October 19, 2017

iMonk Classic: Those Magnificent Young Men In Their Pastoring Machines (1)

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Undated

Note: This week, in an effort to give special focus on pastoral ministry in the local church, we will be running Michael Spencer’s seminal post on the the subject, originally published in the first year of Internet Monk. This is a long article, so we will be spreading it out over several days. Michael’s thoughts on the pastoral ministry still resonate today amidst the confusion that continues to plague the church’s understanding of what being a pastor is all about.


Introduction (from Jan 2009 repost)

Our wayback machine today takes us to the first year of Internet Monk.com, where you’ll find a lengthy essay called “Those Magnificent Young Men and Their Pastoring Machines.” (Excuse the spelling errors. No proofreading in the old days.) It’s my original rant about what was happening to the practice of the pastorate at the time. I could have hardly imagined where we’d be today. (Warning: this was written almost 8 years ago, when I was a self-identified Calvinist in the ranks of the SBC. I am NOT a Calvinist today, but little has changed in my view of what it means to be a pastor.)

I hardly recognize today’s pastors as doing the same job as the typical pastors of my younger days. Of course, expectations were changing at the time, as I could see from what was crossing my desk when I was a pastor and what was happening at the megachurch just up the road.

I have real respect for faithful pastors. I have similar respect for young pastors who are seeking to be shepherds. But I have no respect for those who, under various banners, have turned the church into a business and the calling of a pastor into the work of a CEO and salesman.

There’s a conversation about what it means to be a pastor that isn’t happening in very many places. Instead, the conversation about how to grow a church goes on and on. Contrarians like Eugene Peterson are voices in the wilderness. The field is dominated by those whose churches fulfill the expectations of their entrepreneurial methodology.

I’m sure some will conclude I’m one of those people who have no business talking about this subject because I couldn’t pull off what today’s successful pastors are doing. If you want to conclude that I’m just a whining loser at the game, that’s fine and fair. I don’t want lead a chorus of complaining and badmouthing men who are laboring at one of the most difficult, costly callings in the world.

But as I said, there is a conversation that needs to happen. Confusion is starting to become the norm. Something is being lost in the rush for the next big thing. If that conversation is encouraged here at IM through this essay, then we’ve moved in the right direction.

Those Magnificent Young Men In Their Pastoring Machines
The contemporary pastorate has become a disaster for the church on the corner.

“This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament.”

• Eugene Peterson

A senior adult friend says that the preacher doesn’t preach any more. He gives these “little talks.” He also said they’ve quit mentioning any deaths, illnesses or other prayer needs in the worship services, no matter how loyal the person was to the church over the years. The preacher doesn’t visit shut-ins these days; only leaders, prospects and a few new members. Doesn’t even stop in at the funeral home. And of course, they quit singing hymns long ago. The preacher told the senior adults the visitors didn’t like them. He knows I’m a preacher and he wants to know what happened? Why doesn’t his nice young pastor……act like a pastor?

That’s quite a story.

The contemporary pastorate is a mess. With hundreds of books, conferences and seminars touting the benefits of changing the traditional church into the purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, post-modern church, there has been little honest reporting on the resulting awkward evolution of the pastor. In my lifetime, this evolution has swept over the pastorate, replacing what was a recognizable consensus with a maze of models, and an emerging template of the pastorate that would be unrecognizable in most of Christian history.

Historically, the Protestant pastorate has always been under assault from the spirits of the age . During the initial years of the Reformation, many pastors were unconverted, and the pastor who simply occupies the position as a living is still a hazard. In many churches, the pastorate is an unsupervised profession, and so it has been a haven for the lazy and the parasitical. In American history, pastors have ranged from the erudite and educated status symbols of great churches to the ignorant, wild and violent prophets of doom on the frontier. In the modern era, Pastors often seemed to want to be anything but pastors, showing bouts of envy for academics, social workers, psychologists, writers, politicians, business managers and stand-up comedians.

The skills of the pastorate have always been exaggerated beyond the merely mortal. In Elizabethan times, one only needed to be able to read the prayer book. In the classic evangelical model, the pastor was preacher, shepherd and worship leader. As Protestantism succeeded, the pastor needed to be public speaker, administrator, therapist, fund-raiser, scholar, expert on family life, field marshal, television personality, growth expert and guru. Part of the current confusion results from the inability of churches and schools to hone the pastoral model into something that Joe Average preacher could achieve. As most every pastor knows, there is so much room for failure in the modern pastorate that competency seems virtually impossible. Pastors, more than almost any other profession, know what it is to live in constant failure.

Note: Parts 2-4 of this post will be featured Tuesday and Wednesday.

