology degree and are uniquely situated for a variety of people to do. Truly, in any healthy church body, there are numerous people and leaders who can, and should, do what is often placed on the preacher – pastor’s desk. On the other hand, when we live with the expectation that ministry is reserved for the experts, people actually miss out in the blessing of experiencing God’s work done through their own lives.
The church body misses out because one guy can’t do everything effectively and thus the results are far below what they could be. In addition, others miss out by not knowing the joy of serving on the team. However, when everyone jumps in with both feet, the health and production levels go up and the joy and excitement spreads throughout the entire community of faith.
When the church grasps this reality, we’ll see a lot more people truly being the hands and feet of Jesus. When more people in the church fully realize these truths, then more people will be encouraged and blessed by Christ. More people will know the joy of serving on the team when they realize that everyone is needed and their role is imperative. We are all part of this royal priesthood and in truth, we are all better off when we engage that way.
So it seems that the real question is not what your Pastor is doing or expected to do, but what are You doing?
How can you answer that question and jump in today?