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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pastors and People #8

Continuing in our discussion regarding the role of the pastor . . .

This post is long. Broken into two parts.

Part One : : :

I want to be careful that I don’t communicate in any of these blog posts that somehow the pastor needs to be pitied. Yes, the workload is amazing, yes, the job of pastor is continually ranked in studies as one of the highest stress jobs, yes, pastors are often taken advantage of but we know what we signed up for. If you are a pastor and you don’t expect a few bruises here and there you are in the wrong line of work.

I also think it is very dangerous to adopt a “that’s not my job” mentality when you are a pastor. For that matter, Jesus calls us all to servanthood so the “that’s not my job” approach is not a good one for anybody.

I DO want to communicate some boundaries for us all (pastors and people) and come to an understanding in regard to expectations.

In my mind, “expectations” is where it all goes awry.

A good friend of mine pastors a large church in California. There is an older lady named Ann who visits the sick in the hospital. My friend has a saying, “If Ann comes to see you in the hospital, know you are very very loved. If I come to see you in the hospital, know you are very very sick.” I have always loved this phrase (an I use it often) because, in a humorous way, he lets people know not to “expect” him to visit them.

Hospital visits are one of those things that end up on the “expectation list” for many when it comes to the question of the pastor’s role.

Other things that end up on that list include but are not limited to : : :

• Regular counseling
• One on one consultation
• Being a sound board for what people “don’t like” about the church
• Weddings
• Funerals

Sometimes there is the subtle and sometimes awkward “would you be my buddy?” plea by some. They don’t say it like that, but that’s what they want.

Often times pastors are expected to have some special magic to get people to church i.e. husbands, wives, children, or be the one to speak spiritual wisdom into them and “fix” the problem. This expectation manifests itself in the awkward “I really need you to spend some time with my husband/wife/kid because I just know they will listen to you” scenario : : :

Like the man who brought his 35yr old married daughter to meet me in church and asked me to “talk some sense into her” about leaving her husband. Yikes.

Youth pastors often hear parents requesting they spend extra special time with their kids or—worse yet—find their kids friends.

I have a youth pastor friend who regularly receives emails from a mom who has an “awkward” son. In mom’s words, “no one talks to him at school, no one likes him, he is headed for trouble,” etc. While all that may be true, the son has not taken advantage of any of the things that have been suggested to him.

My friend has reached out to him, invited him to youth group, and invited him to events. The kid stays in his room and plays video games all day. The home has “dysfunction junction” written all over it. And the mom continually suggests to my friend that he has a responsibility to intervene.

While our hearts go out to the mom and to the kid, we have to understand that when families are offered many opportunities to rise to the occasion and they don’t, we cannot feel a responsibility to “fix” it.

When my friend asked me for counsel I told him

• You are not called to be this boy’s parent
• You are not called to be this boy’s buddy
• You are not called to be this boy’s savior

In this particular case, the same things can be said for the mom.

Part Two : : :

Many of these expectations come from an erroneous understanding of scripture but I believe most of the unfair expectations come from unhealthy examples of what the pastor’s role is as observed in churches folks grew up in or experienced elsewhere.

• Erroneous understanding of scripture
• Unhealthy examples of church culture

The Bible says in Ephesians 4,

11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The pastor’s “job” according to this passage and the example of the apostles and some before them is to “prepare God’s people for works of service” –not to do all the service themselves.

This does not mean that a pastor does not have the freedom to involve himself or herself in any of these things we have listed above. But, we must understand and we must teach our people to understand that MANY of their expectations about pastors’ roles are extra-biblical at best.

CAN the senior pastor do your wedding? Sure, if he wants to. Does he HAVE TO do the wedding? Biblically? No.

CAN the pastor visit people in the hospital? Of course. Should he be EXPECTED TO? Biblically? Absolutely not.

Is it the pastor’s obligation to meet with someone who tries to set up an appointment with them to argue theology or complain about the church’s methodology? Biblically? Nope.

There are many other biblical options for all these scenarios (in the case of the last one, I don’t think anyone has to meet with that guy). It is a pastor’s prerogative but not his mandate.

The pastor’s role then becomes one of working with the elders to survey the church, take its temperature, identify the needs, and build up leaders to meet those needs.

Someone should help foster relationship.
Someone should visit sick people.
Someone should do counseling.

In smaller churches, pastors often find themselves taking on many roles and having a hard time shedding those roles and expectations as the church grows. It may be healthy and appropriate for them to wear many hats at first but they better be real good at communicating long-term expectations.

I’m sure Pa and Half-Pint got regular home visits from their pastor but that’s acceptable when there are 30 people in your church. Maybe.

There are many metaphors that float around church circles in an effort to define the role of a pastor from shepherd to shaman to chaplain to CEO. Quite frankly, I personally believe the Bible puts more stock in a plurality of elders and a group leadership of the local church as compared to one-size-fits-all pastoral leader but that is a topic for another time. At a bare minimum, we can all agree the Bible paints no picture of a Lone Ranger pastoral leader. Royal priesthood.

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