the weblog of Alan Knox

One of us

Posted by on Jul 17, 2008 in community, elders, fellowship, office | 40 comments

I’ve been in conversations (both here and on other blogs) concerning pastors/elders and whether or not they are “one of us”. That is, often leaders feel separated from other believers, and believers feel separated from leaders.

This separation and the lack of real relationships between leaders and other believers has been listed as one of the causes of fatigue and “burn-out” for pastors/elders. Most leaders that I talk with today do not subscribe to the “wisdom” that pastors should not have friends among the church – although that has been taught and still is taught in some circles. Instead, most believers now recognize the need to have real, authentic relationships with other believers – including leaders.

So, why does the church in general often find it difficult to form relationships with pastors/elders? Why do pastors/elders feel isolated from other believers?

I believe there are many reasons for this separation. The first reason that leaders feel separated from other believers is that there is an ongoing practice and belief of clergy/laity division. Yes, most would deny that there is a ontological difference between leaders and other believers, but in our words and practices we often veto our denial. Usually, when the church meets, leaders have a special place to sit, a special place to stand, and speak at special times when others are not allowed to speak. Leaders decide who does what, when, and how. Leaders baptize and serve the Lord’s Supper. Leaders pray at special times and officiate special ceremonies. By our actions we demonstrate that we really thing that leaders are different than other believers.

However, some leaders refuse to separate themselves from other believers by these actions. In other words, leaders sit and stand with everyone else. Other believers speak and make decisions and baptize and serve the Lord’s Supper and pray and officiate special ceremonies. Many times, this does not completely overcome the separation between leaders and other believers.

Sometimes this separation persists because of special titles. Sometimes this separation continues because the leaders are considered “short-timers” – they came from another location and will probably move again. Sometimes leaders and other believers cannot form relationships because the people see them as “hirelings” – paid to do religious work for them. Similarly, leaders sometimes project or are perceived to project the image that they are perfect – or near perfect, since no one will claim to be perfect – which hinders other believers from forming relationships with them. This will probably be a very controversial point – it usually is – but it is my opinion that being a paid religious professional (pastor/elder as a job) also separates leaders from other believers.

Any time leaders see themselves as “special” or any time other believers see leaders as “special”, then they will find it difficult to form relationships with one another. Whenever the interaction moves away from leaders being “among” the body to the leaders being “over” the body, then leaders will be separated from other believers.

In reality, leaders are more mature believers – more consistent in their walk with Christ (supposedly) – but they are not “special”. They are not holy men doing holy work in holy places. All of God’s children are holy – set apart by God for service – and all of God’s children are ministers (servants). When we understand this – and when we live and act accordingly – we will find that our leaders are actually “one of us”.

Do you know of other beliefs or practices that would hinder pastors/elders from forming relationships with other believers?


40 Comments

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  1. 7-17-2008

    In my opinion the reason is the whole paid issue you brought up. When someone is being paid to run the show we expect them to be the superstar. They are to be the one with all the answers.

    The bottom line is when we pay someone to do a job, especially one that places them in charge we do not expect them to be one of us. We don’t even really want them to be. We may say we do, but as you said, our actions do veto our words.

    As a matter of fact it is my opinion that the action of taking money to be a leader or be in charge is in essence declaring yourself to be set apart. Pastor’s are not paid to be one of the guys. They are getting paid to be better. They are paid to be wiser. They are paid to be the example, and to be set apart.

    Just my opinions though.

  2. 7-17-2008

    How about sin.

    Some people want others to rule over them to make their life simple and so they do not have to talk to God directly. I think that happened to the Apostle Paul as we see the tendency among some to want to follow men and take sides.

    It is easy to blame the “system”, which might contribute to the problem, but ultimately I think it is in our human nature to elevate, if not worship, men.

  3. 7-17-2008

    j.r. – Believe it or not I really think both your answer and my answer go hand in hand. I do believe that most Christians want the easy way out. That means they want a man to elevate and worship. Which, for me at least, flows right into what I said. The minute a man accepts money to be that superstar he has accepted the role of the person to be elevated and worshiped.

  4. 7-17-2008

    Mark,

    You’ve made some good points about the paid religious professional issue. I agree that accepting a salary in order to “lead” sets someone apart, but not in the way that Scripture talks about believers being set apart – i.e. holy.

    J.R.,

    Yes, I agree with you. Sin is a huge issue. There are many who still want leaders to speak to God for them and to speak to them for God. This was a problem for Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 19-20, and it is still a problem.

    -Alan

  5. 7-17-2008

    I agree that accepting payment for being a leader is a major cause of the division.

