So, sometime this week I was thinking about some of the bad things congregations tend to do. By bad, I don’t necessarily mean sinful, but more relating to bad or poor practices. Generally, I do not believe that congregations begin doing things for bad reasons. I think, a lot of the time, congregations allows things to occur, or encourage certain practices, because they believe they are good.
I can think of no greater example than the high view many congregations place on pastors. What I mean is this; oftentimes the pastor becomes the central figure of the congregation. This can be true of very large megachurches, and at the same time true of the local small-town congregation. In this, congregants believe the pastor is the most important role in the Church, or the individual who is most important to the overarching ministry of the Church.
Now, I can understand this. I believe that the reason why this is the common view is because congregants have a healthy respect for their pastors. They tend to be very educated, they are the ones who preach sermons, and they are the ones up front and center for much of the time.
But, this is where it becomes a problem. I remember one time listening to an individual who was helping a congregation find a new pastor. One evening he asked everyone in the congregation, “How much time do you want your pastor to spend on sermon writing, on education, on prayer, on visitation, on ministry opportunities, on evangelism, on teaching, on preaching, on meetings etc.” Basically it became evident that the individuals wanted the pastor to do everything leading to, in all honesty, a 200 hour work week.
The individual was making an important point. Pastoral ministry is important, but that does not mean that the pastor is to do everything in the congregation. The pastor isn’t called to do every little dot and tittle. They are called to be faithful ministers of the Gospel, guarding against false teaching, leading their congregation into fuller and deeper understanding of God.
Indeed, when we consider the majority of things placed on pastors, we will find absolutely no Biblical basis for the majority of them. There is no Biblical basis for the pastor doing everything. It isn’t the pastor’s responsibility to do all the visitations. It isn’t the pastors responsibility to do every ministerial work. Believe it or not, it is the congregation who is called to be the Body of Christ being given various gifts for the betterment of the Church (see I Cor. 12). We are all given particular gifts which God has given for use within the congregation. Some it might be helping, some it might be wisdom, some it might be teaching, some it might be administration etc. (see lists in chapter above).
Unfortunately, because the pastor is seen as the most important figure in the congregation, many in the congregation are not satisfied if it is anyone BUT their pastor visiting them. They aren’t satisfied with those who lovingly and graciously go out of their way to help them in times of need. They aren’t satisfied with the sacrifice of other members of the congregation, because the pastor has become such a focal point for all things ministry related.
I consider this a bad thing. I consider it a bad thing because not only does it place the pastor on a pedestal which they shouldn’t desire, nor should anyone put them on anyway, but it also lets the congregation off to not be involved where God would have them be involved. I think most would be shocked to find how many pastoral ministry responsibilities are given to the pastors which have no basis in the Scriptures. Indeed, if you were to look up your own congregations’ constitution and by-laws it would not surprise me to find a list of activities which belong to the pastor. I would suspect that apart from the first paragraph which places an emphasis on the character of the pastor (usually a I Timothy 3 reference), everything thereafter are not activities which are only meant for the pastor to fulfill, but are, in fact, activities for many within the congregation to fulfill (hence very rarely will you find Biblical references in that list, because such responsibilities aren’t meant for just the pastor in the Scriptures).
Thus you see the problem with many of our congregations. Many of them are suffering because of two things. The first is, they place too much emphasis on the pastor and because of this it causes many pastors to burn out because they have such high expectations placed on them, expectations they can never truly live up to and thereby causing them to feel guilty over not doing enough (even though they shouldn’t, because the Scriptures aren’t expecting them to do as much as the congregation is expecting them to do). The second is, congregants themselves stifle their own ministry work because they see their own work within the ministry as less important when in fact it is just as important as the Pastoral ministry.
Those who are called to help, those who are called to do these “trivial” tasks are actually vital for any congregation and are as important as any pastor. Unfortunately, we have reduced these various ministries to such a deplorable state no one desires to take part, or be actively involved, because there is little gratification for visiting or talking with individuals who really want to talk to the pastor.
Now, again, I do not believe this all stems from a bad place. Again, I think it stems from a good place. Likewise, this isn’t to say that the pastor isn’t supposed to work hard, but the truth is as more and more responsibilities have fallen on the pastor in the congregation it means they are required to spend less and less time in sermon preparation and their own personal education which ultimately hurts the congregation.
Ultimately, from something seemingly harmless comes something which is harmful and bad. Instead, we need to recognize that the pastoral ministry is not the jack of all trades. They aren’t supposed to have their hands involved in everything. They aren’t the best of the best. They are first among equals who are called to a particular role, not all roles.
So this is something which I find bad in many congregations, and it is an unfortunate reality for many pastors to feel overwhelmed because of the expectations. Because of this, I would encourage congregations to realize their pastors are just individuals like everyone else. They cannot do everything, nor should they. We are all part of the body of Christ with particular roles, and every role is equally important. The pastoral role is important, but so is YOUR role! Seek to fulfill the ministry God has for you while at the same time come to appreciate the great love found within every member of the congregation and come to love that while the pastor may not do every ministry (nor should they), there are those who are called to do those ministries and we should be just as thankful to God for them as we are for our pastors.
Soli Deo Gloria,