the weblog of Alan Knox

Are pastors good for nothing?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2009 in community, elders, office | 5 comments

I wrote the post “Are pastors good for nothing?” about a year ago. I believe that one of the reasons that Christians today remain immature (look at the way we general act and react!) is because leaders have attempted to lead from above, separated from the church. I do not think we can shepherd or care for people from above; we must remain among them. This post is an attempt to describe why “pastoring” is so important, but perhaps not the way it’s usually understood.

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Are pastors good for nothing?

A few days ago, when I came into our office at work, my coworkers were having a discussion about elders and pastors. (I will use the terms elders and pastors interchangeably in this blog post.) We discussed the concept of a pastoral office. Of course, if you’ve read my blog posts about elders, you know that I do not believe that Scripture describes an office of pastor or elder. When I describe my understanding of elders, I’m usually asked the following question: “If pastors/elders do not have special responsibilities and duties because of their position as pastor/elder, then why do we need them? Why would Scripture instruct us to appoint pastors/elders?” In other words, given my view of pastors/elder, what are pastors good for? Are they good for nothing?

First, I think a quick summary of my understanding of pastoring is in order. (If you want the longer description, see my recent post “How do you find the time to pastor?” and my series on elders that begins with the post “Elders (Part 1) – Introduction“.) Aussie John gave a great summary of my position in a recent comment. He described a pastor as: “A sheep among sheep gifted to compliment the other sheep and their giftedness”, and he described pastoring as “to minister as a brother in ministry, instead of as the Head Honcho! …to minister and be ministered to as brethren in the same family!” Thus, I believe that an elder is part of the church, one who is recognized by the church as obediently carrying out the responsibilities of all believers: teaching, caring for people, leading, etc.

But, if a pastor is simply one sheep among other sheep, one who is gifted as others are gifted, one who teaches while others also teach, then, what is a pastor good for? Why do we need pastors? Why does Scripture tell us to appoint elders? Are pastors good for nothing?

For those of us who hold to a high view of Scripture, we know that pastors must be good for something. However, recognizing that elders are important does not mean that we automatically must accept that pastors should be the organizing, planning, head-honcho types with which we’re sometimes presented.

Instead, I believe that elders/pastors should primarily function as examples to other believers. They should be examples in their living, their caring, their teaching, their leading, etc. In fact, when elders are appointed/chosen/recognized, churches should choose those who are already living as examples to those around them. But, why is it important for groups of believers to have examples?

None of us are perfect – not even pastors – but all of us tend to look more highly on ourselves, our opinions, our gifts, our talents, our ideas, our plans, etc. than we should. When presented with two options – one ours and one coming from another person – we will tend to choose our own idea. When presented with two ways of dealing with a problem, we will tend to choose that way that seems right to us. When contemplating how to help someone in need, we tend to want to help in the way that looks best to us. Thus, we all tend to choose our own way.

But, if the group – church – as a whole has recognized several people who generally make wise decisions and generally live life in a way that honors God and helps others – elders/pastors – then the church has a resource to help make these kinds of decisions. If we respect these leaders then we will choose to follow them and their opinions instead of following our own ideas and opinions. (Of course, if the elders/pastors care about people, then they will also listen to the ideas and opinions of others. And, also, elders/pastors will tend to listen to other elders/pastors as well.)

These decisions can cover a plethora of topics, from interpreting Scripture to feeding those who are hungry, from scheduling meetings to helping the oppressed. Thus, when we recognize those who are more mature among us, we give ourselves a visible standard of living for Christ. But, this standard does not come from a position to obey, but from an example to imitate.

Interestingly, and finally, if pastors are truly mature, then they will be the first to yield to the interests of others. Thus, the pastors who complain because they are not getting their way are probably not the people that we should follow. Similarly, those who demand that we follow them because of their position are also demonstrating that they are not the ones who should be followed. Instead, those people who consistently live their lives loving God and loving others and maturing in Christ Jesus are the examples that we should follow.


5 Comments

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  1. 3-13-2009

    I was going to stop at amen. But here’s a thought for what it is worth from a farm wife. Dirt, my husband, is a “pastor” of his sheep and he doesn’t just lead by example (gotta giggle for a sec at that mental pic) He cares for them, checks on them frequently, picks up the feet of each and everyone of them (all four), gives each of them a shot to keep them from dying of overeater’s disease, shears each one, douses for ticks on each one, tends to the birth of each one (or sends his wife to). Right there, lets back up shall we, other people can help him do his work and sometime there is something done that he does not do. But mostly a shepherd doesn’t teach his sheep how to be sheep. That is not the pastors job as I see it. If I look at a pastor/shepherd, he is the caretaker and at best moves the flock along but he doesn’t teach them how to be sheep. Sheep don’t need to be taught but we do, we need a lot of things that sheep do not. Is that where the other gifts come in? Sheep don’t need prophetic words or words of knowledge or exhortation but we do. Sheep don’t need miracles, we do.

    Any way that was what I was thinking off the cuff. Didn’t really think it through like where Jesus says feed my sheep by preaching to them every Sunday with huge screens on each side of you. I forgot that verse.
    Just thinking.

  2. 3-13-2009

    Hi Alan
    I agree with your position entirely. HOWEVER, although I like the compactness of Aussie John’s ‘sheep among sheep’description, I can’t help thinking that those of a different position would very quickly point out that the word ‘pastor’ means ‘shepherd’ and that therefore he is not just a ‘sheep among sheep’ but is a ‘shepherd among sheep’.
    Any comeback?

  3. 3-13-2009

    Lanny and Goblin,

    Jesus is our shepherd and we are all the sheep of his pasture. He choses to give different gifts to each of us for the benefit of the whole flock. If he chooses to gift someone as an elder/pastor/shepherd, that doesn’t for one second change the fact that they themselves are still one of the sheep in the flock.

    They may be an older brother, but they are still a brother. Our father is still the father.

    Is it possible that we can take the the shepherd analogy too far and end up taking over the role that Jesus has reserved for himself? Why else would he warn us not to call each other teacher or father, instructing us that he was our teacher and God was our father?

    Just a few thoughts I had while thinking over your comments.

    - Brent

  4. 3-13-2009

    Bro. Alan,

    I sure wish one of my former “pastor’s” would have known this. He once held a prayer meeting and repeated several times, “Make ‘em obey me Lord!”! I couldn’t believe it.

  5. 3-13-2009

    Lanny,

    If someone is not caring for people, then that person should not be recognized as an elder. But, the person also should not care for people only because that person is an elder. Since we should all care for one another, the elder serves as an example for other as to how to serve. But, elders don’t serve others only to be an example. I hope that makes sense.

    Goblin,

    All believers are responsible for teaching, shepherding (caring for), encouraging, etc. other believers. The difference is that elders are recognized as being people who actually do this regularly and consistently. So, yes, the elder will be teaching, caring, leading, etc. But, so should others. We only have one Pastor (Shepherd) but he often works through other people to pastor (shepherd) us.

    Brent,

    I agree with almost everything you said. “Pastor” and “shepherd” are actually the same thing. They both indicate “caring for” someone or something. But, “elder” is somewhat different. An elder should shepherd other people, but someone should shepherd (care for) other people without being an elder. In fact, every follower of Jesus should be caring for other brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Lawrence,

    I’m sure that he meant well and thought he was doing his job as a Christian leader.

    -Alan