PMT posts give some insight or background into my “philosophy of ministry” or my best understanding of the practices that help people become mature followers of Jesus.
part two of “Would a Pastor by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?” I would encourage you to read part one before jumping in.
I want to resist using the word “leader” when I’m talking about a pastor. “Leader” is a word that carries so much baggage that I feel like we either have to always qualify it with “not that kind of leader” or we risk misleading people about the nature of a pastor’s role in the Church.
The New Testament keeps us jumping by using a collection of words for the role that we call “pastor.” All these different words give us insight into the expectation we are supposed to have for this roll, and they all come from within the context of the writers’ own experiences and cultures. Using a multitude of names as reference points paints a helpful picture of what a being a pastor is without creating something so narrow we can’t apply it outside of the first century.
At the same time, we are so far removed from the New Testament world that it is hard for us to read the text without reading our present experience back into it. It is difficult to read a passage about elders and pastors and leader without all our contemporary baggage coming along to shape how we read the text.
Shepherd, elder, and overseer are words the New Testament writers use to name the role we call “pastor” today. This naming is important because it gives us a more meaningful idea of what the early church had in mind. These are people who feed, guide and guard the flock of God under the eye of the Chief Shepherd. These aren’t our personal flocks but temporary assignments that will be one day, hopefully, handed off to another.
And they function as part of a collective, a chorus – not as soloists.
What Jesus makes most clear for us is the character and relationship pastors have with the church versus “leadership” as practiced in culture. “When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.’” (Matthew 20:24-27 NLT)
So whether you’re out to be an apostle or a pastor, you approach this with the same attitude: as a servant or slave. Philippians chapter two might come to mind.
More than once I’ve heard a pastor explain how this works by saying, “I serve the church by being their pastor.” But Jesus didn’t say that. If Jesus used the same language he would say, “You pastor by serving the church.” Overtime we’ve adopted so many models from the culture around us that it all becomes murky and as difficult to navigate for the person who feels called to pastoral ministry as it is for the church trying to understand what a pastor does and what they are supposed to be like.
Currently, I’m in the United States version of the Vineyard Church, a network of churches that developed under the leadership of John Wimber. I think the dominant pastoral model for Vineyard USA (VUSA) is the Entrepreneurial model. Local churches are like a personal business, a franchise opportunity, the senior pastor is the franchisee and they contribute a percentage of their weekly “profits” to the Franchise holder for the rights to the “brand.” We typically have boards like a corporation might but the senior pastor functions as the CEO. Sometimes these are small mom and pop type establishments and sometimes they grow to Big Box size and even into multiple locations in a particular city. They might be a family business as father’s turn over the business to their son or daughter (nearly always a son) who takes over the business. In the end, the Senior Pastor/CEO calls the shots and expects loyalty and productivity.
The Vineyard isn’t alone in using this Entrepreneurial model. Independent churches will often function this way. This can leave you with a Steve Jobs or a Steve Wozniak, a Sam Walton or an Elon Musk but usually you have a Bob and very rarely an Emily, folks that never write a “how to” book on pastoring or get asked to speak at a conference but make up 75% of the church in North America.
In The Pastor, a memoir by Eugene Peterson, he writes “The vocation of pastor(s) has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” Peterson describing his own vocational journey writes, “I didn’t want to be a religious professional whose identity was institutionalized. I didn’t want to be a pastor whose sense of worth derived from whether people affirmed or ignored me. In short, I didn’t want to be a pastor in the ways that were most in evidence and most rewarded in the American consumerist and celebrity culture.”
Entrepreneurs make sense in a consumer culture, they will resonate deeply with a consumer culture. But what we need are pastors, not entrepreneurs, we need shepherds, not celebrities and we need elders who have lived long enough to know what it’s not about rather than Movers who can drive a church to numeric growth.
I had a professor in Bible College who used to tell us, “what you win them with is what you win them to.” Which is just another way of saying that the way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that’s coming. Which is just another way of saying that all of this really does matter because the way in which we pastor is the kingdom that is coming – the fruit will reveal the root. (my Pentecostal friends know that’ll preach.)
In VUSA, I think this approach, in part causes us to have a low (or non-existent) view of ordination. I’m not sharing this to gripe about VUSA, just to illustrate how the models we choose have their effect on what we become. This is true about more networks or affiliated groups of churches than just the Vineyard. I’ve known men, concerned about their lack of ordination share their concern with another pastor at a national conference only to have that pastor call another over to lay hands on the first man and proclaim him ordained there in the church lobby. Ordination then becomes a formality rather than an affirmation of the community of faith about the will of God for an individual.
I’m not asked by my denomination about a discernment process that leads to recognizing people called to vocational ministry, I’m asked to end in names of really great couples and individuals who have the right stuff for church planting. This leads to pastoral malpractice on a self-destructive scale. This is how you build a franchise network, it is not how you follow the Holy Spirit.
But here’s the thing, I once sat in a living room with my wife and 5 other pastoral couples and another pastor about 15 years older than me said, “This is how I pastor, it’s what I learned from Wimber and it’s the only way I know to pastor and I’m too old to change now.” We were spending a week together discussing shifts in culture and revisiting what “leadership” looks like. Before the weekend we were given a list of books to read and all of them invited us to take a fresh look at pastoring the church. Not a “new” look. Not “you’ve never heard this before” ideas. The weeklong conversation was really about a more Jesusy way of doing leadership that the Church once practiced until we came up with something “better.”
To get to my sense of what a healthy ecclesiology looks like, we need to start with “what does the kingdom of God look like?” and work backwards from there. Rather than “brand ambassadors” or CEOs or Coaches or Ranchers, we should stick with pastors (and apostles, prophets and evangelists while we’re there).
But this boring post has gone well past anyone’s ability to stick with it and I still haven’t gotten to my thoughts on healthy ecclesiology, so we’ll pause here and come back next week. I do see this as groundwork for what I think is the kind of ecclesiology that will get us to the kind church that is clearly identifiable as a fruit of the kingdom Jesus.