The Megachurch “Pastor”: Megachurch Pastor Responds

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.


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  • phil_style

    Thus, as a skillful leader, David shepherds the nation
    There is, undoubtedly a tendency within Christian male leadership to model ones self on David. David was a bad leader. Tempestuous, sullen, vengeful and lustful. If anything, David was used by God in spite of his qualities, not because of them.
    Was David a pastor? No.

    The better exampled is Jesus himself. And Jesus provides a model that CAN be applied at the larger [megachurch] scale. Jesus essentially chose to pastor the twelve. He was able to minister more broadly (i.e. to the 5000), but his core pastoral duties seem to have been to the 12 that he knew most intimately. The 12 we then, in turn, able to each pastor more.. who pastored more.

    A megachurch pastor can look to the pyramid example, despite it’s hierarchical dangers. Pastoring a smaller group within the larger church, and, as St. Paul indictaes, held to account by a team of elders. This might not suit everyone, especially those who want direct access to the hierarchy (of whom there are always some), but I think it is a reasonable and tested example.

  • It makes me wonder if the pastor of mega church isn’t a de facto bishop with the pastors under him acting in the role of parish priests. The bishop may be the one with the authority, the teaching voice, and be the face of the organization, but he isn’t likely to be the one doing the hands on work of ministry with the people. Perhaps this lends some validity to the criticism that we protestants have a bunch of little popes?

  • Using the analogies of Jesus as shepherd, as well as his parables, is indeed helpful. I think of the parable of the lost sheep, where a shepherd leaves 99 sheep to look for the 1 lost sheep. In other words, a shepherd knows his sheep well enough to at least know when one is missing. This makes me think of that great story of John that’s found in Eusebius and Clement.

    The backdoors of megachurches, however, are often extremely busy with people leaving, no one on staff really noticing.

    David as shepherd had that role, he would fight the bear or the lion or Goliath. He would protect the borders of his nation, avenging if a town was raided.

    I don’t get the sense that megachurch pastors have such intimate awareness of either David or, especially Jesus. That’s not to diminish the role of megachurch leaders, but to suggest the term pastor really is more of a religious title than an actual role being played out. Again, such a role really is more of a bishop–with megachurch pastors often leading more nonvocational pastors and leaders and congregants than many formally named bishops across the world.

    Or, to follow the shepherd analogy, a shepherd is the one who watches and protects the particular sheep. A rancher is the one who maintains the whole spread where the sheep are residing. A megachurch pastor is more of a rancher than a shepherd.

  • Phineus

    What’s the purpose of the megachurch at this point in history? (sorry, I think I may have missed the article that the pastor is responding to here, maybe that was asked there)

    Paul in various places in his writings refers to “the Church that meets in such-and-such city” as well as the Church that meets at someone’s home. But when I look at the megachurches in my community I see a huge focus on buildings – the campus. I really think we’ve lost our way. I’d much rather see a thousand gatherings of 5 than one huge gathering of 5000 (yes, Jesus fed and spoke to the 5000 – but He was JESUS – I guess I don’t see that as a normative example for us now). The small gatherings can meet at the neighborhood or even street level.

    The megachurch is ecologically unsustainable because it requires so many congregants to drive to the “campus” in their SUVs from great distances. Why? Why not a more organic, simple gathering of believers in the neighborhood? Oh, the music is better at the megachurch you say? That brings up my other growing objection with not only the megachurch but most evangelical churches in North America: it’s a show. It’s entertainment to draw them in. The pastor has to be a showman. I feel like a “potential tithe-paying member” target is drawn on my back when I visit a church now… it’s like they’re trying to sell me on their church so they can tap into my tithe-stream. You can see how nervous some of these pastors are if there are any “glitches” in the service – it’s gotta be perfect to compete with TV.

    I’m nearly 50 years old and I pretty much grew up in church. But I came to the conclusion a few years ago that we don’t even know what “Church” is supposed to be. We have so distorted the word “Church” in our day and there are precious few good examples of what it means to be the Church out there at this point. I’m not interested in the show anymore. I’m not interested in being your “member” or project. I’m not even interested in the one-way sermon (why don’t we get to talk? because there are too many people there to allow that – maybe that means the gathering is too large?) I’d rather sit down at a table and share a meal with a few close friends and just have a simple conversation about life and what it means to follow Jesus in this culture and then pray for each other. That’s what “Church” is coming to mean for me. It’s so much less complicated. There’s no overhead. No salaries to pay. No pressure to have the show go perfectly.

  • Alan Jacobs

    Those who are suspicious of megachurches are not likely to be reassured when the pastor of such a church compares himself to a king.

  • John W Frye

    I agree that drawing on the “royal” overtones of David as a Shepherd-King may not be the best grounding for the mega-church pastor. Yes, kings in the ANE (and not just in Israel) were called shepherds. Do we call contemporary pastors “kings”? Maybe in .05% of churches at the most (even though many more pastors act like kings).

