December 17, 2017

Another Look: Peter the Pastor

St. Peter's Church, Jaffa

St. Peter’s Church, Jaffa

I have written several posts on the subject of pastoral visitation and the importance of church communities taking seriously the responsibility for the personal care and tending of their members.

In a comment I received to one of those posts, a church leader wrote that some pastors should not be considered responsible for pastoral care or visitation because they serve in an “apostolic” role rather than a pastoral one. The commenter wrote:

I believe pastors who lead multi-campus ministries effectively have an apostolic gift. J. Robert Clinton defines apostleship as “the gift to have the leadership capacity to move with authority from God to create new ministry structures to meet needs and appoint leadership in those structures.” While the apostles in the early church were responsible for the church they were not obligated to do personally all of that for which they are responsible.

He then stated his desire to be “an apostle” someday so that he could devote most of his time to prayer and the ministry of the Word, instead of the “waiting tables” ministry he was in when he wrote.

Here is a part of my response:

With all due respect, I think you are reading an awful lot of contemporary culture back into the Bible. Peter was not the great CEO who holed up in his office, study, and prayer closet and then came forth to “cast vision” and delegate the ministry to others. These are American business concepts, not reflections of the way Peter and the apostles actually lived day by day in down-to-earth ministry.

Peter may have had apostolic responsibilities (which by the way, were on an episcopal level beyond the local church, not a local “church staff” level), but this did not release him from “tending the sheep,” as Jesus had commanded him (John 21:15-17).

Case in point: Let’s follow the Apostle Peter around for a few days.

  • Acts 9:32: The text says that “Peter went here and there among all the believers.” Despite his honored position as a leading apostle, Peter spent his time with “the common folks,” visiting with them and enjoying their fellowship. He did not remain aloof. He did not delegate personal ministry to others. He worked at building relationships with all the believers in the churches.
  • Acts 9:33-35: While visiting with the members of the congregation in Lydda, Peter took the time to visit the home of a man who had been bedridden for eight years from paralysis. By God’s grace, the man received a healing and was able to arise.
  • Acts 9:36-42: At the request of some believers in a nearby town, Peter made a death visit to the home of a well-known Christian woman named Tabitha (Dorcas). There Peter comforted the widows who had been her friends. Peter took the time to offer prayers for this woman, and God raised her up. Peter personally took her hand, raised her up, and restored her to her fellow believers.
  • Acts 9:43: While in Joppa, he stayed in home of a fellow Christian, Simon. Luke includes the interesting detail that Simon was a tanner, and that he lived by the sea (a common location for those in this profession, see 10:6, 32). This gives several interesting indications about Peter. First, he was willing to stay in the home of a tanner, a profession Jews considered unclean because of the constant exposure to dead animals. Luke’s little remark thus prepares for the story about Cornelius and Gentile salvation that follows, and suggests that Peter was already learning to view the ceremonial laws through new eyes. Secondly, to stay in a tanner’s home must have been unpleasant, for the smells would have been foul and the presence of animal carcasses repugnant, especially to a Jew. Thus, in this verse we see Peter’s humility and willingness to dwell in less than ideal circumstances to be with an individual believer in his home.
  • Acts 10: The chapter tells the story of Peter’s vision and the conversion of Cornelius. This was a significant event, for it shows how the Gospel broke through boundaries and came to the Gentiles. But what is interesting for our purposes today is that this happened in Cornelius’ home as the result of a personal request for a visit (and an impressive vision from God himself!). Peter and a few Christian friends made the call. There, in the home, Peter took the opportunity to answer Cornelius’ questions and proclaim the Good News of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard, bringing the entire household by grace into God’s family.

I love these stories. Imitating his Savior, Peter’s ministry bore the personal touch. He walked among people, visited people’s homes, touched and talked with individuals and small groups of people in intimate settings, gave pastoral care to the sick, comforted the grieving, entered places others would avoid, and responded to requests to go where people lived in order to minister to them.

Sure, Peter was an apostle. Sure, he and the other apostles delegated some tasks when appropriate (as in Acts 6). Sure, the apostles had episcopal-level responsibilities to keep the “big picture” in mind and make decisions involving the overall mission of the church.

All of that.

