Over the next week or two, I’ll examine the functioning roles within a church. In this context, I’ll look to the 5-fold ministry of Ephesians, that is apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, along with deacons and elders and maybe bishops. Mind you, I’ll look at these from a slightly different perspective than the traditional/institutional church. I’m not knocking these men and women of God. They work hard and long for the church and are often facing burnout because of it. I primarily want to say that there is a simpler way and a different way.
First, I want to look at pastors and shepherds. The modern understanding of a pastor has little grounds in the NT narrative. What often passes for a ‘pastor’ these days is nothing more than a sanctified version of a CEO. Granted this is not always the case but this is what is often expected. Many a church runs like a private or publically held corporation at worst or a non-profit organization which most are. This approach toward guiding sheep in the church has its share of difficulties. For many pastors, taking care of business often over rides care for the sheep. Preaching a sermon is looked upon as feeding the sheep when the shepherd should be practically guiding the sheep to the feast found in Christ. The care for the sheep is focused on the ‘pastor’ who runs here and there instead of equipping those other saints in the church with the pastoral gift to share the burden. Is it a big surprise that so many pastors are facing burn out?
So how can the pastoral ministry be done differently in a traditional church? Allow the ‘pastor’ to say, ‘no.’ This one thing can help greatly to prevent a pastor from being overextended. Free the pastor by letting her/him to equip others in the community, with a pastoral gift, to share in the work of service. Let the pastor seek sheep not of this fold, that is, let him develop friendships with the lost sheep beyond the edges of the flock. Above all, encourage the guidance of the sheep to the true Shepherd. Ultimately, any pastor should reflect this characteristic of Christ. Likewise, remember, these people we see functioning as pastors/shepherds, these brothers and sisters in Christ are also frail and broken like the rest of us. Mistakes are made and we should be hesitant to throw stones, cast judgment or gossip. I do not condone the overlooking of moral lapses but when they occur, be quicker to forgive, love and restore.
While the suggestions above are more for a traditional church, what about those shepherds in an emerging/organic church? In such a faith community, a greater emphasis will be on a flock mentality in contrast to a fold mentality. See Neil Cole’s blog for more on this idea. A flock follows the Shepherd, i.e. Christ, and is flexible in structure and movement. The fold keeps the sheep within the wall/fence of the fold, a discernable in/out, and restricts movement. The shepherds within a flock will point to the Shepherd. Likewise, they will reflect those qualities of the Shepherd, care, guidance and protection. In an emerging/organic context, fellow sheep will recognize those in their midst functioning as shepherds because they follow the true Shepherd. So given this view of a shepherd, what are the characteristics of such a pastor? Can a pastor care for those beyond the edges of the flock? Should they?