    Jesus can carry all the titles well and in their purest form–Shepherd (Pastor), King, Priest, etc. Why do we so cavalierly dismiss the fact that Jesus knows his sheep by name and they know him, too? Why would not any aspiring pastor who wants “to be like Jesus” Who is the Good Pastor also want to know all his/her sheep by name? Is reluctance to do that an admission that we might be doing church in less than pastorally effective ways? Just asking. I’m not trying to assess value to big versus little, traditional versus contemporary (relevant and rad), mainline versus free, etc.

  • Scot McKnight

    Alan, a bit cynical, eh? I know George, I trust the man, and any biblical theology of “pastor” will include David, Jesus, and the apostles … and there is no necessary vaulting into power in making connections from modern day pastors, small church to megachurch, to that splendid set of biblical connections.

  • Alan Jacobs

    Scot, what’s cynical about my comment?

  • Kent

    I read a lot of the posts but don’t respond very often. So forgive my inexperience. It seems to me that we are painting pastors, particularly mega church senior/lead pastors with a very broad brush. I have had the privilege of serving many different size and style of congregations. Everything from a inner city store front church planter, a small church single pastor, a mid-size church senior/lead pastor, to now a associate pastor who over sees a ministry area at a large congregation. Each church was a community of people uniquely blessed by God for ministry within their cultural context. Because of their locations and the different types of people that Jesus brought together to form those bodies each one was different and yet each one glorified God.
    In my different roles I have had to adjust my style to do my best to show the love of Jesus to people who at times very different. While I didn’t always know everyone by name my commitment has always been to love people to Jesus and then equip them to love people for Jesus.
    In large church I serve our Senior Minister and our Senior Minister Emeritus (when just went through a leadership transition) both make hospital call, they both spend hours each week meeting with members, praying with people, doing all the traditional ministry tasks. In fact all of us on staff do. While there is more administrative responsibility He (the senior guy), the rest of us (ministers and ministry directors) spend the majority of our time pastoring. It is true that a lot of our time is spent on equipping and mentoring but that is also a pastoral responsibility.
    I realize that there are some dirt-bags in ministry. My experience has shown me that those pastors are more evenly divided among churches of all size and not a predominately mega-church phenomenon.
    God creates all of uniquely, even pastors. To mandate a cookie cutter set of behaviors or styles, in my opinion, while may seem to protect the integrity of the position actually only limits what Jesus can do when people seek to follow him and not just fit into a prescribed mold.
    Thanks for putting up with my rambling.

  • Rex McDaniel

    The more I think about it lately the more misleading and inadequate the title “pastor” with its intimate connection to “shepherd” is. The relationship between sheep and shepherd or even shepherd and flock is totally unequal, with one party knowing vastly more about what is needed for flourishing and being almost totally responsible for direction and problem solving and the other party being…..well….a sheep. We would rightly label any human community functioning in this way dangerously unhealthy. We need a poetic term….shepherd and pastor do have the poetry going for them…for the numbingly prosaic but more wholesome model, “adaptive change leader.” See Haifetz via Bolsinger etc.

  • The four theological pieces (ironically written by men) studied in my Pastoral Formational class at seminary all mentioned that size matters when it comes to the effectiveness of the “shepherd.”

    Like most words, the word “shepherd” carries several unique images with it, and perhaps, depending on who you hear it from, differing impressions.

    In the OT times shepherd was interchangeable with ruling or leading, like the instance with David when called to shepherd the nation of Israel. In the NT times see a similar impression with Jesus, while carrying a more personal feel to it as Christ talks about how the sheep know his voice.

    Most young people (in America) don’t even have a tangible example of a shepherd because there are few who remain in the agricultural business today.

    I am a “partner” at a vibrant mega-church, yet, there are times where I long to be cared for and discipled. I have not always been able to receive this geniune nurturing from our 6 pastors on staff, let alone the Lead Pastor, but that does not make them less of a “shepherd” in mind.

    Jesus was on to something when he talked about how the sheep know His voice. A voice carries with it the power of life and death in it’s words. A voice worth its weight speaks timely, accurately, and sensitively. Often the voice that is followed is the one resonates most closely to it listeners.

    For most of David’s life the people followed him because he fought and bled with them as he stood up for their country. The same could be said of Jesus as he stood up or his band of outcasts and bled for them.

    Does the voice of our pastors or shepherds today sound similar to the million voices screaming for our attention today? More than that, does the voice of our pastor sound all too familiar to the pastor down the street, on podcasts or on TV?

    Or do the sheep in the fold know their shepherd’s voice personally? Does it intimately resonate in their chests? In my narrow imagination, most people who have a mega pastor for a shepherd may view them as that distant uncle or aunt that they see once a year during family reunions. All they know is their distant aunt or uncle is really successful and everyone in the family likes them, but most of the family has no idea what he or she does for a living.

