My Issues with Evangelicalism: (2) Pastoral Ministry

By Chaplain Mike

Part three of a four-part series.

Chaplain Mike the Pastor
I have been in pastoral ministry since 1978, when I graduated from Bible college.

  • I served as an assistant pastor in my home church (Southern Baptist) the summer after I graduated from Bible college.
  • For five years, I was the pastor of a small (75-100) church in Vermont. It was an American Baptist Church that became independent of the association.
  • While in seminary, I pastored an IFCA Bible Church in the Chicago area.
  • We moved to Indianapolis, where I was an associate pastor, responsible for worship and music and other ministries for nine years in a non-denominational church.
  • I then became the senior pastor in a smaller sister church south of Indy.
  • Now, I serve in a community-based pastoral ministry as a hospice chaplain.

At times, I was a good pastor. At other times, I was awful, I’m sure. But through all the years, a few things have remained constant, at least in my understanding of what a pastor should do: (1) teaching the Scriptures, (2) leading God’s people in worship, (3) working with people personally to help them grow in faith, (4) providing pastoral care to those in need, and (5) helping people have a vision for and participate in God’s worldwide mission.

As I’ve watched what is happening in evangelical churches over the years, I’m not sure others have shared that same understanding.

Evangelicalism’s Pastoral Issue
In my opinion, few have spoken with regard to the ministry of pastors as powerfully as Eugene Peterson. His ideas will dominate my own critique in this post. I begin with a quote:

When I look for help in developing my pastoral craft and nurturing my pastoral vocation, the one century that has the least to commend it is the twentieth. Has any century been so fascinated with gimmickery, so surfeited with fads, so addicted to nostrums, so unaware of God, so out of touch with the underground spiritual streams which water eternal life? In relation to pastoral work the present-day healing and helping disciplines are like the River Platte as described by Mark Twain, a mile wide and an inch deep. They are designed by a people without roots in an age without purpose for a people without God.

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, p. 12

Until about a century ago, what pastors did between Sundays was a piece with what they did on Sundays. The context changed: instead of an assembled congregation, the pastor was with one other person or with small gatherings of persons, or alone in study and prayer. The manner changed: instead of proclamation, there was conversation. But the work was the same: discovering the meaning of Scripture, developing a life of prayer, guiding growth into maturity.

…The between-Sundays work of American pastors in this century, though, is running a church.

The Contemplative Pastor, p. 66f

If not “running a church,” then what?

In the above quotes, Eugene Peterson contrasts two understandings of the pastoral vocation. One grows out of the Biblical and traditional understanding of the pastor as shepherd. The other is rooted in American corporate culture.

In his teaching, Peterson defines the shape of true pastoral work as a triangle. With a triangle, it is important to get the ANGLES right. The precision of the angles determines the shape of the triangle and the length of each line. If the angles are all constructed equally, the result is a triangle with matching sides, perfectly balanced.

In pastoral ministry, Peterson says there are three “angles” that form the shape of our work: (1) Prayer, (2) Scripture, and (3) Spiritual Direction. If we properly understand and give attention to these angles, we fulfill our ministerial calling, and the “lines,” which represent the activities in which we engage, will fall into place.

By his definition, then, a pastor is called to be a person who attends to God through…

  • Prayer—living in a responsive, conversational relationship with God,
  • Scripture—living a contemplative life that is immersed in the words of the Bible,
  • Spiritual direction—being with people in community and individually for the cure and care of their souls

If we “work these angles” and let them shape us, the result will be a pastoral ministry that has integrity, depth, and appropriate balance. Peterson comments,

None of these acts is public, which means that no one knows for sure whether or not we are doing any of them. People hear us pray in worship, they listen to us preach and teach from the Scriptures, they notice when we are listening to them in a conversation, but they can never know if we are attending to God in any of this. It doesn’t take many years in this business to realize that we can conduct a fairly respectable pastoral ministry without giving much more than ceremonial attention to God. Since we can omit these acts of attention without anybody noticing, and because each of the acts involves a great deal of rigor, it is easy and common to slight them.

This is not entirely our fault. Great crowds of people have entered into a grand conspiracy to eliminate prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction from our lives. They are concerned with our image and standing, with what they can measure, with what produces successful church-building programs and impressive attendance charts, with sociological impact and economic viability. They do their best to fill our schedules with meetings and appointments so that there is time for neither solitude nor leisure to be before God, to ponder Scripture, to be unhurried with another person.

…Pastoral work disconnected from the angle actions—the acts of attention to God in relation to myself, the biblical communities of Israel and church, the other person—is no longer given its shape by God. Working the angles is what gives shape and integrity to the daily work of pastors and priests. If we get the angles right it is a simple matter to draw in the lines. But if we are careless with or dismiss the angles, no matter how long or straight we draw the lines we will not have a triangle, a pastoral ministry.

Working the Angles, p. 4f

In my years as a pastor in local congregations, I saw (and lived out) some very different incarnations of ministry, pastoral caricatures which would lead one to suspect some poorly drawn angles. Here are a few I have witnessed and experienced…

Faster than Mr. Answer Man! More powerful than a German theologian! Able to parse Greek verbs with a single glance! I have been the professor. I have attempted to turn small churches into seminaries. At times, I held the belief that discipleship means opening a new convert’s head and pouring in vast amounts of Biblical and theological knowledge. Many pastors love to teach. We were trained to teach. We got the idea, somehow, mistakenly, that what it really takes to help people follow Christ is for pastors to teach them Bible stories and Bible facts and Bible passages and Bible themes until their cranial cavities are bursting with sound doctrine. So, sanctuaries become lecture halls, words like “eschatological” are taught to toddlers, and congregations split over the number of links in the chain that will bind Satan during the Millennium.

