One of my prior “Thought for the day” posts said: “The goal of every pastor should be to make himself unnecessary.” I promised to expand on that, so here it goes.
I base that assertion on Ephesians 4. That is, in the ESV at least, the only passage that uses the English word pastor, which seems odd given how prevalent the pastoral office is in the church. The ESV uses shepherd in one place that refers to someone other than Christ Himself, in 1 Peter 5:2 where it is used as a verb, not as a title. Here is the text from Ephesians 4 in question.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4: 11-16)
So where does that lead us? It seems that we like to stop at “equip the saints for the work of ministry” but Paul doesn’t stop there. The wording he uses subsequent to that paints a picture not of a perpetual situation where one man teaches, week after week, year after year, going to conferences, taking sabbaticals, reading books and then feeding that information to “his flock”. The goal is not a perpetual dependence on one man to do the work of ministry but seems to be bringing every else up to speed, to maturity so that we all are mature and all are equipped for the work of ministry.
I think before we can take the word “pastor” and create an office of church leadership, we need to figure out what the purpose of pastors/shepherds is. I think it is harmful to assume things about the function of pastors and create whole systems surrounding “pastoral ministry” that allows us to create hierarchies of senior pastors and various sub-pastors (youth pastor, worship pastor, pastor of this and pastor of that) based loosely on a blend of corporate org charts and Roman hierarchies. It encourages the exalting of pastoral ministry as the pinnacle of Christian faithfulness and leads conversely to a rigid distinction between the “clergy” and “laity” to an extreme (see the prior post about “every member evangelism”).
God gave men to the church to equip the rest of the Body of Christ, i.e. the church. Until the last year, I assumed that meant what most people think it means: we “go to church” on Sunday morning and a specially trained and qualified man preaches a sermon that exegetes the text. In other words “equipping” = “preaching to”. If we are good Christians we pay attention to the sermon, if we are really good Christians we take notes. I question now whether that was the intent of what Paul was saying, and this strikes me as another situation where we look at our contemporary situation and build our doctrines backward. Our concern should be what is Biblical, not what is traditional, not what is Reformed, not what is pragmatic. Those concerns can be addressed but only after we discern the Biblical intent. So what does Scripture say? Do we see men holding a pastoral office in the same way we have assumed for the last five hundred years?
A couple of things:
Scripture doesn’t give us an example of the full-time, vocational pastor that is so dominate in the church today and for many hundreds of years. Paul, Timothy and Titus don’t seem to be “pastors” in the sense we normally think of it, i.e. as an office in the local church organization. We call 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus the “pastoral epistles” but that is a bit of a misnomer. Timothy is frequently mentioned “coming” and “going”, appointing elders from town to town. Timothy was as much a “Senior Pastor” in a local church as my coffee mug is.
When we examine the role of the pastor in the local church and whether or not we should pay men to be pastors or to teach or preach in the local gathering, the place where we turn is often 1 Corinthians 9. It seems to me that 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul both makes his case for financial aid and also explains his rejection of it, should give us a clue as to how this relationship should work. A couple of things jump out at me about 1 Corinthians 9. The first thing is that Barnabas and Paul strike me as more of church planters and missionaries than what we consider to be a pastoral ministry in a local church. In most Bibles there is a map of Paul’s missionary journeys and he and Barnabas (who was in the nascent church in Antioch before being set apart for more of a traveling missionary role) went all over the place planting churches, equipping men and proclaiming the Gospel.
Paul also takes great pains to point out that he did not make use of the right to be paid. That is so crucial and yet so often missed. I could almost see paid ministers as missionaries to local churches. They would come into a church, minister through equipping the men of the church so that they would then be ready to lead the local gathering through serving them and protecting the local body from false teaching but then these paid ministers would move on to another church.
I just don’t see the perpetual paid minister in the same church for decades as being supportable from Scripture. A man who is a local member of a community should be able to support himself by the work of his own hands. That frees him up to help the poor, emboldens him in his teaching and preaching by not being held hostage by a pay check and demands that the rest of the men of the local gathering step up and lead in the church and in their families in a Scriptural way. If we appointed elders to lead the church from among the local community instead of hiring preachers from hither and yon, they would already have jobs, already know and be known by the local gathering, they would know the area they live in and minister in.
Are there men who have a special talent for teaching? Who are really good at it? That is indisputable. Does that mean that only those select few should do the equipping and teaching? I don’t think so.
If you are doing the work of a pastor, you are working yourself out of a job. There will always be more people who need equipping but there should never be just one guy who does it. If the people in the local gathering never get to the point of being equipped and carrying out the work of ministry, you have failed in your mandate. The sign of spiritual maturity is not the ability to listen attentively to someone else for 45 minutes. It is being equipped for the work of ministry. We are not called to watch ministry being done but to be about the business of ministry ourselves.