  • Scot McKnight

    Alan, I’m reading a personal claim to power implicit in your connection. I don’t think George meant that so I’m seeing inferences in your words. Or are you speaking only for the critics?

  • Ken B.

    I have found that the image of the megachurch pastor is presented as an apostle. Both Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll named their church plants Mars Hill, in line with the apostle Paul addressing the Gospel to the culture (I think, however, that Mars Hill in Michigan is better understood as a daughter church of Calvary, which sent it out, rather than a church plant). I lived and served in West Michigan for a number of years. That period coincided with the ascent of Mars Hill. I met several people and families who became members there, but were already long term Christians. The only non-Christian I knew visited a couple of times, but didn’t like it. My anecdotal experience of meeting these people (or of all the people I know in Chicagoland who are part of Willow Creek, all of them were already strong Christians, and some of them had served full time in ministry before) illustrated the statistics on megachurches growing through transfers rather than conversions.
    I’m now in an area (Long Island) where the Catholic Church is the megachurch (the local St. Mary’s has 6,000 families on its rolls – not members, but families). I recently met a man who is friends with and likes the pastor of an evangelical church plant that is on its way to megachurch status. The other people I know of who go there are already long term Christians. This man that I met is not yet a professing Christian, but has a cultural Catholic background. While he likes the pastor of that church, but didn’t get involved with the church. So of the few people I know of at that church, which presents itself as reaching out in a contemporary, relevant way, the ones who joined were already Christians, and the non-Christian seeker chose not to stay. A recent magazine profile of that church had the three stereotypical elements – the ABC’s – of the church growth mindset of the 1980’s and ’90’s: attendance (what numbers they have), buildings (description of their current space and plans for refurbishing the rest), and cash (the capital campaign for their refurbishing/expansion). All that to describe another example of how a pastor presents himself and his church as apostolic, but then is building not just an organization, but a brick-and-mortar institution through the transfer of Christians from existing churches (yes, many of them are dying) rather than through conversion.
    I would prefer to see megachurch pastors embrace that image of bishop, since it would be more honest. One might argue that the megachurch pastor can be an apostolic bishop, like Thomas to India. However, the apostles suffered exile and martyrdom rather than the comfort of a decent salary and upper middle class house. My experience of serving in a megachurch in the mid-1990’s influenced me to pursue ministry in smaller churches. If I aspired to either serve as or under a bishop, I would join a denomination with an episcopal polity.

  • Hi George,

    Some context…Over the years, various churches, big, small and in between, have approached me about being a senior pastor. I have gifts that are consistent with that ministry, but overall have other areas which don’t align as well so I have said “no.”

    My question: Without baptizing a certain size as godly, it does seem clear that bigger churches have more formidable issues making the pastoral ministry work. I am sure you are aware that Eugene Peterson would never pastor a church over about 300 because he did want to know everyone. I am curious as to your thoughts.

    To Scot and You: Yes, David should be used as an example, and maybe it is a bias I can’t fully defend, but it does seem the model of Jesus is to know the sheep. As the perfect King, he certainly does.

    Thanks so much. Blessings on the ministry God has given you!

  • Dianne P

    When, how, and why did we come to have megachurches anyway? Is this an American phenom? I’m just asking.

    Now for my rant…

    I have attended megachurches from time to time, even joining one through their one day membership indoctrination (my word, not theirs). I have now learned to flee from any megachurch – with the emphasis on entertainment (lengthy sermon plus “worship team”) – both of which seem more like shows than like church. I still haven’t figured out what is worshipful about watching a bunch of singers and musicians performing at center stage. And their insistent instruction to find your place in a small group – of course you have to find your place in a small group because otherwise you’re lost in a sea of faces. Not to knock small groups – I’ve been in fabulous, deeply spiritual groups, but I’ve also been in groups where people were still learning each other’s names after a full year of meeting. But at the end of the day, they’re small groups – not a substitute for the church community.

    My parents attended a church where small groups were not needed – the church itself was their community. They came to know their church more deeply by serving in it.

    Onto the 2nd part of my rant… worship. When did a half hour sermon and a half hour of musical entertainment become worship? Seriously, historically, when did this happen? Late 20th century? I’m thinking it largely coincided with the megachurch movement – when the slickest preachers and the prettiest musicians took center stage in order to out-entertain the other churches so as to increase the numbers coming through the door.

    Thinking that the megachurches offered more opportunities for service and ministry, I spent some years on that path. But I’ve come to think of them more like The Lorax… who was interested in “biggering and biggering”. I’ve come back to a liturgical church for some time now and feel that my presence there is worship – focused on God, not on the cast. Are there any liturgical megachurches? I haven’t seen any, but I guess it’s possible. My point is that the whole megachurch, “pastor as king” movement (did he really say that? Yikes!), is somehow tied to the move away from liturgy and toward entertainment.

    Rant done… back to my coffee and sewing.