I believe in deep, sound, faithful teaching, but pastors are not simply professors, and churches are not classrooms. How dull would that be?

This guy knows how to work a room. With Osteenesque brilliance, this genial host makes everyone feel welcome. Praying in public, he warms each one’s heart. As Master of Ceremonies, he makes certain that the presentation is impeccable, his stage manner flawless. His stories make you feel good. He speaks in sayings that are consistently clever and witty. Did I mention that smile? His sermons (“talks”) may not have depth, but they are eminently listenable. He is always positive, always affirming, always patting little children on the head, always making sure that people leave feeling better than when they came in. He never forgets a name. He could sell sand in the Sahara.

We all appreciate positive, affirming people, and we should. We should also be as encouraging and winsome as possible toward others. However, being a pastor is not to be equated with being “Mr. Personality.” Ask Luther or Tozer, or better yet, their congregations.

First one in the door, last one to leave. Responsible for each detail of the operation. Familiar with every inch of the property and every last piece of inventory. Takes his work home and burns the midnight oil pouring over the books. Never takes a vacation; in fact, rarely takes a lunch! Eats, drinks, sleeps, and breathes the business. Always working on new ideas to make things better and more profitable. Keeps one eye on the competition at all times. “Workaholic” is an insult—he is more dedicated than that. The answer to every problem is simply to roll up his sleeves and hit it a little harder.

I admire dedicated pastors who work hard. Slothfulness is a sin, and diligence is a virtue. It may very well be better to burn out than to rust out. I just don’t think it’s the pastor’s calling. Even God stopped working at one point; we call that Sabbath. It doesn’t all depend on you, Mr. Shopkeeper.

Mr. Shopkeeper thinks he has to do it all himself. At least this next pastoral type understands that people in the congregation must also have an active faith that works. In fact, that is his sole focus. People, get busy! You have been saved to serve! Start standing on the promises rather than sitting on the premises! God wants to direct your life, but he can’t steer a bicycle that is standing still, only one that is moving! To the work! The Drill Sergeant takes the urgency that’s burning in his own soul and urges it onto others with constant, fervent appeals for folks to get busy for the Lord by getting involved in the church program. His counsel to anyone who has a spiritual problem is to stop focusing on self and start working for Christ. He has no time for spiritual navel-gazing or people who want to waste time. When the house is on fire, you don’t sit around sharing your feelings.

Yes, pastors are called to assist people in using their spiritual gifts for the Body’s benefit and the world’s blessing. However, we are shepherds, not sheep dogs. Sheep must be led, not driven.

Natural born leader, remarkably gifted, entrepreneurial, expert in his field, with great capacity for understanding large organizations, an uncanny knack for administrating them, and endless energy to keep it all going, this is the “rancher” that the church growth movement used to talk about. (As in, a shepherd cares for a flock, but a rancher oversees an operation; ergo, for churches to grow really, really big they need ranchers not pastors.) The guy’s ambitious and knows how to build. He could run a Fortune 500 company; instead he runs the incredibly complex megachurch. He is high profile, thrives on new challenges, and earns the respect of the business folks who used to thumb their noses at the church. Finally, they say, a minister we can respect! A guy who can duke it out with the bankers and politicians! He does it the American way and does it right.

Thank God for this pastor’s amazing gifts. The problem comes when he is lifted up as THE model for pastoral success. Then the whole enterprise for all of us becomes about being big and excellent, and about having more, and about leading  a “great” church. Ever gone to a pastor’s conference where the keynote speaker was Pastor Joe from rural Kansas, who shared about his church’s great success in reaching four new children for VBS this year? Didn’t think so. He’s a shepherd, not a rancher.

The pastor who has regular visions may or may not become a CEO-type. He may not have the stuff to build big, but he sure dreams and talks big. There is always something great on the horizon and his job is to see it and rally the troops in hot pursuit. To use the lingo, he devotes a great deal of effort to “vision-casting” (ugh), continually challenging his congregation to new heights, ever the cheerleader to spur them on, always ladling out the hot sauce to keep the enthusiasm high. After all, God is in the business of doing new things… today… tomorrow… all the time… everywhere… for everyone! His sermons are rife with military metaphors—conquest, triumph, and victory over the strong forces arrayed against us. He knows how to raise the flag and get the patriots to cheer.

Nothing wrong with enthusiasm or being on the outlook for new direction from the Spirit. However, having my eyes fixed on the horizon may mean missing something right beside me, something not so exciting or dazzling but perhaps even more important. Why not lead the flock beside quiet waters once in awhile?

Have I got a program for you! Take this discipleship course, and in thirteen weeks, guaranteed or your money back, you will be a mature follower of Christ! Memorize this packet of Bible verses and your mind will be renewed! Follow these nine steps and you will be financially free! Here are some Christian diet suggestions to keep you healthy, a Christian exercise video to keep you fit, Christian clothing so you can be a public witness, Christian music for your CD player to keep you holy while you drive, a Christian Yellow Pages so that you never have to hire someone who doesn’t work “as unto the Lord,” Christian child-raising tips so your kids will turn out just right, a Christian sex video to keep your marriage smoking hot, and our latest church newsletter so you can find something to do at the church building every day of the week. By such means, pastoral ministry morphs into programmatic activity.