    Also, as you said Alan, sometimes leaders put on a pretense of perfection and that causes the separation. However, sometimes self professing Christians can be flatout nasty when their paid leaders eventually show themselves not to be perfect, when perfection is what they expected and wanted out their paid leader (Pastor).

    I’ve seen an incredible number of paid ministers get abused by the people in institutional churches when the leader turned out not to be perfect as certian ones unreasonably expected.

    This is obviously a reason for separation.

    Gary

  6. 7-17-2008

    Could it also be that relationships with paid, “professional” pastors are hard to develop because these pastors are constantly on the move? They come and they go. They never really are a part of us. And eventually, when they get tired of us like they did the previous flock, they will move on again.

    This can’t help the relationship building process.

  7. 7-17-2008

    Scott, Mark, & Friends, you have made some very broad statements. So I wonder, Do you see the Apostle's Paul's problems in not connecting coming from the fact that he was always on the move and because he accepted money to separate himself from the churches and make himself a superstar?

  8. 7-17-2008

    First of all, I do want to say in relation to the comments here that it is interesting how we will pull from “elder” and “apostle” and anything else that fits our desire in order to support the “professional pastor” concept, when it is convenient.

    The inconsistencies that I see are:

    1. Paul talks about rights as an apostle (which I take to be any itinerant church planter type) to be supported, and was not talking about a “pastor”.

    2. Paul talks about “elders” deserving “double honor”, which is often taken to indicate a paycheck for a pastor. However, most churches that have pastors seem to also have “elders”, and I know of none that pay their elders. Only the pastor. Why?

    Now, in relation to your question, Alan, I think that the one you mentioned that carries the most weight is the “hired from the outside” aspect. This part of the modern church practice is, to me, completely indefensible from scripture. I can’t say that strongly enough.

    Paul sent Titus to appoint elders. However we want to view those elders (paid, unpaid, single, multiple, etc.), the point is that they were appointed from among the churches. They were not “imported” from the outside.

    It is that hiring from the outside that works the strongest (in my opinion) against a leader being “one of us”. And I find it saddening that it is an aspect of it that is hardly ever mentioned by anyone.

    Churches think they must automatically look outside for a pastor, and pastors think nothing of looking elsewhere for some other church to pastor. I’m not throwing stones. I was a pastor. I know how it works.

  9. 7-17-2008

    Steve, you lost me. Where exactly did someone say that Elders and Apostles were the same or that the passage about elders receiving “double honor” was the same as a salary? I think I missed those comments you are referring to.

  10. 7-17-2008

    JR, you were the one that mentioned Paul when you wrote: Do you see the Apostle’s Paul’s problems in not connecting coming from the fact that he was always on the move and because he accepted money to separate himself from the churches and make himself a superstar?

    Maybe I misunderstood your point, but I thought you were trying to refer to this as justification for pastors doing the same. Which seemed to be equating apostle and pastor.

    The second point about elders receiving “double honor” was referring to justification that often comes up when this subject is discussed.

    Hope that helps.

  11. 7-17-2008

    Thanks steve for making it clear that the connection was an assumption on your part.

    It is important in a discussion, especially a blog comment, not to be reactionary based on preconceived notions. I have not, and do not make any of the assumptions you made in your post. As a matter of fact, I would agree with each point you made and have written so in the past. In about 2 weeks I start a series on Elders that also make these same points. So please work harder at not putting your bias into my questions. Thanks :-)

    Let me clarify my question so you can understand it better. IMHO< it is a moot point that Paul was an "Apostle" and we are discussing "Elders/Pastors" Some very broad and sweeping statements were made about what hinders relationships and I want to know the boundaries of those statements (this method of discussion is called the socratic method).

    Let me give one example of a rather broad statement, Mark said, " the action of taking money to be a leader or be in charge is in essence declaring yourself to be set apart."

    But he does not say "a salary" he said any exchange of money to a leader is counterproductive. So thus I want to know if he means this or if he can help refine that statement through my question. This, Steve, helps generates understanding rather than putting thoughts into Mark's head.

    This is just one example. So back to my original question.

    What I am asking, is that since Paul received money, was being "one of us" a problem he faced? If yes, how did he address it? If not, why?

    Paul was an itinerant leader, always in and out of churches. Again, if we make a broad statement that simply moving around prohibits the building of relationships for pastors, then I want to know is that the case with Paul? Or, how was his moving different?

    The connecting point, for me, Steve is not the role being played in the church, it is the FACTORS that influence these relationships that I find interesting in Alan's original questions.

