In today’s Christian landscape the senior pastor has become the single focus of ministry and church life. This one person is expected to perform every wedding and funeral, to baptize every new believer, to preside over every Lord’s Supper, to teach and train and admonish and counsel and encourage every single member of his flock. He, or she, is also expected to oversee the finances, preach every Sunday morning and evening, and to guide the Church through whatever challenge might be facing them.
In effect, senior pastors are carrying the entire weight of the church on their shoulders. Some are lucky enough to have a staff supporting them, but even these associate pastors are overloaded with the burden of doing all the ministry for the youth, or the seniors, or the college students, or the young married couples, etc.
In my own spiritual life, I’ve personally been very blessed by many dear servants of God who had surrendered to full-time, pastoral ministry.
In fact, I’ve been one of those who served as a pastor myself, and I honestly believe that most who enter the pastorate do so out of a genuine desire to follow Christ and to use their spiritual gifts to edify the rest of the Body of Christ.
But as we examine the statistics for pastors in American churches the results are frightening. According to Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, and other respected groups:
- 1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in America.
- 4,000 new churches start each year in America.
- 7,000 churches close each year in America.
- 50% of pastors’ marriages end in divorce.
- 70% of pastors continually battle depression.
- 80% of pastors and 85% of their spouses feel discouraged in their roles.
- 95% of pastors do not regularly pray with their spouses.
- 70% of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.
- 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way to make a living.
These statistics mirror what Moses felt like when he was struggling with leading nearly a million people after the exodus from Egypt. He cried out to the Lord saying:
“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11:14-15)
In response, God calls Moses to choose seventy elders from among the people, on whom He will pour out His Spirit and empower for ministry to the people. After this Moses says,
“I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29)
This prophetic cry from Moses is repeated when the prophet Joel reveals that God’s plan is to do just that:
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)
When was this promise completed? In the book of Acts, at the feast of Pentecost God did exactly this.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the shadow found in the Old Covenant priesthood. He is now our only High Priest.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the shadow of the sacrificial lamb who takes away our sins. We no longer require a Levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the shadow of the temple. “One greater than the temple has come,” Jesus said in Matthew 12:6. At his crucifixion, God tore the veil in the temple in two, from top to bottom to signify the end of that old covenant temple system – the priests, the animal sacrifice, the temple itself are all now superfluous and unnecessary.
Why did Jesus do all of this? So that you and I could become the living sacrifice (Romans 12). So that we could become the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:4-10). So that you and I could become the new, living temple of the Holy Spirit.
“It was never in the mind of God that a privileged priesthood of sinful, imperfect men would attempt, following the death and triumphant resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, to repair the veil and continue their office of mediation between God and man. The letter to the Hebrews makes that fact very plain. When Jesus rose from the dead, the Levitical priesthood, which had served Israel under the Old Covenant, became redundant.” – A. W.Tozer
Actually, it was never God’s plan to have His New Covenant Church operate like a Levitical priesthood. Jesus commanded His disciples not to emulate the top-down organizational structures of either the Jewish religion (Matt 23:8-12), or of the Pagan authorities (Mark 10:42-45). Instead, He urged them to treat one another as brothers and as equals.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, outlines God’s plan for the Church to operate as a Body. In this New Testament model, Jesus is the only one in control and the people within the Church are empowered – each and every one of them – by the Holy Spirit to minister to one another.
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7)
Notice how each of these various gifts are distributed to the Body, by the Holy
Spirit for a single purpose: “for the common good.” God does this so that everyone in the Body is necessary and so that everyone contributes and shares the burden of ministry.
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Cor 12:11)
Notice how it doesn’t say, “..he gives them to ONE PERSON” but that these gifts are given to “each one” of the members of the Body.
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Cor 12:12)
Notice how the body is a reflection of Christ himself if we operate as a unit made up of many parts all working together under the headship of Christ. The implication is that if we do not function as God designed, we are not reflecting Christ to the world.
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Cor 12:13)
Notice how throughout 1 Corinthians chapter 12 the emphasis is not on one particular member but on the entire Body itself. This is especially significant when you consider that this church in Corinth was probably one of the most troubled and morally challenged churches in early Christian history. Even so, Paul never abandons the shared body ministry in order to correct these errors. He never commands their elders to take control and whip people into shape. He never addresses the senior pastor at all in this letter, or any other letter. Why? Because there wasn’t one.
The overwhelming evidence throughout the New Testament is that every baptized believer in Christ was automatically ordained by the Holy Spirit into the ministry of Jesus. There was no separation between clergy and laity.
Were there some within the Body who were gifted to teach and to encourage and to lead? Yes, of course. But the entire life of the Church did not revolve around these few. Instead, every single believer was empowered to contribute and to speak and to use their gifting as the Holy Spirit directed.
According to the New Testament, when the Church actually becomes a real Body, and when Jesus is really the only Shepherd, the entire Body will be healthy and operate as God actually intended all along.
How can we continually refer to ourselves as “The Body of Christ” if we do not actually engage in the organic form of shared life as described in 1 Corinthians 12?
If you really love your pastors, the best thing you can do for them is to encourage them to stop trying to carry all of the weight of the entire Body on their own shoulders. Pray that the Church will return to a New Testament model as God originally intended. Pray that we would affirm with Peter that God has indeed answered the prayer of Moses and the promise in Joel to pour out His Spirit on all flesh so that every member of the Body of Christ can serve and love one another in love.
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb.” He is also the co-founder of Pacifist Fight Club and co-host of “The Heretic Happy Hour” Podcast.