The Pastorate In Perspective

By Bill Ireland

"Where do you fellowship?"

Itís a common question among Christians, and the next question is predictable:

"Whoís the pastor there?"

This shorthand enables us to quickly identify the basic persona of a church, perhaps in combination with things weíve already heard—particularly about the pastor. And of course, we all make private assessments based on the information weíve gleaned, whether accurate or not.

Our opinion of a pastor typically centers on doctrinal stances, but also on personality traits: Is he (or she) a lively speaker? Entertaining? Does this pastor project an air of authority? Do I feel comforted, inspired and happy upon leaving the service? The personality of the pastor thus becomes a major selling point for churches as they compete for a finite number of congregants.

We shouldnít be surprised by this. Itís human nature to be attracted to strong, charismatic personalities, and the church has not been immune to the tendency. From its very birth, the church was afflicted by "turf" disputes between leaders, or those who identified with them.

Thereís no need to even discuss the jockeying for position that occurred among the twelve apostles—which happened even while Jesus was trying to alert them to his imminent execution. It took His death to draw their eyes upward and away from themselves. Perhaps then they remembered His last teaching, when He showed them how to be true leaders by stripping down, assuming a servantís mien and washing their feet. But unfortunately, it didnít end the tendency toward personal fiefdoms in the church.

Personality Cults
In Corinth, the apostle Paul found a young community of believers and nursed it to viability before sailing for Syria. But it wasnít long after his departure that cults of personality began to emerge. He had to send them a letter rebuking them for dividing into camps: "One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ'" (I Cor 1:12 NIV).

Sounds a lot like todayís evangelical church, doesnít it?

As in our day, each camp had good reasons for picking its leader: Cephas (Peter) was one of the twelve, after all, entrusted with the keys to the kingdom. Apollos was an intellectual heavyweight from Alexandria, and an eloquent speaker.

And who could disagree with those who only "followed Christ"? This brings to mind the innumerable denominations we see today with Christ or Christian in their names. This simple approach is meant to eliminate divisiveness—but can just as easily end up promoting it.

Poor Paul had a hard time competing with such a wealth of talent. He was "unimpressive" in person, and apparently not a great orator. So he had to continually reaffirm his bona fides as a minister—even though he was an acknowledged apostle who had seen the Lord (in visions), suffered innumerable persecutions, and received revelations that would define Christian theology for the next 2,000 years. You wouldnít know all that from the response of the ancient Corinthians.

The CEO Pastor
In our time, this emphasis on personalities has solidified around the role of the senior pastor, who is expected to function like a combination personal counselor/inspirational guru/corporate CEO. In many smaller churches, he must do all this for a salary the parishioners themselves would never tolerate. After all, heís supposed to be dedicated to the ministry. You could say he serves God, so that the rest of us donít have to.

An unhealthy corrolary is that we don't allow our pastors to be human. We project onto them the qualities we wish we possessed: strength, confidence, unlimited foresight, and absolute purity. Then when they don't measure up, too often we despise them and cast them aside—much the way supermarket tabloids treat pop celebrities. We shouldn't be shocked to find that pastors (and their spouses) are among the most isolated and lonely people in our culture.

In his classic book The Open Church, author Jim Rutz examines this concept of the CEO pastor, traces its roots from the Catholic priesthood through the reformation—and demolishes it. He reveals our modern pastor model as a convenient, logical development that is totally unscriptural. (Donít read The Open Church if you want to retain your comfortable notions of church, or Christianity itself. On the other hand, if you hunger for a better way ... )

It would surprise most Christians to discover that the noun pastor, as a function in the church, occurs precisely once in the New Testament—in Ephesians 4:11. There, itís included in a list of several gifts, and is not particularly prominent (itís fourth of five).

But the interesting thing is the context of that list. These gifts are given to the church:

...For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13 KJV).

So, according to Scripture, these gifts do not constitute "the ministry", but are given to prepare us for the work of the ministry.

And, they have an expiration date! We might begin to wonder what our lives might look like when theyíve done their job. Paul gives us a picture:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ (Ephesians 4:12-15 NIV).

Could it be that God is waiting for us to quit relying on charismatic authority figures, and grow up? In the meantime, we can all certainly get busy with our true calling—the work of the ministry. I'm exited about that. How about you?

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