Comments

  1. > As Protestantism succeeded, the pastor needed to be public speaker, administrator, therapist, fund-raiser, scholar, expert on family life, field marshal, television personality, growth expert and guru. <

    Yep. The truly important things have little chance of staying eminent when pastors are too little focused on the Word and the sacraments and their congregations crave entertainment and flash.

    A small denominational church near us is pastored by a young man with great confidence in his own personal magnetism — and the t-shirts that go with it. When he was chosen, a member of the selection committee told me, "I think we've found a real live one.” They weren’t looking for a man who would rightly divide the word of truth, or a man who would shepherd God’s flock. They wanted a television personality and they got one.

  2. I don’t know where the rest of the essay will head, I do completely resonate with the last sentence. The task is SO important, the work is never complete, there are few tangible results, and you have to deal with a chorus of people saying, “You’re doing it wrong!”

  3. “template of the pastorate that would be unrecognizable in most of Christian history.”

    But let’s first look at history, then build from there. What did “the pastorate” look like in Scripture?

    • Do you have thoughts on that, Rick, based on your own study? Love to hear them.

      I would also suggest that history and Scripture are not so divorced from each other as you imply. After all, the church that preceded us looked at Scripture too. Traditional patterns may well represent the Biblical wisdom they accumulated. It is not necessary for every generation to reinvent the wheel, is it?

      • “It is not necessary for every generation to reinvent the wheel, is it?”

        Certainly not. That is why I am hoping we can define a common starting point (based mainly on Scripture, and perhaps some inclusion of early church structures).

        I think that if we look at the apostles, we see mainly preaching and shepherding. As I look at those, I think many interepret the meaning of those differently. “Preaching” may mean different things to different people (Osteen, Stanley, and Piper all consider what they do as “preaching”). Likewise, shephering can mean various things, including personal involvement (visitation), or it may simply mean establishing a structure/system to help people (setting up “deacons” in Acts).

        I think much of this comes down to defining the primary “goal” of the pastor. If it is evangelism, which many may think it is, then you are going to get a lot of the extras that you are concerned about.

  4. Amen! As a full-time pastor, I am constantly battling what “success” looks like in a fellowship of believers….I want it to be more about discipleship, yet is the leadership willing to shrink the church over a harder/higher calling? Francis Chan stated in one of his messages that he was quite sure that if Jesus had a church in Simi Valley while he was there…..Francis would have a bigger church than Jesus. The business of church can get right in the middle of the business of Jesus!

  5. Much of what this post (and others that I have read here) really resonates with me. I am looking forward to the rest of the series as well. What I struggle with as a pastor is this: I serve as a half time pastor at a church of around 250 people. I feel the pressure of the expectations that some people have on me that I would care equally for all 250, by which they mean visit each one regularly (at least once a year). This is of course impossible if I am also expected to do the other things on my job description.

    If the task of the pastor is to equip his people for works of service (Eph. 4:11-12), then shouldn’t I be spending the bulk of my time preparing to preach well on the weeks that I preach, and equipping key leaders? If there is no way that I can spend an equal amount of time with each person, then I need to decide how to best use my time by choosing a few specific people to spend time with who in turn spend time with others so that the whole body is being encouraged and equipped.

    Please help me out here!

    • I’m no expert. but if i was looking to be equipt for God’s service. sermons would be way down on my list of ways to equip me. one on one give & take, examples of charity & love in our community, & a community to support me would do more than sermons would. sermons are important ( the Gospel must be proclaimed), but often I think we see them as magical & life changing and that has not been my experience. peace.

      • I totally agree with this Brian. However, I come up against the expectations of the people. I only have so many hours each week to give and a sermon has to happen on Sunday morning. Do I spend less time on sermon prep and therefore preach a mediocre sermon so that I can spend more one on one time with more people? That’s my dilemma!

        • By the way, some would probably say that my sermons are mediocre at best already!

        • This may not work, but in a perfect world the words you hear from your visiting could help you know what the congregation needs in a sermon. You seems to be listening to their needs & that is sometimes more important than what you say. – that being said expectations can be very hard to meet – I wish you well. peace.

      • “Sermons are important, but often I think we see them as magical & life changing and that has not been my experience.”

        That is an excellent point, especially in light of today’s focus on a Sunday morning production. I know for me personally, growing up, I equated a service’s effectiveness with how it made me feel. The more emotionally mind-blowing, the better, because I treated emotional engagement in a service in a way that was almost sacramental. If you really “felt” it, you had encountered God, just like a sacrament. So you have to bring it every week, or else you’re depriving me of an encounter with God! Don’t just say things that are true about the Christian faith–blow my mind, preacher!