The technician pastor believes in a lot of this stuff. He probably has testimonials to back up the claims. It’s simple. It’s easy. It works. Where’s God?

In the entrepreneurial, anti-tradition, historically ignorant, low-accountability world of evangelicalism, pastors are pretty much free to choose their identity and many end up like the caricatures above.

Of course, each description contains elements of genuine pastoral ministry, but only when we properly “work the angles” at the heart of our calling can we escape the unbalanced approaches that are more determined by personality and culture than Biblical wisdom.

Much more to say, but…
I am sure these problems are not unique to evangelical churches and pastors, but this is the world with which I am familiar. One reason we chose to go to a historic mainline church was because there are older and more theologically-informed traditions that shape the pastoral office in Lutheranism. When I was in evangelicalism, we were making it up every day.

That approach led to:

  • Problems of autonomy. The independent-minded world of evangelicalism provides little structure or accountability for ministers. There are few opportunities for spiritual guidance, support, personal counsel, or accountability from a episcopal level of leadership. There is no such level! Like the churches they serve, pastors are independent, autonomous, and self-supporting. Each one is a solo act, and he/she works without a net.
  • A “cultural ecclesiology” that provides the real expectations under which the pastor serves. Since religious consumers are setting the agenda today, that means pastors must fit into the system designed to meet their needs.
  • A cult of celebrity. Prominent entrepreneurial church leaders are the face of evangelical Christianity. Charismatic. Gifted. Dynamic. Visionary. Born leaders. These guys (and they are almost all guys in this tradition) have their pictures on all the conference brochures. You hear them on Christian radio. Their books are the ones you see when you first walk in the bookstore. People visit their churches and run from the parking lot to get good seats in the service. Has anyone ever thought it strange that they represent a Savior who lived in obscurity and was “rejected by men?”

The last word, for now

One final thought from Eugene Peterson:

Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of their vocation, but in our working lives we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality. I would like to see as much attention given to the holiness of our vocations as to the piety of our lives.

Basically, all I am doing is trying to get it straight, get straight what it means to be a pastor, and then develop a spirituality adequate to the work. The so-called spirituality that was handed to me by those who put me to the task of pastoral work was not adequate. I do not find the emaciated, exhausted spirituality of institutional careerism adequate. I do not find the veneered, cosmetic spirituality of personal charisma adequate. I require something biblically spiritual—rooted and cultivated in creation and covenant, leisurely in Christ, soaked in Spirit.

Under the Unpredictable Plant, p. 5

62 thoughts on “My Issues with Evangelicalism: (2) Pastoral Ministry

  1. This is called the Troop-size Limit; I’ve heard about the phenomenon in several places, but don’t have any documentation.

    The average human can think of only 150 or so people as individuals, and actually “get to know” about a dozen closely. This appears to be hardwired into the brain; 150 is the size of a large hunter-gatherer tribe or extended clan and a dozen the size of a family.

    Larger numbers of people become an abstraction. In the words of Comrade Stalin, “One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is only a number.”


  2. KC,

    You’re missing the point. I am not calling the SBC as the devil. What I am pointing out is that the SBC is not a confessional church so a pastor has a lot “freedom” to imprint his theology on the church. Likewise, the SBC does not require that their pastors have a seminary education.

    A seminary education does not assure that the pastor will be orthodox in their theology. There are many “Christian” seminaries that have rejected the historic Christian orthodox doctrines and we now see the results in many church bodies and local congregations.

    The key question is this: How does a church (both local and beyond) insure that their pastor remain faithful to Christian faith?


  3. It seems to me that many of these issues go back to the situation that resulted in deacons being appointed to handle the business of the congregation. Deacons don’t seem to be around much any more. To balance that, the best pastor I ever knew took on the job of cleaning the church toilets altho this was not generally known and I did not learn this from him. I think it was his way of keeping in touch with reality.

    I have the idea that any community, including churches, becomes something different after it becomes larger than around 150 people, which supposedly is a rough estimate of the number of people you can remember their names and who they are. I have no real experience to back this up but know that personally I get uncomfortable in groups larger than that.


  4. In love, I still respectfully disagree. I’m not obligating anyone to anything, but when a man or woman hears the call and accepts the vocation of pastor, he/she obligates him/her self to the duties of a pastor.

    You and I agree completely on this point.

    What you have both said sounds much more like the “personality cults” that surrounds pastors in the denomination (it still calls itself a “movement”) I used to attend. Don’t question or bother the pastor. There are a thousand people here and HE is too busy for YOU.

    Respectfully, I’m the last person who would tell you not to question or bother. I think we’re viewing this in such a way that we’re misunderstanding each other. If a pastor is shirking, then I’ll be the first to cry foul. All I wanted to address was the idea that every pastor of a large church automatically falls under the “shirking” category.

    At any rate, I wasn’t taking abuses into account. I’m simply looking at the number of weddings, funerals, and sick people on any given week—and I’m sure we’d like our pastors praying, serving in some other fashion (mission projects, etc), studying Scripture, and taking care of his own family as well. Calculate driving time, eating, sleeping, and the occasional shower…

    That’s really all I’m saying. No bells & whistles, no seminars, books tours, seminars, son’s soccer games, daughter’s piano recitals, in-law’s surgery, or anything else. Just the logistics required to accommodate a set number of people in one city.

