Monday, September 07, 2009

Preaching yourself out of a job

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.

Bookmark and Share


A. Amos Love said...


Excellent words wonderfully said.

What if "The Whole Religious system,"
for the past 1700 years,
is totally corrupt?

Corrupt - Dictionary

1- having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.

2- in a state of decay; rotten or putrid.

3- debased or made unreliable by errors or alterations.

And other sheep I have,
which are not of this fold:
them also I must bring,
and they shall hear my voice;
and there shall be one fold,
and one shepherd.
John 10:16

One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice.

If Not Now, When?

In His Service. By His Grace.

Steve Martin said...

I thought the same thing.

What in the world is this guy apologizing for?

Steve Martin said...

We all have different vocations.

Our pastor's vocation is the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Our congregation feels that the stewardship of the gospel is so important that we are willing to pay someone to do this ministry full time.

This system has worked very well for us.

It gets no one off the hook as we are all priests and ministers.

But the vocation of Word and Sacrament and shepherd of our flock is, to us anyway, too important to leave it up to a pst timer with other obligations.

Alan Knox said...

Where do we find in Scripture that the "pastor's vocation is the ministry of Word and Sacrament"?


A. Amos Love said...

Pastors? Hmmm?
When did “pastor” become a “Title,” a profession,
a paid postion, an idol?

What about “titles?”
Don’t “titles” seperate bretheran?

Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person,
neither let me give flattering titles unto man.
For I know not to give flattering titles;
in so doing my maker would soon take me away.
Job 32:21

Don’t titles become idols?
Don’t titles make us a name?
And cause walls of seperation?

Don’t titles say, I am, you’re not?
Don’t titles say, we are, they’re not?

Baptist, Lutheran, Assemblies of God ---- separation.

Reformed, Evangelical, Charismatic ---- separation.

Clergy – Laity ---- Leaders – Followers,
Shepherds – Sheep ----- separation.

Apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher ---- separation.

And some will lord it over others, yes?
Isn’t that the beginning of spiritual abuse?
Leaders = lord it over = abuse = always

If someone says their “title”
or “position of leader” is not an idol,
just ask them, well if it’s not an idol
then just get rid of it, lay your "title" down,
lay down the power, profit, prestige, recognition,
that comes with “Titles.”
walk away from your reputation as a leader,
become a bretheran,
become a servant,
take the low place,
become a “disciple of Christ.”

Didn’t Jesus make himself of no reputation,
and take upon himself the form of a servant
and humble himself? Php 2:7

Don’t titles make a “reputation”
whether you want it or not?
Good morning “Pastor.”
What just happened?

Didn’t Jesus say; I receive not honor from men?
If someone calls you “pastor” or“leader;”
Is that receiving honor from men?

Don’t “titles” create honor
whether you want it or not?

Peace and Love

Arthur Sido said...


I woud agree that "pastor" is a gift, a function in the church. It ought not be a way to divide the brethren, to exalt some over others, to create offices. The Gospel ministry is anything BUT a profession.

Steve Martin said...

In the Lutheran church, the vocation of the pastor is the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

What others want to do is fine.

We feel that is an important calling to see that the gospel is safeguarded from those that would change it, and that it is handed over with no strings attached, and that the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel, and for good order.

We don't have to do it that way. We do it that way that we don't end up all over the map as so many others.

Even so, we are starting to end up all over the map, because of the liberalism that has infected our church.

Steve Martin said...

You want a little's a little bible:

1 Timothy 5:17-18
Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (NLT)

As we see in 1 Timothy 5, all ministry work is important, but preaching and teaching is especially worthy of honor because it is the core of Christian ministry. Paul backed up his point in the verse above with Old Testament references to Deuteronomy 25:4 and Leviticus 19:13.

1 Corinthians 9:9
For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? (NLT)

Again, Paul refers to this expression of "not muzzling an ox while it is treading out the grain." Even though many times Paul chose not to accept financial support, he still argued for the Old Testament principle that those who serve full time to meet the spiritual needs of people, deserve to receive monetary support from them.

1 Corinthians 9:14
In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. (NLT)

In verses such as Luke 10:7-8 and Matthew 10:10, the Lord Jesus himself taught the same precept, that spiritual workers deserve to be paid for their service.

Alan Knox said...


Actually, I wasn't asking about the "vocation" part per se, although we could definitely talk about whether or not elders should be paid a salary (for example, you didn't include Acts 20:33-35, where Paul tells elders specifically to work hard with their hands so they can give to those in need).

Instead, I was asking about "ministry of the word and sacrament". I see that you showed where elders who teach should be honored (according to 1 Tim 5:17). If this is what you mean by "ministry of the word" then I agree that elders, just like all believers (Col 3:16, for example), should teach. I guess that means that all believers' vocation is the "ministry of the word".

But, what about the vocation of elders as "ministry of the sacrament"?

(By the way, if you check the context of 1 Cor 9 in the first few verses, you'll see that Paul is not talking about elders, but about apostles and others who travel away from their home in order to "preach the gospel". This has nothing to do with the modern day cultural church usage of the word "preach".)


A. Amos Love said...

Pastors? Is this a Biblical position?
If it is, God's not taking very good care of
His shepherds. Hmmm? Wonder why?

This is info from a website
helping burned out Pastors.

PastorCare offers support and
encouragement for pastors and their families.

At PastorCare
we care about YOU and we want to help.

According to the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute
of Church Leadership (2007)
• 77% say they do “not” have a good marriage.
• 71% have felt burned out or depressed.
• 70% don't have a close friend.
• 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
• 38% are divorced or seriously considering divorce.

According to the Ministering to Ministers Foundation...

• Over 1600 pastors in the U.S. are forced out of their positions each month.

• Nearly 1 in 4 pastors experience a forced termination at least once during their ministry.

•Only 54% of pastors go back into full-time church related positions.

Wow!!! Think we have a problem ekklesia?

70% feel burnt out depressed and no friends.

That's who's running the show.
No wonder there is so much spiritual abuse.
And people leaving "the religious system."

1600 Pastors a month leave, that's 18,000 a year.
That's a lot of broken hearts, disappointment,
feeling of failure, broken families. etc.etc.

Think there might be a problem
with the way "the religious system" is run?