But none of it displaced or replaced personal, pastoral ministry.

I concluded my response to my commenter with these words:

Christian ministry is face to face, person to person, and house to house, meeting people personally where they are, or it is not the kind of ministry Christ and the apostles exemplified for us.

If we’re going to call our leaders “pastors,” this is not optional.

 

• From 2010

Comments

  1. It has been a few years since I began to come to the realization that “church”, as we commonly know it, is an artifact of man and his penchant for organization. Not the ecclesia but the organization of the ecclesia. The bible accounts, and the few writings from the second century, give only a basic account of what Christian gatherings were like, and even THEN we must ask if those meetings were just a reflection of cultural influences. What we see today is neither “God ordained” or contrary to what God ordained. It is what it IS.

    Similarly our view of what a “pastor” should, or SHOULDN’T, do is also a reflection of culture and social expectations. Saint Paul delineates the “offices” of church life but is not very specific on how those offices are supposed to operate. For us “moderns” we are not content to let the gifts and callings operate as the Spirit may move, but we have to enumerate, classify, consolidate and describe in detail for organization’s sake. As long as we understand this we can still gather, worship, share the Word, and enjoy the fellowship of other believers without becoming jaded and disappointed when our construct doesn’t meet unvoiced expectations.

    • Although I don’t like the Church as business corporation and pastor as CEO model, and I feel extremely uncomfortable in the kind of mega-church environment that they go hand-in-glove with, I agree with you, oscar. I don’t think there is any clearly delineated New Testament model for the organization of the Church, and I think that there was probably a great variety of such structures in the first decades of the Church’s existence.

      I also don’t believe that the organizational development of the Church that started in the second century and reached its zenith in the Middle Ages (but not without generating a deep split between the East and West) is normative for, or necessary to, the identity of the Church. I’m also too quick to criticize expressions of Church organization that result in institutional arrangements that I don’t like, thereby making normative what are really just personal aesthetic preferences, my own likes and dislikes.

      No, I don’t like the Church as business/pastor as CEO model, but I do believe in the priesthood of all believers, and I do recognize that many traditional structures not only have suppressed this reality in the life of the Church, but have led to a paternalism that has made the flock all too easily prey to the depredations of untrustworthy shepherds. At the same time, these older models have resulted in frequently unbalanced lives for pastors, including priests, who often pastor along or over the edge of burnout, something that is not only bad for the pastors/priests, but bad for their flocks/congregations. Where newer models are able to delegate some of the pastoral functions of the congregational pastors to laity in a more comprehensive way, where this is effective and balanced, I think it could be a good thing. I do believe, though, that the business model should be avoided at all costs; such newer models should be rooted in the reality of the priesthood of all believers: I’m afraid they frequently aren’t. That’s my beef.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Where newer models are able to delegate some of the pastoral functions of the
        > congregational pastors to laity in a more comprehensive way

        I think we agree on some level; but I am unsure about the dichotomy of new vs. old. It appears to be that the ‘old’ model of the Catholic parish, at least as it operates in my metro, does a far far better job of permitting delegation of pastoring to laity than my previous experience with Evangelical ‘new’ models. Much of that is the ‘old’, and far more realistic, acceptance of the importance of proximity [the parish model] to what people can actually do and how they actually live. The ‘old’ hierarchical model also resists many [not all] of the temptations of the business model as capital is both available and distributed [again, the parish model].

        > such newer models should be rooted in the reality of the priesthood of all believers

        I would much rather see new models rooted in the realities that the old models recognize rather then in theological concepts – which seem most often to be justifications for unworkable models.

        • For Roman Catholicism, it’s not realistic to think there will be an adequate supply of celibate priests to serve the burgeoning needs of so many members; allowing priests to marry, a la Eastern Orthodoxy, may increase the supply of priests, but also complicates things by requiring priests to split their energies and resources between family and parish, making things similar in significant ways to the Protestant mainlines. I’m not sure the old model that you refer to adequately respected the time and energy limitations of the celibate priesthood; burnout has been a common phenomena, especially with the short supply of priests having to spread themselves so thin among so many laity.