    I think megachurches are just wrong, and it’s a conviction I just cannot get away from. I’ve said it before

    I think here is the key point of distinction: While I’m very much not a fan of ‘personality cults,’ megachurches, televised services, or “rock concert worship” and a good 95% of what’s on the list, I don’t consider the large church dynamic inherently wrong. Just…flawed.

    I apologize here for any aforementioned comments in here I’ve missed.

    — what can the big church 15 miles away on the interstate do for people in my neighborhood.

    Good question.

    What are people thinking when they drive past a dozen Christ-centered churches — so that they can get to the one with the coffee-bar and the flashy rock band?

    So, by default the rock band with the coffee bar cannot be Christ-centered? (Just asking.)

    I also think that the pastor/dictator form of church government — Calvary Chapel, for example — is wrong, and that’s also a conviction I can’t get away from.

    I don’t know CC is. At any rate, agreed – and I’m not sure where I suggested otherwise.

    If the pastor only visits the biggest donors, I KNOW that’s wrong. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    Again, I don’t know where I suggested I thought this was okay.


  5. Chaplain Mike…as opposed to the “pastoral caricatures ” you listed above, including “Shopkeeper” and “Drill Sergeant,” here are the things that were said about Michael Spencer in the eulogy by
    David Head. David said Michael was:

    the encourager
    the theologian
    the thinker:
    the worshipper
    the evangelist
    the mystic
    the missionary
    the baton-passer
    the writer
    the prophet

    Wow, that’s an impressive list! And I do believe it is an indication of a person who is Jesus-shaped.

    And I do love Eugene Peterson. Thanks for an excellent post.


  6. In love, I still respectfully disagree. I’m not obligating anyone to anything, but when a man or woman hears the call and accepts the vocation of pastor, he/she obligates him/her self to the duties of a pastor. What you have both said sounds much more like the “personality cults” that surrounds pastors in the denomination (it still calls itself a “movement”) I used to attend. Don’t question or bother the pastor. There are a thousand people here and HE is too busy for YOU.

    I think megachurches are just wrong, and it’s a conviction I just cannot get away from. I’ve said it before — what can the big church 15 miles away on the interstate do for people in my neighborhood. (It certainly can’t provide pastoral visitation, apparentIy.) What are people thinking when they drive past a dozen Christ-centered churches — so that they can get to the one with the coffee-bar and the flashy rock band?

    I also think that the pastor/dictator form of church government — Calvary Chapel, for example — is wrong, and that’s also a conviction I can’t get away from. If the pastor only visits the biggest donors, I KNOW that’s wrong. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.


  7. I don’t think it’s right to obligate someone to come visit me when I get sick, so no. No offense intended here, but I really do take issue with the idea that the pastor must personally oversee everything by every single member. To me that’s just selfishness and an ego trip. (Not picking a fight, just saying how it reads.) But I made a rule at age 15 never to obligate people. It is simply not possible for a church of a thousand to be personally attended daily by one man.

    The thing is – the book of Acts actually states that it was too much to put that on the church leaders, hence the installation of deacons, which included… ::drum roll:: Stephen, who was later stoned under the watch of Saul of Tarsus.

    Even Moses was told that taking on all of the Hebrews problems alone was a bad idea. He couldn’t do it. Period.

    Besides, demanding that much of a pastor would probably create the ‘personality cult.’ At best. At worst, as KC said (and no, we are not the same person), you’ll completely demoralize the man. If you are completely dependent on your pastor for every single thing, I’m sorry, but that’s unhealthy.

    It has nothing to do with importance. It has everything to do with what a pastor physically and emotionally capable of handling. Even with a small church of 100, if the guy has to go see every member every day for an hour, that’s 100 hours a week, just of visitation. That’s not counting everything else he’s got to do.

    I also think it’s a bit insulting to assume assistant pastors aren’t ‘real pastors.’ My tithes have nothing to do with getting someone to show me compassion. I can’t buy that from a person anymore than I can God. Well, not real compassion, anyway.

    Look, I’m coming on pretty strong here, but might I suggest that maybe, while some do have an ego issue, it’s not so across board, and many do as they are able. I’m just saying – I’ve seen what pastors do all week. Not all of them play golf regularly. Let’s just leave it that way.

    Running joke around my neck of the woods is that I’m just going to disappear into the woods one day and become an urban legend.


  8. One point you’re missing, however, is that there was a Paul to do this! Someone on the episcopal (in this case, apostolic) level, outside the local church, who was overseeing its affairs. This is missing in autonomous evangelical church culture. Paul wasn’t just an entrepreneurial church planter, out there on his own.


  9. I’ve never been a member of a SBC church (I lost count at 6) that didn’t have a pastor with at least a Masters of Divinity from a SB seminary or a doctorate. Granted, there are men in every denomination who don’t know what they’re talking about or who lose their way a bit theologically, but I hate that you single out the SBC as the devil. While I’m not attending a SBC right now, I could never be Lutheran for many reasons–I’m glad you’re happy there.