  • Scot McKnight

    Dianne, already in the 3d but surely 4th Century. When a church is that city’s church and that city grows you’ve got big churches. Many Orthodox and Catholic and Lutheran and Anglican churches were a kind of megachurch– if a few thousand constitutes a megachurch.

  • Alan Jacobs

    I don’t follow your reply, Scot, but you seem to be reading a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t say into my one sentence. I didn’t say one word about the kind of person George is, and I don’t even have a clear view of megachurches. I’m just saying that if someone tries to defend the megachurch by likening its pastor to the King of Israel, that’s only going to exacerbate the existing suspicions. It doesn’t seem to me like a winning rhetorical strategy. I don’t see how pointing that out is “cynical.”

  • Phineus

    My above rant wasn’t meant to dis pastors in any way. I truly feel sorry for pastors stuck in this system. In many cases I don’t think they even know there are any alternatives to the treadmill they’re on.

  • Phineus

    “already in the 3d but surely 4th Century. When a church is that city’s church and that city grows you’ve got big churches.”

    Scott: but did they all meet in one place or was it as Paul refers to in Acts “The Church that meets in such and such city” meaning that there were people meeting throughout the city that constituted that Church?

  • Laborer

    Phineus #4 mentioned feeding the 5000 and how that shouldn’t be normative. To offer a different perspective, what’s a pastor to do when (s)he ends up with hundreds even thousands of people coming to church on a Sunday? We can rant and pass blame on how megachurches came to be, but sometimes more people happen show up on our church doorstep than we know what to do with.

    Limit the number of seats and say “sorry, we’re full?” Should we reason like the disciples and suggest “send them away to feed themselves?” Our church is bursting at the seams and has no resources to care for these people. Obviously 1 person can’t single handedly “pastor” 1000 people but we can’t even afford to bring another on staff. We’ve planted 2 other locations to help avoid the megachurch mentality (many smaller communities as opposed to one super large one) yet people still come! What do we do?! Yet Jesus tells us “YOU feed them.” Dear Lord, help us…this is all we got.

  • Robin

    I don’t belong to a mega-church, but the particular thing that bothers me about this thread is the idolization of small churches. I have been in churches ranging from about 50 people to about 500, and I can tell you that in all of them it is impossible for the pastor (if there is only one) to serve as the “shepherd” for all of the sheep. Even at low numbers like that they start to get too thinned out.

    The advantage that the larger churches have, and this applies to mega-churches, is that they are fully aware that they cannot shepherd 500 or 5,000 people so they are much more willing to delegate that duties to small groups or assistant pastors. I have seen smaller churches though, where the pastor tries to shepherd everyone and fails miserably because he doesn’t realize that his congregation has outgrown his capabilities.

    The two churches I’ve been in that did congregational care the best both had congregations with about 300 members, both had multiple elders (4-6 elders) strong teams of deacons, and strong small group networks. The elders met frequently with the small group leaders, who were seen as mini-pastors to their groups, and the elders made a point to meet with each member of the congregation quarterly or annually for coffee or something along those lines.

  • RJS


    I don’t think many here are idolizing small churches – unless you consider 300-500 to be small (and I hope noone is “idolizing” these either). Megachurch is really over several thousand (usually over 2000).

    Personally – I prefer churches that are 300-700 with heavy congregational involvement and relatively small staff. My understanding (and I could be wrong here) is that many mega churches have relatively little congregational involvement (except in “safe” ways) and large staffs. “Safe” here means one doesn’t have to worry much about the theology or character of the volunteer.

  • Robin


    The churches that I have seen that do congregational care the best are the ones that are clearly too big for the pastor to do it all. This includes those churches I listed above that clocked in around 300. It also includes megachurches in our area who have done great work with small groups and intentional strategies for pastoral care.

    Basically, they know they are too big, so they get intentional about it. The smaller churches I have seen (let’s just say under 200, or especially under 100) just have a “we’ll see them at service and shake hands afterwards, say hi at the potluck, etc., so we don’t really need to be intentional about pastoral care” kind of attitude.

    I guess what I am saying is that smallness can be just as dangerous as bigness, if it leads pastors to forget that intentionality in pastoral care is sometimes necessary.

  • Laborer

    I do not see an idolization of smaller churches as much as I see a demonization of larger churches. Size isn’t everything, but it’s a bit of a stretch to question the morals and heart of those leading large churches or have a service/church structure that caters to the larger congregation just because they are big. What comes first chicken or the egg? Did megachurch pastors purposely and strategically create their own empires or are they simply trying their best to respond to the masses of people they have?

  • David Himes

    The theme I see in the post and comments is that “pastoring” a large church runs the danger about being more concerned about “the organization” than about people. And, while I understand how the “ekklesia” evolved from the NT pattern into what we see today, I fear we often become too concerned about the organizational aspects of congregational life and not concerned enough about the spiritual life of the people.

