The Problematic Position of Pastor
Please understand at the outset that in this article my purpose is not to condemn pastors, especially those who are very sincere. I am only trying to point out some discrepancies of how Jesus shepherded compared to how it is done today. Please judge what I am sharing by the Word of God.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.” The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” I have seen churches that sent off one of their pastors to begin another church on the other side of town. One of the concerns in doing this was that the new pastor and church would have enough sheep to support them. Therefore, the base church usually sends some families to them in the beginning. Things have really reversed since the early church. The church and the pastor were originally created to support the sheep. Now the church and pastors can’t exist without sheep supporting them! Pay instead of people has become a primary concern for many pastors. My Bible calls them hirelings.
The Proverbs have some good advice for shepherds. It says, “Know the condition of your flocks” (Prov. 27:23). I can honestly say that, after being under several pastors in the Richmond area for a period of 15 years, that not one of them ever really knew my spiritual condition, which was usually a lot worse than they thought. Just seeing them a couple hours a week, I was able to project any image of myself to them I wanted them to see. Jesus virtually spent all of his time with his twelve sheep. I have rarely had a pastor I was “under” visit my home, much less spend any time with me, except maybe for an hour or two by special appointment. Do you think the twelve had to get an appointment to talk to Jesus? I was under one pastor in the Richmond area two years, in which time he never learned my name! Was he a shepherd to me? No, he was just an orator. However, as a good little sheep, I was expected to tithe and listen to his boring sermon every week. So many people were in that church that there was not even a remote possibility for him to shepherd in the biblical sense, as the Good Shepherd did.
Do you think part of the problem could be that Jesus limited himself to twelve disciples and the modern pastor is out to get as many sheep as possible; the more the merrier. The average pastor would doubt that twelve sheep could support him. It is not about the sheep anymore, it is about the shepherd and how he is going to survive, along with the building, secretary, expense accounts, etc. But if Jesus limited himself to twelve, what kind of presumption would it take for a pastor to think he could handle more than Jesus? Jesus shepherded his sheep. Today’s pastors are not a shepherds in the New Testament sense; they are more like CEOs of a non-profit corporations. I have heard people say that their pastor has “a pastor’s heart.” They say it as if it is a strange thing. I don’t doubt them at all. Neither do I doubt that there are many pastors with a shepherd’s heart who are totally incapable of truly shepherding because of the current church system. The last thing a pastor is able to do under the current system is to shepherd. Evidently, there is simply no time for such New Testament nonsense.
The modern pastor sermonizes the Gospel rather than actually implementing it. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, taught by example. He said, “For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13;15). Paul taught by example too. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor.11:1). Peter talking to shepherd/elders of a church said, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Back then, on -he-job-training was paramount. Today, knowledge is supreme. The Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosko. Our pastors today are gnosko gurus. Apparently we don’t need all the parts of the body working together anymore because the pastor has all the knowledge and answers we need. The more Bible knowledge a pastor has, the more he is revered. How did knowledge ever get so exalted anyway? Remember the Tree of Knowledge in the garden? It was in opposition to the Tree of Life. In the garden it was the Tree of Life vs. the Tree of Knowledge. Today the Tree of Knowledge has clearly won in the church.
On vacation years ago my son bought the game Life for us to play as a family. I didn’t mind playing the game, but I dreaded reading the directions. I knew I had to in order to learn how to play the game. So I did so as quickly as possible and then we got into the game of Life. We had to refer back to the instructions several times in the course of the week while we played the game. Then it dawned on me what the modern church is like. The Bible is the instruction book, and week after week we go to hear the pastor give instructions; but we never actually get into playing the real game of “Life.” If we did, he would be teaching by example instead of sermons. Some get tired hearing the instructions after a while and want to play the game, but the pastor never seems to tire of giving us the instructions. Ironically, sometimes he wonders why we don’t play the game. But the sheep are waiting for the shepherd to lead so they can follow. It also occurred to me that pastors with a lot of Bible knowledge are like those who know the instruction booklet very well. However, I could have memorized the entire instruction booklet of Life without ever having played the game. Just because a pastor has a lot of scripture memorized and has a lot of knowledge, that is not necessarily any indication he has ever participated in real Christianity. But sheep are easily deceived by someone with knowledge.