          I can drop the theological jargon, if you like: the newer models should be rooted in the recognition of the human limitations of the existing priestly class, and the adequacy of the laity to perform more of the functions of the priesthood. These models would be an improvement over the traditional parish system if they relieve the ordained priesthood of burdens too great, and prevent the kind of paternalism that has led to abuses of power on the part of priests (I don’t think I need to be explicit in enumerating the kinds of abuses I’m talking about; we have become only too familiar with their existence in the last few decades).

          • When I talk about priests in the above comments, I’m referring really to all clergy when they are fulfilling their pastoral role. Clergy are not God, they have human limitations, whether they are celibate or non-celibate clergy. I don’t think either the traditional celibate priest or married pastor models have really respected those limitations; this has had bad results for both clergy and laity.

        • I think it should be remembered that the traditional parish system, and the development of a special priestly class in the Church, were both partly the result of implicit and/or explicit theological decisions made early on, not just the result of the recognition of existing realities.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > What we see today is neither “God ordained” or contrary to what God ordained. It is what it IS.

      Agree. Do-it-like-the-Early-Church is a hollow argument.

      > Similarly our view of what a “pastor” should, or SHOULDN’T, do is also a reflection
      > of culture and social expectations.

      Do some degree. But a word in a language does ultimately mean something. Often it is easier to narrow down the meaning using negation – A CEO is not a Pastor.

      But, I agree completely that our expectations drive what we consider to be Pastorship. I believe church-growth-mega-church pastors are being the pastors their congregants expect.

      It is more meaningful to say I disagree with the cultural norms/values of the church-growth-mega-church congregants,than it is to say I dislike or disagree with church-growth-mega-churches. Having had this conversation a lot [I work with numerous mega-church congregants], this is an approach that better facilitates conversation.

  2. Eckhart Trolle says:

    In the liturgical and mainline Protestant churches, nobody gets called an “apostle” (except as an honorific) other than the 12 (or however many–minus Judas, plus Paul).

    This fascination with the office of “pastor” seems to represent a back-projection of Protestant hierarchies onto biblical texts. I discern no comparable interest in the diaconate, for example. Sure, Jesus used pastoral symbolism–as well as images drawn from agriculture, commerce, fishing, household management, government, medicine, and the military, among other spheres. Why privilege being a pastor over a Fisher of Men, a Great Physician, etc.?

    • > I discern no comparable interest in the diaconate, for example.

      Well of course! Who wants to go around dealing with a bunch of poor people all the time? Being a Pastor™ in charge of your own ecclesiastical empire is where the money’s at!

      > Sure, Jesus used pastoral symbolism–as well as images drawn from agriculture, commerce, fishing, household management, government, medicine, and the military, among other spheres. Why privilege being a pastor over a Fisher of Men, a Great Physician, etc.?

      Well said. And to take it further, what’s that mean for those who are in all those other professions?

    • Christiane says:

      Good Morning ECKHART,
      well, the ‘title’ most beloved of the very early Christians for Our Lord was ‘The Good Shepherd’ and on the walls of the Roman catacombs where their dead were buried, there are many representations of Our Lord as the Good Shepherd bearing a lamb on His shoulders . . . one of the ways a bishop is first recognized when he is called to be a bishop in the Catholic Church is that he is given a vestment that represents a lamb on his shoulders . . . sometimes this is a real sheepskin . . . it is worn to honor the One who said ‘as the Father has sent Me, so I send you forth’

      shepherding is hard work, and there is even reference in sacred Scripture that a good shepherd will sometimes lay his life down for the sheep . . . and Our Lord knew what awaited His disciples in the way of martyrdom, so there is great meaning in that metaphor

      when welcoming poor St. Peter back into His Presence, after Peter had denounced Him three times, Our Lord said to Peter three times “Feed my sheep” . . . the Greek words mean to ‘pasture, and care for continually’ and Peter himself wrote this is sacred Scripture: “be shepherds of God’s flock which is under your care” (1 Peter 5:2)

      Eckhart, the ‘shepherd’ metaphor goes very deep into our Christian history and heritage . . . did you know that in the time of the plague, the Black Death, in Europe, most of the priests perished because they did not refrain from ministering to those they were responsible for . . . about ten percent remained . . . I think we may have lost the ‘best’ of them, because not much after that time, the Reformation came to address the excesses of the Church (my theory only)

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””have an apostolic gift. J. Robert Clinton defines apostleship as “the gift to have the leadership capacity to move with authority from God to create new ministry structures to meet needs and appoint leadership in those structures.” “””

    This is a good example of why the spritualization of talents and abilities as Giftedness, and the notion of Calling, needs to go out with the bath water. It does not aid understanding, it does not clarify, it does not help – it only engenders hierarchy, role-casting, and …. ego.