    Certainly, this is not a black and white matter. But I think it is something that every leader in a congregation should be pre-occupied with.

  • Mark h

    This quickly moved from what it means to pastor, to an envious conversation about size, and its advantage either way

    I’ve been to a parish recently for a wedding in another city, and noticed their attendance on a Sunday usually is between 3-4,000, and the parish in my community a little smaller, yet I rarely hear an Evangelical who considers a Catholic parish as a mega church. What constitutes one? My guess is that parishes like these have been around, like Scot said, for centuries. Is a Catholic Priest not considered a shepherd?

    I’m just tagging on to some of your alls wonderings.

  • Ken B.

    “Idolization” of small churches is a poor choice of wording, as an idol would be that to which people direct their worship, and in which they place their ultimate trust. The error concerning smaller congregations instead might better be described as “idealization,” rather than idolization. I would readily agree that small churches have their own forms of abuse of power, and see the same ratio of core to fringe in terms of membership involvement. However, what I, and perhaps others, tried to describe above was the corrective of the smaller congregation in which one can both know and is known by others in getting closer to the ideal of community in the New Testament, in contrast to a return to the Old Testament priority of the structure of the temple inherent in megachurch religion.

  • Dennis P

    George initiates a discussion of “defining what the role of pastor entails,” and it seems the discussion inherently must involve Ephesians 4, “equipping the saints for the work of service (or work of ministry).” It is a stretch to incorporate that function into the traditional work of shepherding (feeding, protecting, guiding). A pastor can equip a larger circle than he can shepherd, especially by “equipping equippers.” With proper equipping, a church can discontinue looking solely to the paid staff to “do the work of service” and start fulfilling the many “one another” mandates found in Scripture. As far as shepherding, I would not be so concerned about whether a given Pastor shepherds everyone as I would whether a given Pastors anyone. Completely jettisoning both roles of shepherd and equipper in favor of a CEO model disqualifies one for the title of “Pastor,” but that can happen in the smallest church or the largest church.

  • Phineus

    “Limit the number of seats and say “sorry, we’re full?” ”

    Maybe so, Laborer. Maybe so. Perhaps suggest to those who are travelling long distances that there are churches in their own neighborhoods and if there aren’t any start a gathering right in their own home?

    As for “Idolization” of small church and the whole church size discussion… it entirely misses the point. Yes, I tend to think a smaller gathering is going to be more intimate. But I think what I’m trying to say is that the age of the big-show spectator church is over. You see small churches that are trying to do the “show” just as much as big churches – those small churches want to be big churches with a bigger show.

    A lot of us are just tired of the show. Like I said above, I’d rather sit around a table with some folks and BE the Church instead of going to a church show. I’d rather be an interactive participant than a passive spectator. And I think there are more and more of us out there (who used to be in the pews) who feel that way. I’d guess pastor-folk mainly fall into two camps on this: they’re either afraid of this trend getting “out of hand” or they’re going to call us rebellious. Then again, I hope there might be a few who decide to join us after they’ve been burned out by the show church mentality.

  • George Davis

    Alan, perhaps I could have made my point more clearly. In referencing David, my focus wasn’t on the issue of authority. Rather, my point was simply that the shepherding theme appears in certain contexts that do not demand the leader to have an in-depth relationship with every person he or she leads. Concerning the relationship of shepherding and authority, I would highly recommend the book by Tim Laniak, Shepherds After My Own Heart. This is arguably the most robust examination of the shepherding theme.

    Dave, I’m not sure that I would say bigger churches make for harder pastoral work; I would say that they present different challenges. Having been involved with churches in all size categories, I would say each size has its own type of obstacles to effective ministry.

  • I remain convinced, especially after reading through this series and comments, that there was never a financial-career incentive implicit in Christ’s call to follow, lead, or teach. Remove such incentives and see how pastoring (etc.) becomes an organic, broadly shared role among the religious community.

  • Chris

    Does anybody besides me wonder why size is so central to American thinking? Some use it as a sign of God’s blessing but as my wife pointed out we would then need to apply that to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims as well. On the other hand, size is also used as a sign of success or failure but we would also need to apply that to the abandonment of Jesus by large groups after he insisted they must indeed eat his flesh and drink his blood.

    Hmmm. Do we have both a distraction and a justification wrapped up in this whole matter. Is size an idol in America? It’s a strong temptation to glorify the leadership of a church that is big or simply getting bigger. It’s the quintessential mark of “doing it right.” How about downsizing as a witness of devotion to Christ? To take that route would be to forego personal glory. Or how about hiving in the interest of planting the gospel in neighborhoods and communities rather than in gathering places?

    Just wondering.

  • Percival

    Interesting that several people have said something along the lines of ‘maybe a megachurch pastor is more like a bishop.’ Well, I don’t know which side of the issue this supports, but the word bishop actually means pastor or shepherd.