There is a good reason for all the emphasis on knowledge and doctrine instead of actually implementing the Word. It takes self-sacrifice to do things like work with the poor. It is much easier to just look religious sermonizing the Gospel and promoting a favorite doctrine. In the first church I ever attended, I was “on fire” for the Lord and began to go out to the highways and byways and bring in street people to the church meetings. I was naive enough at the time that I thought the religious leaders would be pleased with me. After all, I was hearing sermons every week about doing what Jesus did. Instead, they were upset that I was bringing dirty, ugly, poor, sinners into their comfortable middle-class social club. I began to reap persecution from the leaders who didn’t want to get their hands dirty with the real Gospel. I do not think this is an unusual situation. I believe most churches today would respond in the same way. I challenge you to prove me wrong!
Let’s consider just one thing Jesus did often and taught by example: casting out demons. He made sure all of his disciples knew how to do this. People brought their sick and demonized to the early church for help. Imagine bringing in a demonized person to a typical church service today. If you do, you are the one who will probably get cast out! But if a person afflicted with demons can’t get help in today’s church as they did in the first church, where can they go for help? Isn’t casting out demons part of what Jesus commanded us to do (Mk. 16:17)?. Many pastors in my area absolutely forbid the casting out of demons in their church! Doing the things Jesus did would wreck their prim and prudish social gathering. What ever happened to WWJD? “Demon” or “demonized” is found 86 times in the New Testament. “Sermon” is found zero!
Another contrast of today’s church compared to the New Testament is buildings. Jesus didn’t need a building for ministry. For today’s pastor it is essential. Jesus went out after the lost. Today, I suppose the lost are to come into a church building and get an appointment through the pastor’s secretary. Yes, Jesus had access to the temple court, but the temple was destroyed only 40 years after his death. That didn’t hinder the early church at all. The New Testament clearly says we are the temple of God, the church, not some building. A king with subjects needs a building with a raised stage and pulpit for speaking; a humble shepherd with sheep does not.
How do shepherds rank in the New Testament? In Ephesians 4:11 we find the only place in the Bible where the word “shepherd” is translated “pastor,” and it is in the plural. There it gives us a list by rank of the five-fold ministry. “It was he that gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Here we find the apostles, prophets and evangelists outrank pastors in the New Testament. If anyone does not believe this look at 1 Corinthians 12:28, “God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers . . . ” Although pastors are not mentioned here, they could be the teachers listed as third. If not, then they do not even rank third in God’s hierarchy. Yet I have rarely seen a pastor in today’s church be subject to a prophet. I have always heard pastors say that prophets must be subject to the pastor. Where is that scripture in the Bible? Today’s pastors have taken authority not given them in the New Testament. In the Bible a shepherd was a lowly position. Today, it is exalted even above any of the other five-fold rank.
Another thing I would like to examine in this passage is the “preparing God’s people for works of service.” Although I have often heard from the pulpit that the pastor is preparing God’s people for works of service by his sermons, I have rarely ever seen anyone actually prepared and sent out. Sometimes, those who get tired of doing nothing but listening to sermons and finally go out and do something are accused of going off without the pastor’s permission in rebellion. I assume by observation the average Christian today is expected to sit and hear sermons for at least 30 years before ever thinking about being sent off for ministry. And sermons, instead of an example, is what is suppose to prepare them! In the New Testament Jesus prepared his disciples for three and a half years and then He left so they had to do it on their own. How many pastors have you seen prepare their people for three and a half years and then send them off?
It seems Jesus and Paul wasted their time showing us shepherding by example. It’s a shame they didn’t have the foresight to see that today’s progressive church would invent sermonizing the sheep instead of shepherding them. That could have saved them a lot of trouble, and the New Testament could have been much shorter. According to our tradition, we don’t need their methods anymore because we have created better ways.
It is my view that the current church is so distorted from the biblical picture that there is virtually no resemblance. One of the main reasons is the false role of the pastor we have patented. Today’s pastor is something totally foreign to the New Testament. His job description would much closer match today’s corporate executive than a biblical shepherd. I cannot help but wonder what would happen in the church if some courageous pastors actually tried to imitate the Good Shepherd’s example as recorded for us in the Bible. It would probably cost them everything at first: job, money, reputation, position, and most of his current sheep. But maybe, just maybe, God is looking for such a man – that would do something as outrageous as follow His example.