Mark Galli of Christianity Today has given us another article in a string of many that candidly lays out some serious problems resident in the traditional one-pastor system (August 8, 2011, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/mostriskyprofession.html?start=1). It is titled, “The Most Risky Profession: Why you need to pray desperately for your pastor.”
Notice the near-fatal weaknesses Mark points out in the American pastoral institution:
** “The state of the modern American pastorate has been shaped so that these sins – especially pride and hypocrisy – are impossible to escape.
** “[Pastors] are in a profession that is about as morally risky as they come.”
** “American churches exalt and isolate their leaders almost by design.”
** “Churches . . . like to know that someone is in charge, that someone is attending to the details, that someone is getting things done. That’s why they’ve hired this dynamic, forward looking, administratively savvy leader.”
** “[There] is the expectation that he also be the cathartic head of the church . . . . someone to whom they can relate – at a distance. This is key, because the pastor has time to relate to very, very few members.”
** “Most pastors have become heads of personality cults. Churches become identified more with the pastor – this is Such-and-Such’s church – than anything larger. When the pastor leaves, or is forced to leave, it’s devastating. It feels like a divorce . . .”
** “No wonder pastors complain about how lonely and isolated they feel.”
** “And so we have a system in which pride and hypocrisy are inevitable.”
** “He’s stuck in a religious system from which few escape unscathed.”
When I read surveys of the pastoral landscape like Mark has given us, I feel burdened because there is something huge that is glaringly absent from the books and articles about “the pastor.” They all assume that the one-pastor system we function under is what we must work with, and we just need to put band-aids on it to make it all better.
This is a fatal assumption that we must jettison. Mark notes that “shepherd” is “the biblical word for this position.” But the truth is, the traditional notion of “the pastor” cannot be found in the narrative unfolded in the New Testament. There is nothing in the New Testament about the “position” of pastor created by church traditions.
Since this is true, then here are the questions we should really be dealing with:
** Why do we put unbearable burdens and expectations on “the pastor,” when this is an “office” unknown in the New Testament?
** When will we stop hurting those in the “clergy” by continuing a system that is out of touch with Christ’s revelation?
** When will we discontinue trying to fix a pastoral system that finds no merit in the New Testament?
** If a patient had gum cancer and a doctor advised him that the solution was to brush his teeth thirty-two times a day, we would call that insanity. Why, then, do we do the same thing by never examining the root problem of the one-pastor system, and assuming we just need a better spiritual tooth brush to get the nagging problems cleaned up?
The root issue is that our practice of putting all our churchy eggs in the pastoral basket – essentially trying to build church upon the presence and expression of one gift – is a mistake of mammoth proportions, and is without biblical warrant. We need to be “radical,” that is, go to the root, and cease the meaningless surface discussions that reinforce a hurtful system.
We need to eliminate the connection of service in the body of Christ with a “profession.” Something is very wrong when being a pastor is a career choice. We need to pray desperately that the giftedness of the whole ekklesia will blossom in communities where the life of Christ is flowing like living waters.
By Jon Zens
(I have labored to “go to the root” concerning the fundamental problems and questions surrounding “the pastor” in my book, The Pastor Has No Clothes: Moving from Clergy-Centered Church to Christ-Centered Ekklesia. It is available at www.jonzens.com and Amazon at http://amzn.to/p9n7w8 ).