  10. I personally would not care if the senior pastor could not come and visit me on my deathbed. There are more important people in my life who I love and would want with me. I would think you would extend the pastor grace if he could not make it–he may really want to and yet something prohibits it. Maybe it comes down to whether you trust your pastor’s integrity or not. I love my pastor and trust that he’s a godly man. But he has 5,000 attendees and over 1,000 leaders/volunteers. Do you honestly think he could/should personally keep up with all of us? That is a recipe for burnout if I’ve ever seen one.


  11. I like the Apostle Paul’s method of establishing local church leadership as recorded in Acts. If you read real close, you’ll see that Paul refrained from appointing leaders immediately after founding a church in a particular place. Instead, he waited until his return visit to that church — sometimes months or even years later — before appointing a group of elders or overseers. Scripture doesn’t tell his reason for doing this, but I’m guessing that Paul was intentionally giving each body of believers time for individuals to take the initiative and step up to the plate in leadership, teaching, and pastoral roles — and when he came back through, he merely confirmed through appointment those who were already serving in those roles and had already proven themselves both capable and faithful. By doing it this way, Paul was recognizing that, without the evidence that only time and trial can provide, even he might make poor or premature selections in regard to leaders. And I think he was trusting the Spirit to sort things out, work in people’s hearts and lives, and ultimately produce the best candidates.
    With all that said, I really have no idea if it would even be possible to apply this method of producing church pastors and leaders in today’s church culture. In more traditional denominations, there’s just too much institutional and educational infrastructure in place supporting the traditional method of seminary and institutional placement. In the Megachurch model, time is money, and lot of time and money would be lost waiting around for faithful shepherds with servant hearts to rise up from within a congregation — not that most Megachurches are really looking for that kind of shepherd anyway.
    But even if it’s impractical or unworkable in today’s church culture, I still think Paul had a great idea, and I think it showed a lot of heavenly wisdom on his part.


  12. Mike, I think that’s a good breakdown of the difference between the two. And I think this can be clearly seen in Christ’s ministry in the gospels. Preaching is primarily what Jesus did with the crowds. Teaching is what He did later that night with His disciples around the campfire.


  13. We left our last church largely because the pastors became far more focused on vision and programs and the great growing future (that never materialized) than on what the people at the ground level were actually experiencing and doing (which was mostly very good). Our current church, though small, still has some of the program- and activity-centered tendencies and I’m not sure how to try to correct it, or if I should even risk trying.

    Here’s an experience to illustrate: I was in hospital and had two minor surgical procedures in two days. No pastoral contact even though we e-mailed the pastor’s wife because it was going to impact what we were able to do in helping an upcoming program. Got one call just as I I was checking out of the hospital asking how long I thought my recovery would take (I had no idea and was in quite a lot of pain — terrible time to call, and terrible reason) and should they get someone else to help with the program. Not so much as a how are you doing. I was on serious pain medication so not really capable of a coherent response, and the shock of it didn’t really hit me un’til later. I did end up helping with the program, but not leading. It was community service helping fix and clean an AIDS resource and hospice center. Then because the people in charge at the center had been a little hard to contact and didn’t show up on time, it was suggested that this would be the last time we would be helping them (even though many of the lay people helping seemed to enjoy it and saw the need and talked about tasks remaining to be done). The needs are great and we live in an area where the church has a history of neglecting and even marginalizing people with AIDS. These are truly the least of these. It would be a shame to abandon this outreach to a different segment of society, indeed a different culture. I fear the message it would send. But what to do? How much noise to make? How much to argue in favor of continuing to serve people even when it means a sort of screwed up program and the possibility little will go as planned?

    The other dynamic the types of pastors described in the post can lead to is that there is little seeking out of people’s spiritual gifts or knowledge, so people who are naturally outgoing or extroverted or push themselves forward more (or in some cases who have more social standing or influence) are latched onto as lay leaders, even though the spiritual depth and maturity and gifts may not be there. Those who have much to offer but simply serve and are a little quieter go unnoticed and untapped. And so the theatre continues.


  14. Excellent comment. Right now the small church I go to is in the middle of a pastor search, being done by lay members and the current pastor’s wife, and this is exactly what I fear. I sure hope I’m wrong.


  15. Aha. Sorry, that wasn’t meant to come off antagonistic. The thing to do around my area is to have a beef with church life in general, and occasionally my frustrations with the attitude spill over onto IMonk. Apologies for that.

    Thanks for the clarification. 0=) Friends? 🙂


  16. No….I’m important. I’m somebody Christ died for.

    Are you saying that most of us only rate a visit from an “assistant” pastor? The PASTOR is too “important” or busy to visit me? Even if I’m dying? How much do I have to put into the plate every Sunday to get a visit from the REAL pastor? Because I’ve been to a megachurch, and that’s what it boils down to.

    A megachurch might be great if you’re single in your twenties. But if you’re widowed and ninety, getting a visit from somebody’s “assistant” is an insult. I pay some guy’s salary and he can’t even visit my deathbed? You can’t really think that’s right, can you?


  17. Great points, Mike. I wanted to add a few charges from scripture.

    Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”(John21)

    I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.(2Tim4)

    He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
    For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced… Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.(Titus)

    I think most of us would do well to generalize these charges to all pastors. The concept of a shepherd itself is a fascinating one as implies a full-time life-consuming devotion to the flock. You may have heard the anecdote about Irish shepherds being buried with a lock of wool to make excuse for their failure to ever attend mass.

