the weblog of Alan Knox

Why I’m glad not to be that kind of pastor

Posted by on Dec 18, 2008 in blog links, elders, office | 19 comments

A few days ago, John Smulo at “smulospace” wrote a post called “Why I’m Glad Not To Be A Pastor Anymore“. John says that he is disillusioned with the “predominant models of ‘pastor’” and that he’s glad that he’s not in that position anymore because:

  1. I get to spend so much more time with my family.
  2. I get to spend more time with friends.
  3. It’s great to just be a married guy with kids, who owns a website and blog design business.
  4. I have time to be involved in my community through our local Rotary Club.
  5. I needed to recover from church burnout.

I understand what John is talking about, but not from experience, only from observing other “pastors”. Actually, I don’t think the problem is with being a “pastor” per se, but with the unscriptural expectations that many Christians place on those they recognize as leaders (especially elders or “pastors”). For example, a few months ago in a post called “Responsibilities and Expectations of Elders“, I published a standard job description that is published by a denominational agency:

  1. Plan and conduct the worship services; prepare and deliver sermons; lead in observance of ordinances.
  2. Lead the church in an effective program of witnessing and in a caring ministry for persons in the church and community.
  3. Visit members and prospects.
  4. Conduct counseling sessions; perform wedding ceremonies; conduct funerals.
  5. Serve as chairman of the Church Council to lead in planning, organizing, directing, coordinating, and evaluating the total church program.
  6. Work with deacons, church officers, and committees as they perform their assigned responsibilities; train and lead the deacons in a program of family ministries.
  7. Act as moderator of church business meetings.
  8. Cooperate with associational, state, and denominational leaders in matters of mutual interest and concern; keep the church informed of denominational development; represent the church in civic matters.
  9. Serve as chief administrator of the paid church staff; supervise the work of assigned paid staff workers.

In that post, I stated that these (for the most part) are expectations placed on “pastors” by church organizations and many believers, but they are not scriptural expectations or requirements.

Here’s the thing… I’m an elder… I pastor… but I’m not “that kind of pastor”. And, I’m glad not to be that kind of pastor. Why?

1. No one expects me to be obedient for them, and I’m not paid to be obedient for others. Everyone who is part of the church recognizes that it is their responsibility to serve, teach, care, evangelize, etc.

2. When I talk about the difficulties of working, having a family, and serving other people in the church and outside the church, I’m not talking from theory. No. I actually do all of those things. I work. I have a family. I serve other people in the church and outside the church. By the way, my example also removes excuses when someone would want to say, “But I don’t have time.”

3. No one wonders if I serve them only because I’m paid. They don’t wonder what would happen if another church offered me more money. They don’t wonder if I’m part of them only because they hired me.

4. I’m free to do whatever God leads me to do. My time is not taken up with meetings and planning and other “duties and responsibilities” that may take time away from serving or loving people that God brings across my path.

5. I’m part of the church. I’m not the main guy or some outside expert or professional. I’m just another brother who is struggling in his walk with Christ just like everyone else. Hopefully, since I’ve been recognized by the church, my walk is at least a little more mature and is a good example for others to follow. This also means that I’m free to say, “No”, if someone asks me to do something.

6. The church are my friends. I don’t have to keep people at arm’s distance. I don’t have to worry about job security if people find out that I’m not perfect or I don’t have all the answers.

7. Since I’m not the only one responsible for teaching – all of us are responsible to teach – then I’m also able to learn and be encouraged by the church. I can exercise my spiritual gifts in serving others and others can exercise their spiritual gifts as well. I don’t have to try to be (or pretend to be) a “jack-of-all-trades”.

There are so many other reasons why I’m glad not to be “that kind of pastor”. But, primarily, I’m glad that I’m actually able to pastor (that is, care for people), without being required to handle administrative, organizational, and structural requirements that other “pastors” are required to deal with.


19 Comments

  1. 12-18-2008

    Thank you for your thoughtful post Alan. Here’s a few things I didn’t say in my post:

    1. If I had a strong sense that God wanted me to be a pastor again, I would be. Though I wouldn’t want to be ‘that kind of pastor’ ever.