        • Michael, that may be the best definition of “pietism” that I have ever heard–treating emotional engagement as sacramental.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          What happens when the addiction/tolerance response sets in and you need greater and greater, wilder and wilder dosages of “emotional mind-blowing” to really “feel” it?

          • You either become one of the barking, twitching charismatics, or you burn out, at least to a degree. Fortunately I only burned out on emotionalism in Christianity, rather than Christianity altogether. I used to believe that goosebumps = Holy Spirit. I still believe in the Holy Spirit, but I am agnostic about the goosebumps.

    • Tom Roes says:

      > I feel the pressure of the expectations that some people have on me that I would care equally for all 250, by which they mean visit each one regularly (at least once a year). <

      Tom, do you do any pastoral visiting at all? If you do, then I applaud you.

      There are pastors who refuse to do any pastoral visiting at all. And I'm afraid their reason/excuse is that, because they could never visit all families as often or as fairly as they'd like while also attending their other duties, they just won't do any pastoral visiting at all.

      Is that the right choice?

      • Andy, I do some, but not a lot. I feel torn knowing that many more people want me to visit them, and I feel the loss of not being able to visit some who I know I would benefit from spending that time with. I feel the pull to use that excuse to avoid visiting completely, but I know for myself that I would be using it to justify doing things that I enjoy more. So for me at least that would not be the right choice.

        • Tom – and any other pastors reading this –
          do you ever feel like you purposefully need to limit your contacts or your friendships within your congregation in order not to offend someone?
          In other words, if you became friends with one congregant, would another one get jealous that you did not also spend time with them? And is your response then to withold friendship overall, just to keep the peace and appear to be treating all with impartiality?

          • for myself, it is not that I worry about jealousy so much; our people are very mature. Two other things are a bigger block to friendships.

            First, in order to know your congregation, it becomes necessary (timewise) to distribute my attention more broadly than I would if I were not a pastor. After the services, for example, I will try to talk to all that I can, rather than those I feel closest to. And I try not to limit meal invitations or phone calls to my closer friends. The result is that I am a friend to a lot of people, but a close friend to very few.

            Secondly, I am been around enough to see those I thought were close friends turn around and attack me because they did not like something I did as a pastor. This hasn’t happened often, but it makes one wary of really being open about the struggles in my life, especially when those struggles are related to my own weaknesses or bad choices. Especially with any family problems, I feel unable to share with church members, because hey, I’m suppossed to have my family in order!

          • Steve, I try not to let that happen, but it sometimes does. Daniel describes the tension well. I do try to intentionally make time for some relationships – early morning breakfasts together seem to work pretty well for many.

            I am an introvert and find spending time with lots of people in one place quite draining, so I need to find time for myself to re-energize after a Sunday morning, even if I am not preaching. My wife and kids give me a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon for this which I am very grateful for, but then they are missing out.

            Sometimes I long for a job that I would not bring home with me, but I know I would only be satisfied for a short time. If God has called me to the vocation of pastor, then He will enable me to do so for His honour and glory. I believe that with all my heart. I live that better some days than others. Lord, help my unbelief.

  6. This was one of my favorite Imonk essays. it shows the constant danger of marketing for the masses.
    we focus too much on filling seats instead of speading the gospel.
    I often blame the congregations more than the pastors. One man can not change a church unless the church gives him that much power (God forbid). we often want MC’s not pastors, so we get what we ask for. peace.

  7. I can’t speak for those of you that stand behind the pulpit, but I suspect that the majority of your time spent “pastoring” is consumed by a small percentage of your congregation, regardless of its size. This to me is the issue: Not the pastor’s willingness, but the sheer magnitude of the time commitment required.

    How can we expect these individuals to maintain and nurture their own family relationships and recharge themselves personally when we expect them to be on call 24/7 for every possible “catastrophe” the membership may be experiencing?

    • Great question, and a “problem” that is seen in many congregations. The expectations are unrealistic. Some pastors, in order to deal with this, attempt to delegate to other staff, or to small groups. They limit their direct involvement to the most serious, or most personal, cases. They have to for time and health limitations.

      As Andy Stanley jokes- if he is showing up at a function for you, it is not good news.

      • This may not be popular to say, but if Andy Stanley does not have a group of people (not all of Northpoint of course, but a specific group within NP) for whom he always shows up, then he is something other than a pastor.

        • I believe he does. I think he makes the joke to communicate to people that they need to have realistic expectations of what he can handle.