    So many American EV’s have taken up the mantle of overseer, while casting aside their shepherding staffs. In the words of Evangelical Pastor’s Conference Sensation and Mega-Church Planter Perry Noble…
    “People tell me ‘I want to go to a church where I can know the pastor’ – You need to leave. I don’t have time. I love my wife, I love my kids – I don’t have the time – and I will not sacrifice my family on the ministry alter so I can come eat food that I don’t like and hang out with people that make me uncomfortable…If I come to see you in the hospital, y’all know it’s bad. The guy behind me has the bag you’re leaving the room in…Here’s the problem; you think I care.”


  18. No matter what level of leadership we talk about, we will be talking about imperfect leadership. I just know it’s awfully lonely for a lot of pastors who have no support, it’s awfully easy to become a one-man show and dictator when there is no accountability, it’s awfully easy to fall and never get back up when you leave a church and there’s nowhere to go and no one to guide you.


  19. Kaci, those caricatures are meant to challenge me and other ministers out there to realize that being a pastor means more than just playing up my strong points or having a one-dimensional ministry. I don’t put them up to eliminate anyone, but to encourage us all to subject our gifts to our calling.


  20. I’m gonna go out on a limb here: These broad-strokes present, to me, a generalization of pretty much any leader you’re going to ever encounter. I suppose, in all fairness, I have to ask that, while I’m fairly aware of the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, of each type—who’s left?

    Sidenote: My parents have been on more than one pastor search committee. I can promise you they sought the heart of God, not men.


  21. Echos, your comment, “There are few opportunities for spiritual guidance, support, personal counsel, or accountability from a episcopal level of leadership.”

    But what do we do when the episcopate gets it wrong – such as the issues plaguing the Anglican church? The protestant legacy is to cut-and-run any time church authorities fail on an issue or doctrine. This also drives the independent thinking – out of fear of hitching your wagon to the wrong team of horses.


  22. Common views of “Spiritual Gifts” can get in the way. So often, natural ability is equated with spiritual gifts. It might make sense for a pastor to tailor his calling along the lines of his personal abilities – be it leader, entrepreneur, servant, etc. Sometimes natural abilities get in the way of the Holy Spirit. There are numerous old and new testament examples of this.

    But what I hear often is that pastors rarely learn by example. Few pastors are taken under the wing of an elder, more experienced pastor. Perhaps grads fresh from seminary are indoctrinated with the idea that yesterday’s pastors got it all wrong, so pay no attention to them. We protestants get uptight about apostolic succession, but the original idea was that yesterday’s pastors prepare today’s pastors, who in-turn prepare tomorrow’s pastors, to assure the preservation of the faith for future generations – providing an unbroken chain back to the apostles. Our negative view of the past and infatuation with the spirit of the age make this difficult.


  23. I don’t know — ministering to strangers is probably a blessing for those who do it and who can say that the ministry is not just as welcome to the recipient. I know shut-ins who would be ecstatic to get a visit from ANYONE in their church. Direct care from the pastor is the best, of course, but at a certain point there are just too many sheep in the flock for any one person.

    Fortunately, I am blessed enough to be with a large church where the senior pastor makes pastoral care one of his top priorities. Every staff meeting begins with that that topic and he’s always at the hospital visiting someone. Daily. But in turn he is blessed enough to lead a church large enough to employ staff to pick up the administrivia he doesn’t have time to deal with.


  24. Mike,

    You are spot on. These things are true in the mainline too. I’ve heard for years we need to be like ______ famous pastor or like _____________ church and adopt or adapt their methods, programs, etc. Enough to make me reach for the Tylenol, frequently.

    Peterson is right.

    Thanks for this.


  25. Clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right, here we are stuck in the middle of Hebrews 5:12.


  26. Very insightful. I find it provocative to consider which of your stereotypes I fit best with. Definitely exposes some weaknesses and poor approaches. Great post!


  27. “Isn’t that usually what’s described as a Personality Cult? Or at least getting too close to it for comfort?”

    And isn’t that exactly one of the issues that Pastor Mike raised in quoting Eugene Petersson? Third bullet point, under “That approach led to.”

    The size of a given church is directly dependent on the capabilities and charisma of the pastor.


  28. “But in megachurches there are pastors on staff that do visitation. Many megachurches would also encourage the small group leadership to assume some of that responsibility as well.”

    My experience is that visitation and caring happen. The problem is that in a megachurch you might have some stranger showing up to bring meals, pay a visit, etc. Then it becomes much like government social programs — material and logistical help without the intimacy or deep relationships.

    Can anyone speak to how effective small groups in big churches do with pastoral care? My experience is mixed, mainly along the lines of a group of people who would not normally bond, thrown together for a season, and then disengaging and never seeing one another again. Maybe I did the small group thing wrong.


  29. At the Vineyard , here in KC at least, I think we have a very similar set up. ON PAPER it looks very good, and I’m not saying this is illusory, but…… the accountability upwards, to a higher level is much weaker than what Chap Mike refers to ( I think), and is so congenial that someone would have to be REALLY out of line before some real correction happened. Regional, or national figures rarely come into town, they may or may not ‘guest preach’, so most of the interaction probably happens at conferences and leadership seminars. In our Vineyard, all the staff is paired up with an “accountability partner”, sometimes an elder, sometimes an ex-elder, and that’s fine, but the pastor is still out of sight 95% of the time (to the churchwide body, that is);

    So there is some accountability, but not the back and forth that I see in the NT, but maybe Im nitpicking here. One big step forward that I’d like to see done is getting rid of the SR. Pastor designation, and spread some of that power around to other pastors. Make everyone an assistant pastor, and just call them “pastor Joe”, instead of SR/Jr . this would drive home the point that ONE GUY is not “running the church”, it’s the Holy Spirit , as understood by a community of faith. I’m ready to hear a good scriptural reason not to go this way.