    2. My struggles as a pastor came to a significant extent because people expected me to be that kind of pastor, and when I wasn’t, it created conflict.

    Thanks again.

  2. 12-18-2008

    Too bad we can’t all have a universal “job” description:
    1. Read the Bible.
    2. Do what it says for you to do.

  3. 12-18-2008

    John,

    From reading your blog and hearing your stories, I think you do pastor. But, I understand what you mean by having a sense that god wanted you to be a pastor again. I think the church would do well with more of us who were not “that kind of pastor”.

    Lanny,

    I would add one thing… and I do think this is a universal “job description” for all believers:

    1. Read the Bible.
    2. Listen to the Spirit.
    3. Do what he tells you to do.

    -Alan

  4. 12-18-2008

    I spent about a year and a half as a pastor, it didn’t end well but it was exhausting and frustrating much of the time. I chalk a lot of that up to sin, my sin of being resentful that everyone expected me to do everything for them (I was bi-vocational working a stressful 40 hr/wk job in addition to leading a small church). Had we chucked the single pastor, “you lead, we follow” model we would have all been spiritually more healthy. The single, paid pastor model is unhealthy for the church but it is especially unhealthy for the man who is the pastor. I know few men who are the single pastor of small pr medium churches who are not fried and frustrated, and their walk suffers more than anyone.

    The problem is not in where we meet but in how we relate.

  5. 12-18-2008

    Alan,

    Thank you. In the non-institutional or local church sense I think I pastor too.

  6. 12-18-2008

    Arthur,

    I agree that the single paid pastor is unhealthy to the church. God often uses single paid pastors, but that doesn’t mean its healthy.

    I also agree that where is meet is not as important as how we relate.

    John,

    Thank you for writing the post that helped me think through this.

    -Alan

  7. 12-18-2008

    I totally agree that we should listen to the Spirit. However, since it is actually in God’s written word to be listening for the Holy Spirit’s voice and leading, I think that for simplification we can still keep our universal job description at “read, do”.

    Then if we read the word and concept of pastor and know it is meant for us we can then pastor those in our lives in the manner the Spirit intends and not how people wish others in their close proximity to be pastored. Or for any other “job” we see and hear which He makes clear is for us to attend to, all we really need to do is read and do.

  8. 12-18-2008

    I really like people but could not be “that kind of pastor”.

    - Some people do not have a lot of satisfying relationships, so they think the pastor should spend untold time developing a wonderful relationship with them.
    - Most churches, have a dearth of volunteers, so people expect the pastor to do everything they don’t have time to do or don’t want to do.
    - Most people aren’t willing to take the time to seriously study the Bible, so they expect the pastor to do it for them, and then tell them about it in an eloquent, soul-stirring sermon.
    - Most people know that they are far from perfect, but want to be led by someone is is almost perfect, and expect the pastor to be that person.
    -Most people dislike dealing with conflict, so they expect the pastor to deal with most of the conflict in the church.

    The list could go on and on. Simply put, the role of most modern pastors has been created by people with unrealistic expectations who want someone who is the kind of person they aspire to be, and who will do everything they don’t want to do, usually for a small salary for all the hours involved, to fill that role.

    It destroys pastors, their marriages and their families. Sometimes it destroys their faith.

    Any group who has such expectations of their pastor should either radically redefine the group and the pastor’s role in the group, or disband. They should not continue destroying pastors’ lives.

    I once attended a church that bragged that they were such a tough bunch to pastor that the previous five pastors had never lasted more than a year or two, and when they left the church they also left the ministry. That group should have been convicted and sent to prison!

    Just because the sign out front says “church” does not indicate that all of the people inside the building are Christians. Some of them are downright mean, especially to the person who has the title pastor.

    The current role of pastor as is found in most churches is not based on Scripture and destroys many pastors. Why on earth would anyone want to take on such a job?