    Or, based on the need you felt to correct an error that was not present, are you suggesting Steve that we can learn nothing from Paul since none of us are Apostles and that none of these factors apply to someone called an "Apostle" and only to someone called a "Pastor"?

  12. 7-17-2008

    Alan, I have a specific question for you. You mention in your post that special Title set people apart and the implication is that these titles are therefore wrong to use. Is that your intent?

    You also say that some work being reserved for one person is something that hinders relationship. Is it your intention then to suggest that every work in the church is open to every believer and any differences in what people do in the Body are destructive to relationships?

    That is the impression I get from the way the post is written, but necessarily the impression I get from your writing as a whole.

  13. 7-17-2008

    I think and maybe I am taking a completely wrong approach on the post is the following:

    When a person is a “hired-hand”, it is very difficult(at thimes) to be ‘authentic’. Because the people that you are trying to be like (one of them) writes you the check.

    If paths get crossed, your livelyhood could be on the line.

    A one-income pastor/leader with a stay-at-home spouse for the kids get in hot water for remarks – loses job and her/his family is up the creek without a paddle and she/he may now be “messing” up his family life.

    Dynamics in relationships get very tricky when there is employer/employee involved and it is not just limited to the chucrh.

  14. 7-17-2008

    Alan,

    Some good, and legitimate points have been made.

    As one who spent many years as a paid “pastor”, because I was part of the “system”, but all the while under conviction that “paid”, “salaried” and titled positions could not be justified by sound exegesis, I can understand the sensitivity of those, who are in salaried ministry, to any discussion which throws doubt upon the practice.

    In my final years of leading a congregation I was an honorary elder, doing secular work to put bread on the table.

    The advantages are enormous, such as causing one to be more in contact with many more unbelievers than would formerly have been possible, whose eyes were opened regarding so-called “clergymen”.

    The blessings were just as enormous.

    A conversation with a deacon regarding architecture of traditional “churches” led me to study and understand that much “church” design was meant to suggest the separation of “clergy/laity”.

    The principle of the college I attended constantly affirmed that separation.

    “Pastors” I personally know affirm this separation by statements such as “I will show them (the congregation) who is boss!”, and , “I expect you , at all times,to address me as Pastor”. “The Holy Desk (pulpit) is for the Pastor alone”.

    Most of all, after much reading, I am convinced that the practice is a result of the Reformers failing to deal with the issues of ecclesiology at the same time as those of Biblical soteriology. As a result the practice of popes and priests continued, and some leaders love it that way.

  15. 7-17-2008

    Gary,

    I agree that the idea of “perfect” leaders can be projected by the leaders themselves, or they can be falsely perceived by other believers. In fact, I think that most of the items of my list can come from either leaders or other believers.

    Scott,

    Yes, I think that the fact that many leaders are brought in from outside the church, and the fact that many will leave to go to another church hinders relationships.

    Steve,

    Yes, as I said to Scott, I think the practice of bringing in leaders from the outside causes relationship problems.

    Jeff,

    I agree that relationships are tricky when there is an employer / employee relationship.

    Aussie John,

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences. As for reformers, I think that some (Luther for instance) thought about ecclesiology, but decided to leave things as they were for the benefit of the state.

    J.R.,

    You’ve asked a very good question. I think that those (all of those) who are gifted to teach or who have been given an instruction by the Spirit should have the opportunity to teach. All of those who have the gift of administration should have the opportunity to administer. All of those who have the gift of prophecy or who have received a revelation should be allowed to prophesy. Thus, we (all of us – not just leaders) should be allowed to function among the body as the Spirit gifts or inspires, not based on whether we are pastors/elders or not. I would assume that since pastors/elders are supposedly the more mature believers among the church that they would often be exercising their gifts, perhaps even more often than other believers.

    -Alan

  16. 7-17-2008

    I certainly agree with that Alan. Even more, Elders should be the ones helping people discover, explore and use their giftings.

    I tend to put the emphasis though on the fact that every member of the Body is unique. Every member is special and that uniqueness is what should enhance our unity. Often it does not. Just like the Church in Corinth, some people elevated others to a greater status because they all wanted the same gifting, but Paul showed them a better way.

    I am not afraid of people being set apart for special things, I think that is the nature of being a follower. Paul was set apart for his work, Elders are set apart for their service, etc… but being set apart only creates elitism and broken relationships when we allow sin, covetousness, pride, etc.., to conquer unity.