    Lots of meaty comments and discusion on this topic: that’s the sign of something good
    Greg R


  30. But in megachurches there are pastors on staff that do visitation. Many megachurches would also encourage the small group leadership to assume some of that responsibility as well.


  31. “If the team finds the “CEO/…”, the salary and facility demands drive a race for crowds and money. If the team finds a shepperding pastor, the crowds quickly leave the church, leading to a downhill spiral until not enough people are remaining to fund the building and staff.”

    The other side of that coin is that if the church starts to grow real large, many in the existing group (that were hoping for growth) will not like the changes that come with growth, and some of them will leave the church.


  32. My simple answer:

    Preaching is proclamation, “telling it like it is.” It can be positive (announcing the kingdom of God), or negative (pointing out falsehood and sin).

    Teaching is exposition, explaining a text, inviting questions and analysis, and encouraging further discovery.


  33. So you get the same back-and-forth dynamic of Overcontrolling Parent Keeping Widdle Pwecious a Baby All His Widdle Life. (“Don’t you Dare Grow Up Because Then I Can No Longer Be The Mommy.”) Result: Wild perpetual-adolescent rebellion or Arrested development cases on a par with Michael Jackson.


  34. When we changed pastors in an SBC church, the church’s doctrines and practices would reflect those of each pastor over the course of time.

    Sounds like the pastor’s general way of doing things influenced the church culture WAY too much.

    Isn’t that usually what’s described as a Personality Cult? Or at least getting too close to it for comfort?


  35. Problems of autonomy. The independent-minded world of evangelicalism provides little structure or accountability for ministers. There are few opportunities for spiritual guidance, support, personal counsel, or accountability from a episcopal level of leadership. There is no such level! Like the churches they serve, pastors are independent, autonomous, and self-supporting. Each one is a solo act, and he/she works without a net.

    You’d think these “Jesus & Me, No More, Amen” solo acts would be gonzo-anarchistic. Maybe they are at the macro level, but a LOT of these “independent, autonomous, and self-supporting solo acts” end up internally with total conformity under a control-freak leader.


  36. Pastoral visitation has to be part of the job, and that’s one of the big problems with megachurches. If the pastor is too busy — or too important — to visit homes, hospitals, and nursing homes, something’s wrong.


  37. Certainly a more charismatic pastor may be immune to this, but most Evangelical churches I’ve been a part of have been elder-led. I think many charismatic and pentecostal churches tend to be pastor-led, but for example the church I currently attend, which is part of the Evangelical Cov denomination is autonomous, but we have (I believe) 6 elders plus the pastor. The congregation elects the elders. The pastor is accountable to the elders and the elders are accountable to each other and to the rest of the congregation.

    In addition our pastor does surrounds himself with other pastors and mentors. He knows most of the pastors in the area and because he teaches part time at Talbot, he also knows many of the professors, etc.


  38. preaching is emphatically telling what they should NOT do.

    Except “preach/proclaim” quite (most?) often in the NT has a positive use. Paul talks about preaching the gospel. Jesus tells His disciples to preach the gospel. kêrussô, kataggellô (which is the word used in 1 Cor 11:26), etc.


  39. As I think about it, and my experiences, I get the impression that teaching is gently telling a person to what they should do and preaching is emphatically telling what they should NOT do.

    I have heard that schools can “teach” sex education (what to do) or “preach” abstinence (what not to do) and that makes sense to me. This is just an example, not meant to start an unrelated discussion. 😉


  40. I have a friend who is one the most gifted shepherding and teaching pastors that I have ever known. However, he got shuffled through several churches over a 20 year period because he was not enough of a vision caster and administrator. He was too busy actually caring for his flock. He eventually abandoned the pastorate and now works for a mission agency pastoring and discipling pastors in the former USSR. Those young, hungry pastors are getting exactly what they need in my friend, and he has finally found a home.


  41. Teaching is the doctor showing you how to dress your wound.
    Preaching is the doctor doing surgery on you (applying law and gospel).

    Not a perfect analogy, but it give you an idea.


  42. Very helpful! If we modeled biblical leadership on our knees instead of seeking answers from an MBA program, we might succeed.


  43. Here’s my understanding of the difference, from the perspective of someone who leads Bible studies and occasionally gets to preach.

    Learning is an interactive process. For the student, learning doesn’t occur until you start to apply the practice or principle that the teacher is presenting. In a religious setting, you can read scripture all day, have someone talk to you about what it means ad naseum, but until you start to apply it in your own life, it hasn’t been learned.

    Preaching, by it’s nature, is a lecture-format opportunity. About the best that a preacher can do is bring up a particular scripture and attempt to help the audience/congregation understand how the original audience would have heard it, how it has been understood through the ages, and how the preacher thinks it can apply to us today. The response of the congregation to the message has to be left in God’s hands, for the Holy Spirit to touch and convict each person. (I’ve had the experience of preaching, and having someone come up to me a week or two later, thanking me for something that *I never said* in the sermon – I believe that’s the Holy Spirit at work, and I thank God for it.)

