The pastoral office is under attack. This attack comes from sources both inside and outside the church. There is a unique attack on the pastoral office however, and it comes from pastors themselves. This particular form of attack is not scandal, adultery or even heresy; it is the secret disdain that many develop about the pastoral office. Perhaps this disdain comes from the death of idealism as reality sets in to the church related conflicts of the pastoral ministry, or it could come from those who from the beginning never really should have been pastors to begin with. So what form does this attack take and what is the disdain that we must guard against? Rather than see faithful pastoral ministry as the goal, many view their pastorate as merely a rung on their career ladders. It is the desire to move on to bigger and better things, the desire to be a conference speaker, a seminary professor, or a well-known author. It’s really a desire to drop out of pastoral ministry without telling yourself that you dropped out of pastoral ministry. This disdain comes both from the pastors that lust after prestige without personal investment and from congregants that would sooner listen to the conference speaker, well-known author, or seminary professor over their local church pastor.
The fact is that those positions are not actually bigger nor are they better and we show disdain for the pastoral office when we treat them as if they are. A conference speaker should not be the equivalent to a reformed Bishop or Cardinal, but both pastors and church members alike have treated them as if they are. We are enamored in America with celebrity, and automatically attribute a larger following with deserving a greater claim to authority in our lives. How else can we explain our society’s infatuation with what Hollywood celebrities think about world political issues? These people are the modern equivalent to court jesters and lute playing bards; who cares what they think about gun control, nuclear war or inflation? Even supposed “experts” with large followings can be wrong in the area they are supposedly an expert in. A charismatic personality is all it takes to gather people to follow you, not truth.
I am not saying that being conference speaker, a well-known author or a seminary professor is a sinful or wrong profession to be in. In fact there are many pastors who have served in multiple functions. I am saying, however, that when we treat those other areas as superior to the pastoral office we degrade the pastorate. Sure a pastorate may not be as prestigious, well-paying or even as well respected, but it is God’s order of how the church should be run. Instead many treat it as another rung on the ministry corporate ladder as they rise from youth pastor, to associate, pastor, to executive pastor, to senior pastor, and then if they are able to make the big time they can turn in their pastoral office to be a conference speaker and do the “Christian resource” tour where they can sell their theological and religious wares to the masses.
Oftentimes, this takes the form of a pastor who has a grown a numerically large church, gets burned out and suffers the hardship of pastoral ministry. Such a pastor then goes through a period of pseudo-spiritual reflection in which he determines he still wants all the honor of having people sit and listen to him without any of the actual pastoring. He desires to let people pay to hear him, get to tell them what he thinks and yet doesn’t actually have to be involved in any of their lives. So that pastor supposedly graduates to the next level in ministry. However, what that person has actually done is quit the pastoral ministry.
This rubs off on younger would be pastors, some of whom in actuality don’t want to be pastors at all. There are many young men who deep down really only want to be seminary professors, conference speakers or well-known authors, but because those are hard jobs to come by they do their time in the trenches of pastoral ministry hoping to one day make the big time. They like theology, they want to get paid for it, but they don’t really want to be pastors, it’s just the closest thing to their interests that they can be paid for and they will leave the pastorate as soon as they possibly can if something comes along without the actual pastoring. This may seem harsh, but I am truly saddened by seeing many a good pastor leave behind their churches for some ministry opportunity that isn’t actually pastoral ministry. I am also frustrated at the disrespect and stepping stone mentality through which many view the pastoral office.
What we need are pastors who are pastors. We need pastors who are not hirelings who are there until they can get a better gig, but are under-shepherds that will fight tooth and nail for their sheep. Pastors who are not using the church as a platform for themselves, but who pray for their people, think about them, and invest into their lives even at great personal cost and pain to oneself. Christ died for the sheep, are you willing to live like Christ and do the same? Are you willing even if it’s the sheep that are the ones that are trying to kill you? Let’s be honest, the church doesn’t really need more conference speakers, and the world is already filled with more books that we could ever read from better authors than you will ever be. What we do need are men who will stand up to be true pastors. Who will fulfill their God designed office in humility, dedication, faithfulness, and love. Who will see the pastorate not as a means to an end in their future career, but as a giving of their very lives.
I am truly indebted and thankful for professors, speakers and authors that have been beneficial in my life and I am sure that some pastors truly are called to end their pastoral ministry and move into other spheres of service. None of those roles however are over the office of pastor, in fact they aren’t even offices of the church at all. God has ordained how his church should function and he has placed under-shepherds to care for it, not just a conference speaker to talk to it. The pastoral office can be challenging, but no Christian, pastor or otherwise, is living for themselves, we have all died in Christ. The pastoral office also comes with a promise, something to press towards, something that scriptures doesn’t say of conference speakers, and something that is worth striving for. In 1 Peter 5:2-4 it tells pastors to, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” If you aren’t supposed to be a pastor or are supposed to move on to other things, then by all means do not continue in it, but if you are, stand firm and shepherd the flock until the chief Shepherd gives to you an unfading crown of glory.