    Incidentally, in the early church one of the main roles of the pastor/bishop was to lay down his life for the sheep, In other words, when the persecution heated up and someone was to be martyred, they usually started with the pastor/bishop. It was like a job qualification to be ready for martyrdom.

    I think George Davis is right, we have let our definition of pastor be defined by what we think a pastor should do. Furthermore, Davis is not using King David as a model, he is just pointing out that what David did was also referred to as ‘shepherding.’

  • I want to thank Pastor Davis for this response. My husband is on the staff of a mega-church that was meant to be a simple church plant. The harvest was ripe…It is one thing to discuss in theory what being a pastor means, and another to be in the trenches, responding amid all the complexity and numbers. You have my sympathy! I see the Spirit moving to unleash the gifts of all members of the body. Rather than bemoan size or style, I challenge us all to be obedient “shepherds” of whatever “sheep” God puts in our path. Maybe we are all called to lay down our lives. Maybe the voice of Jesus the sheep recognize comes from within each one of us who call him Lord.

  • I grew up a pastor’s daughter and have served in church leadership all my adult life. The discussion of defining the role of Pastor herein got off to a slippery start and as I’ve read I haven’t seen anyone get a foothold. Why is there so much discussion around the pastor as uber leader as per the above analogies: King, David, Jesus, All Knowing Shepherd? We all know that Christ is the Head of The Church, Christ is the All Knowing Shepherd. No human being can live up to any definitions represented so far as the “role of a pastor”. I have seen the swirl down the drain so many times in my life as a church body wrestle with the “Job Description”. So many pastors burn out, can’t meet these expectations, leave ministry and even abandon their faith entirely.

    A pastor is a person, not a role.

    A pastor is a noun, not a verb.

    The pastor is a person serving along side, not in a hierarchy structure, but equally submitting to the other believer’s he or she is serving with. This person may head a mega church and be called a pastor or they may work full time in a secular job, study with 20 people around his kitchen table be called a pastor.

    The difference is the person…the pastor….

    Phineous your comments are a reflection of the hearts of many, many Christians that I know. Especially when we see our 20 something children struggling to make sense of the current model. And I believe it is the next big challenge and the next big movement of God as our changing culture seeks and answers those questions. My church small church is feeling this disconnect.

    What is church? For me, I have a chronic illness and cannot anymore attend events, programs etc. However, there is such a strong community of believers in my life that I never feel left out, not connected or a part of something bigger. I’ve stuck with my church for this reason. I’ve built relationships over 20 years with some of the people and I have been ministered to and I have ministered. Do I like the Sunday morning “show”. Nope! But I love the people. The people are the church. The organization is not the church. It’s required for the church to minister and God alone will determine the harvest, some 20, some 50 and some 100 fold.

  • Hendrik

    The problem is not the *SIZE* of the church, nor the idea of a pastor *per*se*, the issue is rather the paternal nature of almost all institutionalized churches.

    It then becomes a situation where firstly you don’t disciple, but just make converts (against the command in Mat 28)

    It continues where you have the Nicolaitans Christ warns about in Revelations 2! What is the Nicolaitans? It’s the case where you have somebody (anybody) put above the rest of the laity, the laymen, the flock. You then goes back to the same issue you have with the pope in the RCC, everybody looks up to the pastor/minister/priest/etc. instead of they themselves doing their biblestudy ;(

    So, a megachurch vs a small church? Well, the groups I meet in isn’t more than 50, and we don’t have any pastor! We *all* take responsibility for our own salvation, but we guide/help/pastor/minister to each other, we don’t have a dedicated pastor/minister/guide/preacher.

  • John W Frye

    Hendrik (comment # 36),
    It’s good you have seriously held views of the church and how it works, but to pull out the Nicolaitans of Revelation 2 as the straw man for those who hold different views than you is, frankly, pathetic. It does nothing to advance a healthy, if not sometimes adversarial, conversation. Do you think you’ve come on to something new? The Plymouth Brethren have operated church the way your group works for decades. Also, there is no one way to do church revealed in the New Testament or in church history. No church historian has unearthed pure church,and your group isn’t it, either.

  • mark

    Hendrik may be being a bit harsh with the Nicolaitans comparison, but as a lifelong 500+ member church attender who has felt plateaued in the system for many years, there is something refreshing about the organic church practice (See Frank Viola for definition).

    Church attenders seem to be picked by pastor, as in is this is a guy I can attach onto (and find acceptable identity with). I personally attended megachurch A and loved the “senior pastor”, but will not attend megachurch B that is 5 miles the other direction due to their “senior pastor” (yes I’m shallow).

    I know some at my current 600-700 church were not happy with the prior pastor (whom I loved despite not having much one-on-one with until after he left), but they stayed around. When we hired a new “senior pastor” from a local megachurch, many others left due to changes in substance and style (leadership and teaching). Some left on bad terms, and my understanding is the elder position was if you don’t like it, you are free to leave. The “senior pastor” said that it was common for 10% to leave with a new pastor.

