From a friend, a pastor of a megachurch, George Davis, in Hershey PA.
As a pastor of a larger church, I read with interest your recent posts discussing whether a megachurch pastor is really a “pastor.” I appreciated your response stressing the presence of multiple pastors in a congregation. However, I wonder if there isn’t an underlying question that needs to be brought to the surface. Namely, what is the nature of pastoral ministry? What does it mean to “shepherd” a local congregation?
In answering these questions, most pastors would acknowledge the complexity of this role. In any given week, our tasks range from teaching and leading to counseling and caregiving. Unfortunately, due to this complexity, it’s possible to look at pastoral ministry in a reductionistic way. In one of your books, you argue that some have taken one dimension of the atonement (penal substitution) and made it the controlling image. I’m wondering if the same thing hasn’t happened in our understanding of pastoral ministry.
Perhaps, due to influences like the pastoral care movement, some understand the role of “pastoring” in a way that demands the pastor be personally connected with each person in the congregation. After all, shouldn’t the shepherd know his sheep? In the context of this personal relationship, the pastor is engaged in nurture, care and spiritual formation. For instance, I can recall certain conversations with parishioners of a church who said their minister wasn’t a particularly good leader, but he was a good “pastor.” In other words, pastoring involves one-on-one ministry and caregiving. While this is biblical, is this all that the Bible has to say about the role of a “shepherd”?
In his thorough work on the shepherding theme in Scripture, Tim Laniak notes that the image of shepherd is linked to three key themes—leading, feeding and protecting. Furthermore, he highlights the way the shepherding metaphor is linked with royal leadership traditions. Thus, as a skillful leader, David shepherds the nation. For me, this usage provides a clue that our understanding of pastoral ministry can, at times, be reductionistic. After all, if “shepherding” requires a one-to-one relationship with each person, in what sense could David “shepherd” an entire nation? Of course, you could respond by saying shepherding in a local church is distinct from the royal leadership traditions. Nonetheless, if the expectation is that the minister have this one-on-one relationship with each person, the “shepherding” image seems to be a confusing metaphor to use in light of its broader usage elsewhere in Scripture.
So, in discussing whether or not a megachurch leader is really a “pastor,” we need to first define what the role of “pastor” entails.