    Teaching is where there can be one-on-one encouragement to try something new. Where an exercise can be set up so that the student puts into practice what is being taught. Where a risk can be taken in relative safety. Where the student interacts with the material, coming up with their own responses to the scripture presented.

    Good preaching can be instructive. Good teaching should include some explication of expected results. The two are similar, and pastors should attempt to fill both roles. But they aren’t quite the same.


  44. Allen Krell says: May 28, 2010 at 8:21 am

    I have been through this cycle at least 3 times now, leading to my own crisis of faith, and leading me down a path of studying Ecclesiology.

    Enjoy your fall down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

    – from a fellow traveler who has been there (and is still there)


  45. wow…..we are right back in the shoes of Israel, who wanted Saul (tall, handsome, very Fortune 500-ish) so that we could become “like all the other nations….” this is a very deep problem, we don’t even realize what we NEED, we only know what we WANT.

    Nice post.
    Greg R


  46. This may not be quite on topic, but I have always struggled between the roles of Teacher and Preacher. What is the difference? What does a pastor do in the pulpit that he does not do in a small group meeting? And vice versa.

    I love to read the provocative sermons of Charles Spurgeon, but I wonder if he was preaching or teaching or both? How does expouding scripture fit into all this?

    I have asked several people about this and so far no one has been able to nail it down.


  47. Chap Mike: these posts are painful, but so is tooth surgery: thanks for rolling up your sleeves and giving us some truth from the Word , and from your ‘guts’. Maybe we can benefit from your long and ditch-filled journey as you discover what church/worship/leadership is all about. AT least your story has a , generally, happy ending. This last post makes me very hungry to read all of what E.Peterson has written on leadership and being a pastor. If, as a church, we could just make some strides there, maybe this Gordian knot could at least start to unravel. I still have a glimmer of hope.

    As I’m sure you’re aware of, so many issues are inter-related: our refusal as Americans to live simply and with contentment makes downsizing look like a fool’s errand, and counter progress. The dog and pony show that is our Sunday service saps our resources, financially, spiritually, emotionally, and leaves us with less in the tank for work of pastoral care (if we ever get around to it).

    There are also some bitter ironies at work here: the sermon is held at, IMO, an idolatrous level of importance (I refer to sermons that have LARGE amounts of the pastors personal story in them, I guess), while at the same time, we drift into biblical illiteracy as a whole (back to Allen Krell’s point). Pastors LIVE to preach carefully scripted messages, while we starve for a clear undersanding of the WORD. And complain if the message gets “too technical” (our audience is kind of seeker friendly, I guess this would be different in a Calvary Chapel, line by line teaching scenario).

    OK, end of rant, for now. These posts are costing me some sleep , but I think they are spot on, and I will do my part to not just complain, but light a candle in my part of the wilderness. As Caldwell pointed out in one of his replies: there ARE signs of hope out there…..

    Greg R


  48. “When we changed pastors in an SBC church, the church’s doctrines and practices would reflect those of each pastor over the course of time.”

    I ran into this problem also. I was sitting listening to a SBC sermon, and realized he just said that he didn’t believe in the Trinity. I don’t know what shocked me more, that he said that in a sermon, or that no one seemed to notice or care.


  49. An additional problem in most evangelical churches is that a team of lay people are placed in a “search committee” to select a pastor. As one who has been through this process, I will never do it again. The congregations of evangelical churches have come to expect a combination of “CEO/Visionary Leader/Master Of Ceremonies”. These pastors are extremely difficult to find, and if the team finds one willing to move, the salary demands are incredible, often 3-4 times the median salary of the town the church is located in. Meanwhile, gospel centered pastors who would Shepperd the congregation are never seriously considered.

    This is the main part of the problem. If the team finds the “CEO/…”, the salary and facility demands drive a race for crowds and money. If the team finds a shepperding pastor, the crowds quickly leave the church, leading to a downhill spiral until not enough people are remaining to fund the building and staff.

    I have been through this cycle at least 3 times now, leading to my own crisis of faith, and leading me down a path of studying Ecclesiology.


  50. As one who was raised in Southern Baptist Church and now in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the view of the pastor as a few interesting differences. First, the LC-MS pastor is trained to be the “theologian” of his congregation through intense seminary education while the SBC does not require their pastors to any theological training. Another interesting difference is that when a LC-MS pastor is ordained, he promises to remain faithful to the Lutheran Confessions as the correct symbol of biblical interpretation. In the SBC, there is a resistance of many pastors to make such vows on any theological documentation on doctrine.

    When we changed pastors in an SBC church, the church’s doctrines and practices would reflect those of each pastor over the course of time. And while this also happens to in the LC-MS churches, the theological shifts are much smaller and are still with the doctrinal norm of the LC-MS.


  51. Mike,
    Nice work! One of the things that frustrates me about many pastors and congregants is the relationship of dependency where the person in the pew is dependent for his entire lifetime on the pastor for his spiritual formation. In education there is always commencement where the student achieves some level of autonomy. It is not that he ceases to learn, grow and relate: rather the maturing is self-directed at some level.
    What I see in many of today’s congregations are lazy pew-sitters needing pampering and pastors who are intimidated by members who are self-reliant.


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