    What I find interesting is that almost all our new growth is from the local megachurch. Most I’ve met come are the disgruntled people from a (2-mile away) remote campus of the megachurch; those that are unhappy with the remote campus’s new pastor. We seem overjoyed to welcome these “new” people who bailed on their community when they were unhappy with their new pastor. Yet some of us not happy with our new pastor’s take on things, but have stayed in community, are looked at strangely for our lack of enthusiasm. I understand “moving on” but it’s a very weird process for me. Perhaps church hopping becoming acceptable is a major result of the megachurch phenomenon.

    From my experience, the “senior paster”, like a pope, gradually tends to replace the kingship of Christ for most people, particularly for day-to-day living outside the morning devotion.

    Sorry for being cynical, but I’m stuck there.

  • Ken B.

    My question for Janet about her husband’s megachurch ask if the ripe harvest of people are those hadn’t been raised in Christianity and the church, and then came to saving faith through the proclamation of her husband’s church, and then became part of the community? Or, was the ripe harvest that of individuals and families who were already members of other churches, but were looking for more? As I describe in my original comment (#13 above), often megachurches present the pastor as apostolic, but they really oversee a congregation of transfers. If the answer is that the harvest is a mixed of churched and unchurched, I would be bet that it leans heavily to the latter. I am asking what do we view as the ripe harvest? The growth of numbers who are really transfers, or of conversions of people who are following Jesus for the first time?

  • Our pastor told us he is not transactional but transformational. He is not personal but endeavors to transform thru sermons. (So I consider myself an audience member.) Comments?

  • John W Frye

    A cursory word search of the NIV will reveal the term “shepherd” used of God and God’s leaders, both royal and priestly, in the Pentateuch, the historical, poetic and prophetic books. God is a powerful, faithful and compassionate shepherd and humans can be good or very bad shepherds. Continuing into the New Testament, we hear these OT overtones reiterated and brought to focus in Jesus, the Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd, into the service of early church leaders…”and he gave some to be pastors and teachers…” “Be shepherds of God’s flock…” Yes, the New Testament has a semantic field of words for church leaders–elders, overseers, apostles, prophets, deacons, leaders, pastors, etc. This is undeniable. Yet, early on in church history, the church and its leaders, for who knows exactly what reason, compressed a lot of these titles and/or giftings into the term shepherd (pastor). My own opinion is that while God in the O.T. had many titles and Jesus had several, too, the term shepherd/pastor captured the imagination of how God deals with his sometimes faithful, sometimes fickle people. When human leadership (shepherds) failed (see Ezekiel 34) God promised a competent, compassionate Shepherd like David would come. Behind John 10 and Jesus’ self-designation as shepherd/pastor is the miserable failure of Israel’s leaders as good shepherds. Why this brief walk down memory lane?

    I get a little restless when we easily dismiss the shepherd/pastor imagery for local church leaders because, hey, we don’t live in an ANE agrarian/shepherding world. Yeah, and we don’t execute rebels on Roman crosses in public, either, but I don’t hear too many calls for dismissing the cross of Jesus Christ because it is culturally irrelevant. Men and women who are gifted to be pastors (which is a multifaceted gifting IMO) and who exercise that gifting vocationally (I mean “for money” for those of you who choke on that idea) do not need be ashamed nor feel belittled or disobedient or antiquated because a much of other folks in the church run around acting as if the term and function of a pastor is somehow driven only by power, prestige and money. There are excellent pastors of mega-churches and there are cheap, fraudulent pastors in little churches and those house groups who boast they have no recognized leaders.

  • John W Frye

    Oops! The word “much” in the second paragraph of comment #41 should read “bunch.”

  • From Phineas “But I think what I’m trying to say is that the age of the big-show spectator church is over. You see small churches that are trying to do the “show” just as much as big churches – those small churches want to be big churches with a bigger show.

    A lot of us are just tired of the show. Like I said above, I’d rather sit around a table with some folks and BE the Church instead of going to a church show.”

    I share your sentiment…and yes the megachurch will fade someday and then what will the campus’ ceo/kings do then?

  • Ken B – you raise the real sticking point I believe and that is how much of the megachurch growth is transfers or new conversions? In my area I’m 99% sure it’s all transfers… lot’s of young people/families (born and raised Christian) drawn to the show and the many programs – but products of an individualized, selfish, short-attention-span, transient culture – with ‘leadership’ teams happy to serve such tastes.

    I think Phineas above made a good point in response to this – ““Limit the number of seats and say “sorry, we’re full?” ”
    (Phineas said) Maybe so, Laborer. Maybe so. Perhaps suggest to those who are travelling long distances that there are churches in their own neighborhoods and if there aren’t any start a gathering right in their own home?” Why don’t people get this advice when shopping around? Maybe because the up-and-coming megapastor unconsciously realizes that he/she wouldn’t be able to ‘give God the glory’ some years down the road for the ‘harvest’ that just happened to pour in?

