For most of my 30 plus years of experience in the church, “pastoring” was a function relegated to one or two (perhaps a few) and towards hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of people. So, on the average, one person was responsible for “pastoring” hundreds of others, while those hundreds were primarily responsible for being pastored.
From what I’ve seen in seminary and from the books and articles and blog posts that I’ve read, this is normal. Pastoring is seen as something that is done to hundreds or thousands of people at a time.
There is a huge problem inherent in this system: it teaches people to “care” from a distance in an impersonal and general way. This is not the way that Jesus cared for people or that we are instructed to care for people in the pages of Scripture.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Jesus or Paul or Peter or others did not speak to large crowds. They did. But they also made a distinction between the crowds and the disciples. Jesus spoke of the few “sheep” who heard his voice. He was their shepherd (pastor); he was not the shepherd for the crowd.
So, yes, we can and should proclaim the gospel to large crowds of unbelievers – whenever and wherever we have the opportunity. That’s not what I’m talking about, and it’s not what the authors of Scripture are talking about when they call for us to shepherd and care for one another.
So, what are the dangers of “pastoring” hundreds or thousands of people?
1) You do not actually know the people. You may tell yourself that you do; but you don’t – you can’t. Therefore, you can only deal with generalities or with big problems that are finally brought to your attention – usually long after the people actually needed help.
2) You teach people (by example) that this is the way that they should care for others. We wonder why other Christians do not get involved in each other’s lives, but this is exactly what is being modeled. They are “pastoring” others in the way they have learned from people “pastoring” them.
3) You change the meanings (unintentionally, certainly) of vast passages of Scripture. Those passages that talk about love, and care, and giving, and service, and shepherding, etc. must be reduced and modified to fit into the current system. The idea of actually getting involved in people’s lives – in both the good times and the bad – and letting them into your life, becomes impossible and therefore outside the realm of interpretation.
I didn’t write this post out of hurt or anger. I understand the position that many people find themselves in. But, I also understand the difficult of working through this problems. I’ve had to relearn what it means to shepherd people and what it means to be shepherded by others. Together, we’ve had to relearn what it means to care for one another and share our lives together. It is possible to change the way we interact with one another in Christ.
Some say that it’s impossible to change the system. I’m not concerned about changing the system at all. Instead, I’m more interested in seeing God’s people begin to grow in their relationship with God and their mutual relationships with one another. And, I think the idea that someone can “pastor” hundreds or thousands of people hinders that.