In August 2011 I did a blog on “When Are We Going to Wake Up to Reality? The Nightmare of the Pastoral Institution.” Welcome to Part Two!

First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, had 15,000 people come to its weekend services, and claimed 40,000 members. This growth had come primarily as a result of the pastor’s leadership and charisma over the past eleven years. But just like that, the pastor is dismissed, and now the deacons are crawling into bed tonight with sweat rolling down their foreheads.The Chicago Tribune

What happened in Hammond occurs every day in churches all across the States – pastors leave for all kinds of reasons. Whether a church has 100 members or 15,000 members, when it has no pastor the group goes into various levels of concern, even panic.

Why? Because church in North America is based on the premise that the health and progress of a local body is tied into the presence of one person – the pastor. Apparently 90% of Americans choose their church based on the pastor’s gifts. If this “office” is not occupied, huge concerns arise about how new people will be attracted, about how the faithful will remain and not leave, and about how plunging offerings can be avoided.

Keep your eye on First Baptist in Hammond. It is highly likely that as a result of waking up to find that the pastor is gone, attendance and offerings will plummet. The powers-that-be will have to find a comparable replacement in a hurry in order to avert a tail-spin into disaster. The folks in the pew just don’t feel comfortable without having a pastor. They can’t last for long without him. They will mumble, “This one didn’t work out. Find a new one – and quickly.” They can always find a pastor down the street, you know.

Can you see that there is something very wrong with a practice of church that revolves around one person’s presence and functioning? Paul said that the “body is not one part, but many.” The way church is usually done, Paul would have had to say, “the body hinges on one part, not many.”

Is it any wonder that the visible body of Christ is deathly ill? What if your physical body tried to carry out life with one or a few parts trying to do everything? You’d be in the ER in minutes, and pronounced dead not long after. Yet we have been attempting to do “church” since 300AD with single-gift dependence. When are we going to wake up and stop this spiritual insanity?

The Lord desires to express His life through each and every part, but most church structures put a dam in front of the Living Waters so that pastor-dependence is maintained.

The great tragedy is that many well-meaning people are trying to serve the Lord in a system that is counter to the Lord’s heart. This system of “Christianity” is the only option most folks know about.

Both “clergy” and “laity” have been shredded by this system into a million parts of hurt and ruin. For example, this letter from a pastor’s wife captures the heartache that the system can cause – a story that few ever hear about.

I would like to suggest that the tragedy in Hammond, Indiana, will just continue to repeat itself over and over again if we do not jettison the one-pastor system. We need a revelation from above about how counter this system is to the centrality and glory of Christ in His Bride on earth. How could we ever expect Christ to be expressed through His people, when what we do as church places the onus of spiritual health on one person? As I observed in A Church Building Every ½ Mile: What Makes American Christianity Tick?

In the play Smoke on the Mountain the pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Mervin Oglethorpe, announces at the start of the service, “I am the Preacher, Choir Director, Chairman of Finance, Director of Education, and Youth Director.”[5] Pastors are expected to fulfill a job description that is beyond demanding. To get their paycheck they must prepare sermons and lessons, fill the pulpit, teach Sunday School classes, counsel those with problems, do hospital visitation and pre-marital counseling, perform marriages, funerals and baptisms, bless civic events, raise money, manage staff and volunteers, resolve conflicts, be involved in evangelistic efforts, administer the Lord’s Supper, attend various church (and denominational) committee meetings and functions, perform administrative duties, and generally be on call 24/7. If church attendance declines,the pastor is blamed. If it increases, it is because of his vision and leadership. The buck stops with the pastor with a vengeance. 17th Century Puritan John Owen went so far as to affirm that, “. . . on this office [‘pastor’] and the discharge of it He has laid the whole weight of the order, rule, and edification of His church.”

If this is our functioning paradigm – and it is – no wonder the “Christianity” in front of us is a complete mess. Are we going to continue putting band-aids on an ulcerous sore, or be radical, and go to the root? A book that does go to the root is Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church. It unfolds a vision of ekklesia in which Jesus is exalted by His Life coming to expression in every part of the Bride. We are not stuck with the option in front of our eyes that calls itself church.

– Jon Zens, August, 2012

Suggested Reading: The Pastor Has No Clothes: Moving from Clergy-Centered Church to Christ-Centered Ekklesia, by JZ.


  1. Jeffrey M Tinkel says

    Thank you, Jon.

  2. Eddie Reynolds says

    This church as well as many churches I have attended aren’t even aware that they are openly breaking one of the Top Ten — “You shall have no other gods before me.” When congregations put the pastor on a pedestal it can be described in no other way than putting a man before God. But not to worry, lots of churches won’t even allow Jesus to come in and be a part of the church. This is another example of how you conducted your show on the radio Vince [Coakley]. You went where others dared not go. I admire you for your courage and your tenacity. Please let me know when you have another program.


  3. Leah McConnell Randall had difficulty posting her comment, so we are posting it for her.

    I thank our Father for the gift to the body of Christ you have been and continue to be here, in this post. When are we going to wake up and stop this spiritual insanity? As more and more men (and women) burn out from trying to be “all things to all men” in the local church, or burn out because they are in a one-size-fits-all-but-doesn’t-fit-the-gift “role,” we may find ourselves approaching that moment. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but I’ve seen a slight surge in “new” participants in the online “conversation,” from both the “clergy class” and the “laity” in the past few weeks. I feel more encouraged that, as you and others share the Lord’s heart about His bride, cast a renewed vision, see it “re-shared” over and over, He is putting a stop to the spiritual insanity because “we” just don’t seem to be able to help ourselves. 🙂 And that isn’t surprising–from a Lord who loves us and knows we can’t help ourselves.
    Blessings, Leah McConnell Randall

  4. Pam Frazier says

    Jon, this is a great piece. We need the people in the system to see this! What worries me is that those that already agree with you are the ones reading. How to get to the masses, the clergy and the laity with this truth. I spoke with my ex-pastor about this once and he agreed the system was wrong, didn’t make sense, but still practices it every week!
    As Leah said above, “we just can’t seem to help ourselves.” Thank you Jon for being a voice of reason and love.

  5. Excellent article, Jon. I very much appreciate your voice in encouraging the church to get back to her roots where Christ alone is Head and everyone is free to function and share Christ in the assembly and in community life. I also read the pastor’s wife letter and felt sad for the thousands and thousands of young men and women just beginning a similarly frustrating journey. Unfortunately, I’ve heard similar stories over and over. I’m encouraged, though, that the “IOTC” movement and organic expressions of the church seem to be growing stronger.

  6. Walt Hill says

    Good article. As a Pastor I can tell you that I personally know dozens of us working our way out of the job through discipleship, training, and releasing other gifts in other leaders. Some may seek to guard their paycheck but many are just trying to be faithful to our assignment. The clergy mindset is so deep in so many that you show by example, and teach from Scripture, for months and see only marginal progress. Others catch on quickly. Some times people’s adherence to tradition is far more powerful than their desire for the truth. Keep writing. It’s good.

  7. Like you said, doesn’t just happen in mega-churches. We had a pastor (we call them preachers in my tribe) who was very knowledgeable, had many degrees in many subjects, could apply them all to biblical fact. He was a great speaker and very personable. However, after a few years our eldership noticed members saying “well, Patrick said …..” more often than “Christ says ….”. He was quietly asked to resign. He moved on. We have awesome elders and each is a great teacher … as are their wives.

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