  17. 7-17-2008

    J.R.,

    All believers are set apart. Yes, elders are set apart to serve as the Spirit gifts them and as God gives them opportunity. But, I believe this is true of all believers. I’m not afraid of people being set apart, as long as we don’t try to make some more set apart than others. In fact, I think Paul cautioned against this in 1 Cor 12 when he told us that those members that we think are less important are actually more important.

    -Alan

  18. 7-18-2008

    My original comment was definitely not clear enough. I will see if I can state it better this time.

    When a pastor, teacher, or leader of any type REQUIRES money for services rendered they have declared themselves to be set apart.

    On the other hand if a leader is given money out of love that was not asked for and not required I would actually have a problem with them not accepting it.

    To me the issue is whether or not we are talking about a gift(unsolicited) or a payment(required). It doesn’t matter how lovingly money is given. If the person receiving it requires it for the services rendered it isn’t a gift.

  19. 7-18-2008

    Alan,
    True… thus the use of the word “saint” Everyone is set apart for service to God.

    Mark,
    I like the substance of your clarification and agree with you.

  20. 7-18-2008

    Mark,

    Yes, that is a key point. Perhaps one test for a paid pastor would be to ask himself what he would stop doing if he stopped getting paid. The part of his life and service he would stop doing is the part he is requiring pay to do.

    -Alan

  21. 7-18-2008

    Having gotten close to several vocational pastor over the years, I know that one reason they do not get close to “the congregation” is that many have gotten hurt in the past. The same people they got close to and they became friends with were the ones that did not support them or even back stabbed them during church controversies.

    It is easier for them to befriend other vocational pastors who will not have anything to say about their job and their ideas/decisions.

    It would seem from that perspective that authority, not just salary is the issue.

  22. 7-18-2008

    Maël,

    Thanks for the comment. I think I understand what you’re talking about from previous conversations. How do you think relationship problems are caused by leaders exercising authority? Could the problems you’ve encountered be simply a case of self-preservation? (i.e. not wanting to get hurt again)

    -Alan

  23. 7-18-2008

    Alan, as Mael considers a response, I would like to say I know the pain of lost friendship and how it can drive a man, not just a pastor but any man, into a shell.

    The details are different for everyone, so I wrote this poem to express my angst about the desire and danger of intimacy.

  24. 7-19-2008

    In my experience the role of pastor in our culture follows one of three patterns found in the business world: pastor as an employee, pastor as a CEO, and pastor as a sole proprietor. If the pastor is your employee you can be friends with him, but ultimately you have to evaluate his performance and may have to fire him. The relationship is limited by the burden of that constraint. If the pastor is a CEO he has to balance the demands and desires from several competing departments and granting access to certain people over others has political dimensions and creates resentment in those who don’t have access to the decision maker. If the pastor is a sole proprietor he owns the “church” and runs it as a lifestyle business. You can be friends with him, but you need to do the things he wants in order to get along or you will no longer have a place in his business.

    In each of these cases, role defines and limits relationship. Contrast these roles with friendship itself. Friends give much more to each other and demand less.

    I like to think about an elder as an older brother – not the kind of older brother that Dad left in charge while he was gone and instructed all of us to do whatever he said – but the kind of older brother who is teaching you how to ride a bike, blow a bubble, or whistle – the kind of older brother that warns you against drag racing when you first get your license because he’s been there and knows better. The kind of older brother you respect and love more than you fear. While your older brother is always older, at some point you grow up and become simply brothers.

  25. 7-19-2008

    @Brent: *applause*

  26. 7-19-2008

    Alan,

    not by leaders exercising authority, but by authority creating struggles.

    Let me give you a scenario: Pastor R. becomes very close friends with Deacon X. They spend much time together and get to know each other really well. There comes a point where Pastor R. and the deacons do not see eye to eye. Deacon X. does not side with Pastor R. and on top of that he uses information from their friendship to get the upper hand on Pastor R.

    Now, without attributing faults … what is the “natural” reaction of Pastor R. – don’t become close friend with a deacon again. You can then generalize it to: don’t get close to any church member again.

    Sad, … very sad.

  27. 7-19-2008

    J.R.,

    Thank you for the link to the poem. I’ve known many people – myself included at times – who refuse to form close relationships because they’ve been hurt in the past. How do you think we overcome this?

    Maël,

    I’ll ask you the same question that I asked J.R. How do we help those who have been hurt through relationships in the past to open themselves up to another relationship?

    Brent,

    Yes. Very perceptive. I agree with the concept of pastor/elder as an older brother. It works very well with the word “elder”, since it simply means “older”.

    Steve,

    I’m appluading beside you, brother.

