I am employed in the health care field. Working as a chaplain for a corporate entity has taught me a great deal, and has helped me reflect upon the make-up of the “corporate church” in America and the nature of its leadership.
If you have read Internet Monk over the past two years, you know that I have a heart for pastors and their true work and a desire that good pastoral theology be honored. Here are a few posts from the past that you can review, which run along those themes:
- My Issues with Evangelicalism (Pastoral Ministry)
- I Am a Pastor
- Peter the Pastor
- Paul the Pastor
- The Sad State of Pastoral Thinking
- Is It a Pastor?
- Walking the Neighborhood
- IM Book Review: The Pastor – A Memoir
- In Praise of the Chaplain Pastor
- We Have All the Tools We Need — Post 1, Post 2, Post 3
The main burden of these articles (and on my heart) is that pastors take care of people. That is the very definition of the title, and the title defines the calling. Being a pastor means working personally with people to help them live in the Gospel of Christ.
So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me. (Col 1:28-29, Phillips)
Our attitude among you was one of tenderness, rather like that of a devoted nurse among her babies. Because we loved you, it was a joy to us to give you not only the Gospel of God but our very hearts—so dear did you become to us. Our struggles and hard work, my brothers, must still be fresh in your minds. Day and night we worked so that our preaching of the Gospel to you might not cost you a penny. You are witnesses, as is God himself, that our life among you believers was honest, straightforward and above criticism. You will remember how we dealt with each one of you personally, like a father with his own children, stimulating your faith and courage and giving you instruction. Our only object was to help you to live lives worthy of the God who has called you to share the splendour of his kingdom. (1Thess 2:7-12, Phillips)
This “shepherding” role was always understood as the main focus of pastoral work until fairly recently in church history. One particularly major shift in definition came with the church growth movement of the 1970’s. Church growth theorists began to teach that, if churches are to grow and multiply, they need “ranchers” rather than “shepherds” leading them.
“As I frequently say, the first two axioms to church growth are: (1) the pastor must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price, and (2) the people must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price.
“…Start the church as a rancher, not as a shepherd… It is hard for some to picture how they can start a brand new church and not shepherd all the people, but they can, as long as there is mutual agreement that this is the way it is done in our church. This mutual agreement requires three basic ingredients: (1) the pastor does not visit the hospital, (2) the pastor does not call on church members in their homes, and (3) the pastor does no personal counseling.”
• C. Peter Wagner, The Everychurch Guide to Growth
In essence, Wagner baptized capitalist corporate models of organization and leadership. He saw what growing companies were doing and translated that to the church. What is most important in a “pastor” is not his or her people skills and his devotion to providing pastoral care and spiritual guidance to members of the congregation, but his or her leadership skills:
- a capacity for vision and the ability to attract loyal lieutenants who will support the vision,
- a quick, discerning mind that recognizes one’s “market” and is able to creatively develop strategies for increasing market share,
- effective communication and presentation ability that will attract and inspire crowds,
- a strong personality that can control and hold others accountable to the “vision” he or she has set forth,
- corporate intelligence — the ability to grasp the big picture of large organizations and how they best function
- an attractive and charismatic image that will allow him or her to become the “face” and the “voice” of the organization, its spokesperson, its inspirational center.
Can anyone deny that the purveyors of the church growth mentality have had a huge impact on American church culture and the definition of what it means to be a pastor? The net result is that the pastor is no longer involved in “the work” of ministry but is in charge of “the business” of ministry.
This brings me back to the business of corporate health care.
It seems like every week our team of hospice workers gets communiques from the leaders of our organization and the wider network to which we belong. These messages enthusiastically announce how our network is focusing on excellent patient care as our top priority. As examples, they go on to talk about new construction projects, changes in leadership and leadership structures, new technologies, the implementation of new programs, and so on. I have yet to read one of these that actually talked about one specific effort to improve face-to-face patient care. It’s all about the business, the organization, the way we are “positioning ourselves” to be leaders in excellent health care. The people who are focused on these corporate matters are not doing “the work” of health care, they are running “the business” of health care.
I am not saying what they do is unimportant. The responsibility of those who “run the business” is to keep the business viable. That is not a small concern. In order for workers on the front lines to do their work, the business must be sustained. I don’t want to work for an unhealthy organization. I respect and support those who are trying to keep costs down and increase revenues in order that I and others might have gainful employment and do the work to which we are called.
No, the people who are doing the work in our area of the network are the folks on my team — the nurses, social workers, chaplains, health aides, and volunteers who serve people face-to-face. We visit them, go to their homes, listen and talk with them, touch them, provide practical assistance to them. We laugh and cry with them, hear their stories, answer their questions, sit with them in silence, share their burdens, educate and encourage them. We become like friends or even extended family during significant seasons in their lives.
The responsibility of those who “do the work” is to care for patients. Directly. Personally. Compassionately. Skillfully.
It galls me that so much focus in health care is on the business but the language from corporate headquarters is all about the work. In actuality, many times it’s those who are doing the real work who get shortchanged, because at certain points there can be significant conflicts between keeping a business viable by guarding the “bottom line” and providing excellent patient care. Yet the business-types keep smiling and saying their number one priority is our patients. Aargh!
And this, I fear, is what is happening in many churches. When we redefine “pastor” and make it part of the “business” side of things, the work gets shortchanged. Real people suffer. A church might become big but it will not grow deep.
I have no problem accepting the fact that churches need to make sure they are conducting the “business” aspects of their life with integrity and skill. Any gathered community of people will have organizational and institutional aspects of their life together. We need devoted, faithful people who are gifted in leadership, administration, finance, etc. We need them to “run the church,” to keep the institution viable, healthy, strong, as well-organized and smoothly run as possible. Their contributions should be honored and not be diminished.
But they are not pastors. They are not called to do the “patient care” work in the same way that those with pastoral gifts are.
Let’s stop confusing “the business” with “the work.”