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?