    The ability to Lead, to Organize, to Relate, whatever… they are abilities. Just call them abilities/talents and get on with it. Everything else is being pompous.

    I am an Organizer, and I am the meeting and event organizer on an executive committee of a non-profit. And we have someone who is a treasurer. And we have someone who does governmental relations. And we have an outreach person. etc… Thank goodness I do not have to do those jobs because (a) there isn’t that much time or energy and (b) I just wouldn’t be as good at some of them as other people. There it is, and that is all there is to it. And that is *plenty*.

    Are abilities divine grants? Yes. Next question – what to do with them?

    • I suspect “gift” also allows the speaker to appear humble. The fact that it could be turned into a backhanded “don’t question this, I’m doing what God clearly made me to do,” or even a “God loves me more,” while “abilities” can’t be turned around so easily, is just a perk.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > I suspect “gift” also allows the speaker to appear humble

        Exactly.

        > while “abilities” can’t be turned around so easily, is just a perk

        Yep.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          This is why My Little Pony is so insidious. It implies that skills are assigned by God or fate (in the form of “cutie marks” on the ponies’ haunches), as opposed to being (at least partly) the result of personal choice and hard work.

    • Christiane says:

      ‘abilities’ as Divine gifts . . .

      well, we use the phrase ‘God given talents’ . . . like the gifts given to women which the fundamentalists require to be sacrificed to the egos of the men they marry in ‘patriarchy’ . . . very sad, this loss from our world . . . women are not without these gifts and abilities, and I doubt sincerely that laying these gifts unused on the altar of male supremacy is what the Giver of Gifts had in Mind when He issued them to women in this world

      • and I’m not forgetting the hope that resides in women in my OWN Church who yearn for the opportunity to serve more completely in a shepherdess-related position in the Church . . . one such young woman was a very young nun who died of tuberculosis before she reached the age where men could be admitted to the priesthood . . . she had thought that was rather merciful of God to take her before that age, as she longed to be a priest in a world where that could not be (she found mercy and grace in everything) . . .

        after her death, her letters and diaries were found and sent to Rome, where something very special was found in these writings . . . she was made a ‘saint’ and in time, declared a ‘Doctor of the Church’ . . . little nun who spoke of the ‘little way’ . . .

        why does the Church make someone a ‘Doctor’ of the Church? because these people have contributed something profoundly important to the theology and understanding and practice of the faith . . . Therese of Lisieux’s little way found a place in the lives of many who felt that she had helped them come closer to Our Lord in her simplicity and humility

        what IS possible for women in the Church? will ‘fresh lights’ (her phrase) come from the Church’s reading of the Holy Gospels and open a way for those who are called and KNOW they have been called, and at this time may not enter into the priesthood as it is now understood to be limited to men? I have an illogical, supernatural, and never-ending hope for these women. Hope is GOOD thing. Anything is possible with God.

  4. I have done some painting for Big Springs Baptist Church and so have spent some time with the Pastor. He has always struck me as someone who is intensely focused on his work without being intense. He also seems quite joyful in a quiet, unaffected way. He always seems busy but never harried. He seems to have great attributes for that job and I always enjoy visiting with him even though we only talk paint.

  5. Excellent illustration, CM! I usually view Peter, with his brash and blunt style, more as a “Mark Driscoll” type, (more “show” and a “THIS is the way we do it” kind of leader), but the accounts you highlight tell me he was much different than that. It’s a reminder that Peter followed Jesus for a few years and LEARNED by watching. He clearly modeled what Jesus did.

    Maybe that’s the problem with some pastors these days, particularly those focused on growth: they need to read the gospels more often to LEARN from Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Then maybe, even if they had a blunt and brash style, they’d be more like Peter (and Jesus) and learn pastoral care.

    Great post!