    -Alan

  28. 7-19-2008

    You point them to Paul and to Jesus, both of whom suffered greatly, but loved even more.

    Listen to Paul’s words in Acts 20:18ff (ESV)
    “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, …”

    You can feel the love and the pain of one who lived “among” the people that God had put in his life.

  29. 7-19-2008

    Maël,

    I agree completely. In fact, I would say that one of the reasons that Paul, in particular, was willing to open himself up to relationships in spite of being hurt by people in relationships is that he understood that God often works through relationships. Unfortunately, I think this is often missing among Christians today as we focus on individual spirituality and growth instead of community aspects of spirituality and growth.

    -Alan

  30. 7-20-2008

    Alan, I asked that same exact question of author Eric Bryant in an upcoming interview on his book Peppermint Filled Pinatas.

    For me, the answer is in my poem. I love and trust again because it is my nature in Christ to love. Thus, for me, the angst I feel is because I know friendship will lead again to hurts, but then I remember I must be defeated by pain. Often I have disappoint my friend Jesus and yet he still loves me, and so I must love again.

    I resonate wth mael’s story. Often authority and leadership are not the real issues that lead to the pain, they just become excuses to justify an unbiblical response.

  31. 7-20-2008

    Brent, I like your response about the pastor CEO. May I quote some of you in my upcoming series on Eldership in the church?

  32. 7-21-2008

    J.R.,

    Sure. Use whatever is helpful.

  33. 6-1-2011

    Forgive me if I restate something that was said above, but I live this divide out in my own church and find it to be because of several reasons. Ultimately though I believe the extent to which this divide exists depends on the church culture which usually is set by the senior pastor. That being said, when one is hired at a church there is a reality of the employer/employee relationship. This can create a barrier as Brent mentioned above. If you’re worried that being authentic, a prerequisite to friendship, may impact you negatively in terms of your job you, or at least I, pull back a bit.

    Second, it’s easier to be “one of us” when other people treat you as “one of them.” But in certain churches, especially smaller or churches in more rural settings, the church staffer is not viewed as “one of us.” So it’s going to take a lot of time to chip away at generations of history of what it looks like to treat the minister with “respect.”

    Third, a hired church staffer is not placed in an organic setting. It’s normally a move to a city they are not familiar with to serve at a church where they know no one going into it. Other people search out churches partly on the basis of who they connect with. The nature of the interview process often doesn’t make this a reality for most folks looking for a place to serve.

  34. 6-2-2011

    T.W.,

    Yes, the “one of us” issues rises from both the leaders and others. Primarily, though, it’s the traditional church’s approach to leaders that separates them from the church.

    -Alan

  35. 6-2-2011

    Alan – I agree with you. It may be overstating it but let’s say that the traditional church has a “worldview” of sorts that approaches leaders like this. I think most research states it takes 20+ years to begin to make significant headway in changing this tradition. In that case do people who not like the status quo put in the time to try to change the way things are or do they jump ship and plant churches that approach leadership differently? In this case, like many others, I think identifying the issue is simpler than solving the issue.

  36. 10-20-2011

    I really enjoyed the comments from this post. Great insights to this difficulty. Obviously the main problem with this is sin, like J.R. said.

    Brent & Mael, love the comments too. Thanks.

  37. 12-13-2011

    This is a great topic, and one that is near and dear to my heart. I wish I was around when it was originally written. I think the fact that Pastors cannot really foster meaningful two-way relationships really hurts the church. The Pastor needs accountability and community just like the rest of us.

    I won’t cover it too much here but I did cover this on my site ( http://antwuanmalone.com/2011/07/22/pastors-and-honor/ ) as a part of a Pastor series.

    I really hope we can move away from tradition and starchiness in favor of being truly brothers and sisters in Christ. I think it hurts us when we don’t.

  38. 7-4-2012

    Titles separate. Many even go by their title (i.e. Pastor Bob) in social settings. I sometimes want to respond by saying “And you can call me Mr Bob”. Which do you think is sillier: Pastor Bob or Mr Bob? :)

    http://www.kansasbob.com/2010/07/dark-side-of-titles.html

  39. 7-5-2012

    Bob,

    Yes, titles do tend to separate some from others. And, I think it works in both directions. I’ve known many who wanted to give me certain titles (even though I asked them not to several times), and would then consider me different than them based on that title. It’s very weird to me…

    -Alan

  40. 7-5-2012

    Back in the 70s, when I was in my 20s, our pastor taught about this phenomenon of titles and said that if you need to give him a title he wanted to be called Brother Ernie – and everyone knew him by that.