  9. 12-18-2008

    Lanny,

    I think the Spirit directs us to do alot of things that are not directly spelled out in Scripture. (That doesn’t mean it contradicts Scripture though.) That’s why I think its good to add “Listen to the Spirit”. But, I understand what you’re saying, and I think the church would be much better off and much healthier following your ideas.

    Sam,

    You’re describing an unhealthy codependent relationship between church and pastor… a relationship that exists or has existed in all the churches that I’m aware of.

    You asked, “Why on earth would anyone want to take on such a job?” I can tell you that I was headed for that job because I knew God wanted more from me, and the only two options that I was given by my church was pastor or missionary.

    -Alan

  10. 12-19-2008

    Alan,

    Having sought to be a “traditional” pastor for far too long, many men I know, myself included, will carry the scars to their graves.

    Sounds rather melodramatic, but never-the-less true.

    Like John, I became disillusioned with the models which we were supposed to emulate.

    The ten years previous to my retirement, of holding to the soteriology of my younger days, but trying to practice a Biblical Ecclesiology, were very healing and filled with joy ( I didn’t say there were no problems).

    Sadly, I feel more equipped to lead a congregation of the Lord’s people, now, than I ever did. Seems my body doesn’t agree.

  11. 12-19-2008

    Aussie John,

    If there are no people around you who are getting to know you and growing from you, then they are missing a huge opportunity! I would love to have that opportunity!

    -Alan

  12. 12-22-2008

    Alan,

    Thank you for the sentiment expressed in your comment.

    I will have to take more care how I construct my words. When I wrote “body” I meant the creaky one that I move around in.

    The Lord seems to always keep us supplied with other members of His people to spend time with.

  13. 1-7-2009

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Sarah

    http://www.thetreadmillguide.com

  14. 5-14-2012

    What I find so troubling about this presupposition of a minister’s work is the fact that ministers do not set boundaries — even with their congregation. I have told the brethren where I serve that I would not do it all when there are plenty of able bodies ready. They knew this going in. I also told the congregation one Sunday not to expect more of me than they are willing to give. The whole consumer mindset of many congregations is diametrically opposed to the biblical notion of Christianity. They can’t claim their day job on me, because I worked a 50 plus hour job, went to school full time, and preached for a small congregation for years. I know how to balance my time, and I refuse to be seen as the hired help within the body of Christ. Sorry for the rant, but I too am glad I am not that sort of preacher/minister.

  15. 5-15-2012

    Steven,

    Thanks for the comment. It sounds like you are a vocational pastor, paid to do certain things by the church. Do you find that people have different expectations of you because of that?

    -Alan

  16. 5-15-2012

    Alan,

    They do seem to have expectations for me not only based on the reason that I’m paid, but also based on what past preachers have done. However, some of those past preachers engaged in works at which they excelled but that I do not necessarily, so I often hear comments like, “[The last preacher] did this or that this way or that way.”

    I don’t mind trying new ministries or other programs, but I’m trying to change the tenor of people’s mindset to one of participation and initiative taking rather than one of being always served.

    SH

  17. 5-15-2012

    looking at those list of tasks/responsibilities… I understand now a lot better why ‘those types’ are paid!!

  18. 5-15-2012

    Steven,

    You don’t think those expectations are tied to your position or the fact that you’re paid by them to do certain things (whether those expectations are spoken about or agreed upon or not)?

    I like the idea of encouraging people to seek out how God wants them to serve others themselves without waiting for a leader to “start a ministry.” I hope you’re able to help alot of people see their freedom and priesthood in Christ like that!

    Randi,

    Yes. They usually work very hard for their money (and I’m not being facetious or sarcastic).

    -Alan

  19. 5-15-2012

    Alan, correct. There are many things that were spelled out, but the items to which I refer are the unspoken expectations placed upon me. Some are not burdensome while others can be at times when you try to balance all that ministry includes without the assistance of others. However, I will say that where I serve people have good hearts and are willing to step up when asked. They merely lack the initiative. It has been going well and continues to make positive steps. For instance, I recently corresponded with our deacon over the youth, and he is going to direct the young men to engage more in worship services and our nursing home services.

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