    There are thousands of little, dying churches that could use just a few families and individuals to spark some life and share the load of building community and the Kingdom…but either the gathering isn’t ‘showy’ enough (ie boring) or they’re lazy and don’t want to share in the heavier lifting required at a smaller venue…I don’t know. Yes small churches have weaknesses too but the strengths I believe are what our society tends to most lack (ie it’s an antidote) – The american megachurch model tends to offer the ear tickling/butt comfyness tailor made for american banality – the Walmartized version… And someday it’s going to fall off its pedestal and those ghastly chintzy corporate office/factory like edifices will be empty, crumbling and overgrown (unlike the mainline’s who at least built something that would physically last and have some aesthetic appeal) There are good ways, better ways and then the best. Lord help us find Your best.

  • George thank you for taking time to respond to the posts I have written and to the comments made. I appreciate the push-back. I will keep this short and I am sorry to defer to Peterson once again but I feel he argues it well and says it all.

    “The job of the pastor isn’t to get things done. His (or her) job is to pay attention to what is going on, what God is doing.” Secondly, “A pastor’s job is to get to know God very well and people very well and to introduce the two”

    The way in which we do that is to keep the spiritual practices of studying the scriptures, prayer and spiritual direction (not leadership) as the foundation of what we do. My concern is that most of what we pastors read about and have thrown at us doesn’t related to this at all. Its almost as if this stuff is assumed. We are taught to run business, put on programs and undertake strategic planning. Because the ascetics are assumed I wonder if they have been forgotten as the central practices of the pastoral vocation. They aren’t all we do but they should be the things which define our ministry.

  • George Davis

    Mark, thanks for your thoughtful post. In responding, let me come back to what I said earlier. As you know, pastoral ministry is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional enterprise. Consequently, it’s easy for us to lock into one of these dimensions and say, “this is what it’s really about.” For some, that one thing may be nurture/pastoral care–for others it may be teaching or directional leadership. My purpose in this post was simply to say that we need to be careful about viewing pastoral ministry in reductionistic ways.

    In my own case, I came into pastoral ministry from an academic background, and I gravitate to the teaching dimension of my role. By contrast, I have colleagues who have more intuitive leadership gifts and bring to their role a passion for leading churches in a healthy direction. Now, I could look at them and say, “they are not really pastors, they are organizational leaders.” However, in doing so, I may be in danger of viewing pastoral ministry in a reductionistic manner.

    This is why I find the shepherding theme in Scripture helpful. If shepherding involves leading, feeding, and protecting, a robust understanding of this theme can correct the tendency to truncate our understanding of pastoral ministry. Thus, my only minor “push-back” on your observations would be to say this: I believe there is a directional leadership dimension to pastoral ministry that doesn’t necessarily come through in Peterson’s writings on this topic.

    Thanks again for taking the time to interact…. May God give us both wisdom and strength as we seek to shepherd his flock.

  • Graham Buxton

    It is, of course, both-and, not either-or. Mark Stevens is right and as a good friend of mine he knows well what I think about pastoral ministry as a participation in the Spirit-led ministry of Christ in the world. That means that we need to discern where God is at work, and if we spend our time as pastors trying to make things happen we can get into all sorts of strife. What pastors need is the encouragement to enter more deeply into the mystery of faith, seeking first to cultivate a relationship with God ever before they seek to do things for him. When Jesus was challenged by the Jewish authorities about his miracles performed on the Sabbath, he replied: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19). In the same way that Jesus participated only in what he saw his Father doing, pastors are summoned to participate in only what they see Christ doing in the power of his Spirit. This leads to creative and imaginative ministry for the Kingdom of God!

    BUT – and here’s the ‘both-and-‘ bit – churches desperately need leaders who have the capacity (gift of God?) to enhance congregational health (not the same as church growth, by the way). And I am convinced that those who are in pastoral leadership roles have much to learn from the way leaders operate in many other contexts outside the Christian setting (recognising, of course, that there is much in the world of business and politics, for example, that is deeply un-Christian). Hence the need for discernment. I have been around the pastoral traps long enough to have seen leaders fail woefully in such areas as managing teams, conflict management, clear planning for the future, even simple things like running meetings and personal time management. The result – often an appalling waste of time trying to put right what has gone wrong because of poor, weak, ineffective leadership. Now, not all pastors are good at these things – it’s not in their DNA, which is precisely why we need ministry teams to supply what may be lacking in church leadership. Sadly, sharing the tasks of ministry are viewed by some as too threatening.

    So, like George, I am hesitant about a reductionist approach to pastoral ministry, especially when it has to do with leadership. But – and this of course is Mark’s warning – if in the process we forget Peterson’s ‘angles’ of prayer, scripture reading and spiritual direction, then we really have misunderstood the true nature of ministry: Mark is right – these things lie at the heart of ministry. It’s both-and, not either-or.