This post by T.
The Primacy of Pastor-ing
Just a few posts ago, John Frye put up a controversial post here, titled “The Primacy of Pastor” which received not a little push back, including from me. For this post, though, I’d like to focus on what I hope can be a source of at least some agreement with the spirit, if not the letter, of John’s post. As some folks mentioned in the comments. The issue is really one of ecclesiology. On that front, I want to offer this as a way to move us forward.
So first, the title. What do I think pastor-ing is, and why do I think it’s primary? In a nutshell, I think:
Pastoring is what you get when love of others grows up. Pastoring is looking out and working for the health of individuals, families, communities. Asking what pastoring includes is like asking what mothering includes, or what being a good friend includes. The answer is “whatever is necessary.” And because growing people up in Christ, in Love, is so central to God’s work on the earth, pastoring is central to God’s work on the earth.
One thing I didn’t say that the office or gift of pastor is central, though I certainly hope that those with the title of pastor, elder or even deacon are leading examples of pastoring. But sometimes (a lot) I think we get too focused on offices and miss the building they reside in, which is one of the points of this post. So, let me be clear. If the folks we often call “pastor” are the only ones pastor-ing, if being on the church payroll is a prerequisite to pastor-ing, we’ve lost. It’s over. Pastor-ing is bread and butter, love of one another, grown-up style. We need more of it. From everybody.
But let me put this whole discussion in a context that I think is especially helpful, and even necessary (though often lacking). Specifically, I want to look at church, the people and children of God, through the lens of familial relationships. Now, when I say “familial relationships” in this discussion of pastoring, what role do you think of? Father? Brother? Crazy uncle? I think one of the main problems the church faces today is a failure to see ourselves and others in our correct way in the family of God. Consider this bit of instruction from Jesus, which I think is pointed directly at this very problem (emphasis added):
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people. But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’”
For now I want to ignore the commands not to call or be called by various religious titles (we’ve ignored those for centuries, what’s a minute more?), and I want to focus on the “because” Jesus gives. The reason we are to be cautious about these titles and roles we give or take, even if we are apostles, is because of who Jesus wants to be in relation to us, and because of who we are to be in relation to each other. To whatever extent the greatest command(s) matter, then this matters, because it frames our dealings with God, and with others in the church. This is first order business. Regarding Jesus, he is to be, among other things, our Teacher above all other teachers. And we (and this is where I want to focus for this discussion), even the leaders, we are to be “brothers.” No one in the church should be more your “teacher” than they are your “brother,” at least not for long. I think one of the worst things that has happened in the family of God is that a functional and robust and truly mutually beneficial brotherhood among all believers has been swallowed, eclipsed, or just plain forgotten. But it is, IMO, to be the ground work of our ecclesiology. In classic co-dependent ways, we’ve tried instead to put as much of the work of the whole family of God on a few paid experts whom we treat (and charge) more like fathers than brothers. John mentioned in his earlier post that “pastor” is so much more prevalent in the scriptures than the other so called five fold offices or gifts. So true. But the more dominant, dare I say thematic push in the New Testament regarding corporate life in Christ’s church isn’t about any office or gift, but about a functional and highly fruitful brotherhood in the family of God, which is shaped by, powered by and reaching toward the love of Father, Son and Spirit. The bulk of the commands for church life are expressed in the many “one-anothers” of the NT, which are too numerous to include here. The center and operational strength of church life isn’t supposed to be found in any leadership person, role or team, but shoulder to shoulder in the whole body. Regardless of what gift one person has, and regardless of how great a given paid pastor is, the church is baptized in water and the Spirit—and in the love of God!—to bear the lion’s share of the load of “pastor-ing” by loving one another with increasing maturity and wisdom. In our evangelical ecclesiology, such as it is, we don’t need most, IMO, to shore up any particular office or gift. We need to shore up something more fundamental, something lower, something deeper. We need to shore up the significance and call of our baptism and the familial love we are to practice from top to bottom of the church. Brothers, don’t call anyone “father” (and thereby increase their responsibility and decrease your own). Pastors and leaders, don’t let anyone call you “Rabbi” (and make you a go-between between them and Jesus). Yes, those who lead and teach (as older brothers) are worthy of double honor. Those whom we appoint and rightfully pay to give their full time work to pastoring the church are worthy of respect and support and cooperation! But that’s not supposed to overshadow all the Spirit-powered one-another-ing that is the powerhouse and central call of the church. In our day, when a charismatic leader leaves or falls, the church is so often on the verge of disintegration. Why? Because the church was more like a large family of young children whom the father deserted rather than a commune of 40 mature brothers who had leaned on and helped each other in deep ways for years. If pastoring doesn’t multiply all across the fellowship, if love doesn’t grow up, the church is immature and vulnerable and dependent, not on each other, but on the pastor. Welcome to Western Christianity. But it does not have to be this way.One additional, theological, lens for this, by way of contrast, is the ancient story of Cain and Able. Consider Cain’s story for a moment. Cain not only hated and killed his own younger brother out of jealousy (and religious jealousy at that), he then famously asked God, when God asked Cain where Able was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If I may be so bold, just as Jesus, the Good Shepherd—is the ultimate prototype of what a pastor is and does, Cain is perhaps the best picture of the anti-pastor. As John said in his initial post, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the thing that makes him the good shepherd is that he lays down his life—in love—for the sake of the sheep. Cain, who should have been lovingly protective and helpful toward his brother, was and did the opposite. He was murderously jealous of his brother. The one he was called to pastor, not as a father, but as an older brother, he killed out of jealousy. Let me say clearly that mature love of one-another is the soul of pastoring, which includes mutual respect and submission to one another. Pastoring is central to the Church being the Church because mature love is central. We don’t have to be someone’s “father” in the faith to be an agent of mature love in the context of mutually accountable community.
When Jesus predicted Peter’s denials, he added at the end: “but when you return, strengthen your brothers.” Peter didn’t have to be their father-figure to strengthen them in Christ, or even to lead. He could and did do so as, in Christ’s words, their brother. And today, we still affirm and appoint as our elders and overseers (or should) those of our brothers and sisters who are the most established and practiced in love and wisdom. And we need the benefit of their maturity in Christ for good pastoring in the Church and their example(!), regardless if their primary gifting is teaching, evangelism, administration, etc. Yes, some are more gifted here or there more than others, but gifts and offices don’t make us who we are, or determine our family bonds. And who we are, in relation to God and each other, and the love we all share must outshine and shape all these things. Think of this: just as most folks who convert to faith in Christ aren’t led to faith in Him by evangelists but by Christian friends, so most people who are strengthened and guided could be built up in this way not only by the very few professional pastors, but by brothers in Christ.
Do you see your pastor more as a father-figure or a brother? In what ways do you see codependency at work in your church (which often looks like over burdening the pastor(s) and absolving rank and file from responsibility for each other? What do you feel your baptism, in water and Spirit, charges and empowers you to do? Where do you see the biggest weakness in evangelical ecclesiology? At how pastors understand themselves and their role, or how congregants understand themselves and their role? Which parts or activities of the body to you see as most in need of encouragement and shoring up?