    • I have often reflected on Paul’s counsel that it would be better to remain single to allow more freedom in vocational ministry. Recently, I had some interest expressed by a church, asking whether I would consider returning to parish ministry. The other day the question became clear in my mind–do I want to return to a calling that is a life, not a job? Or do I want to stay in a life with a job and opportunities to do some other things? Pastoring will never be and can never be a “job,” at least in the way I think it needs to be practiced. Let the buyer beware.

      • Very true. Add to that my need to be bi-vocational (in other words to find the time to create some income in addition to pastoring) and I start to feel overwhelmed.

      • David Cornwell says:

        “…the question became clear in my mind–do I want to return to a calling that is a life, not a job? ”

        Chaplain Mike, I think you have this one exactly right. There is a lot to think about when one considers the pastorate.

        For one the fishbowl in which your family finds itself. My last church, that I very much loved and enjoyed in many ways is an example. The parsonage was next door to the church. The town was small. The bank was down the street on the corner, the fire station across the street. Everyone knew us, I knew everyone. They also knew all about us. Then consider the possibilities of a wayward child (don’t say it will never happen to you). (Use your imagination about what can happen). Add to that a large building project (which I still believe was necessary). At the end of this I was tired in body and spirit and made a very wise decision to leave the ministry.

        “I have often reflected on Paul’s counsel that it would be better to remain single to allow more freedom in vocational ministry.”

        Me too! I don’t have the answer however. But I’ve never been sorry about getting married and having a family.

  8. Look at what is happening here!

    Michael Spencer’s post calls out contemporary pastors in some pretty strong language:

    > In many churches, the pastorate is an unsupervised profession, and so it has been a haven for the lazy and the parasitical. In American history, pastors have ranged from the erudite and educated status symbols of great churches to the ignorant, wild and violent prophets of doom on the frontier. In the modern era, Pastors often seemed to want to be anything but pastors, showing bouts of envy for academics, social workers, psychologists, writers, politicians, business managers and stand-up comedians. <

    Michael Spencer is saying ill-trained or ill-motivated pastors are a problem. near the end he brings in questions about what is expected. But he hasn't, at least not yet, relented concerning the faults of the pastors themselves.

    But look: The posts that follow all claim to agree with the iMonk, but then go on to let pastors off the hook. I don't know what Spencer is going to say in the bits that follow. He may go on in parts 2-4 and say the job of the pastor is too hard, and that less should be expected of pastors. But he hasn't said that yet — nor should we!

    • I’m not sure I follow the logic on this.

      In any case, it seems narrow to focus on how poorly modern pastors pastor, without looking at why that occurs. That is, the role of the pastor as ceo or entertainer did not arise out of a vacuum, but because that seems to be what most people want out of their pastor. In one study I saw, fully 80% of pastor felt their congregations wanted them to be more of a ceo than they were. Unless a pastor is specially gifted, he or she will lose prospective visitor or even congregants to churches which have “better” programs, more “exciting” worship, more “relevant” (and shorter) messages, and which have better orginization. This isn’t theory. Our church hit a plateau when two cooler churches opened their doors in our town, and when three others in the next-door town went to a mega model.

    • Andy, I personally am a bit worried about what Spencer will say in the following posts. I think I know his writing well enough to expect that I will be challenged to change!

    • btw, a Fuller Seminary study of pastors reported than more than 90% put in more than 46 hours a week. A study conducted by Thom Rainer of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church growth showed average work hours to be in the low 50’s to the mid 60’s. This would suggest that whatever we think of modern pastor’s priorities, laziness is not the real issue.

      • I personally have met very very few lazy pastors. But I”ve met a gazillion who thought that the sun , moon, and stars set on theirs seromons; and who thought that giving effective oversight to the myriad of programs and initiatives of the local church was job #1…or maybe job #2 just behind the sermon. Actually shepherding people ??……..well……that’s what small groups and ministry x,y, and z are for…. sorry, I can only handle so much..

        My point is NOT that the pastor should one on one shepherd hundreds of people…but if he/she does not habitually shepherd SOMEBODY(ies) then what is he really ?? If I seem cranky about this, I confess, I am: the pastor paradigm is way out of kilter, IMO, in my neighborhood, and I don’t like what I see as the fallout.

        GregR

  9. When I think of pastor I think of Super Pastor due to the mega church business models I’ve seen. Instead of the pastorate I think many pastors should get a degree in business and marketing given where they have taken the church. On top of that you also run into being “used” by pastors. When I was desperately trying to plug into a mega church one of the only things I could do was volunteer to help a ministry out becuase that’s what i was asked to do. The pastor who recruited me…struck me as odd. No “How are you doing?” ,”Hi Eagle my name is so and so.. thanks for helping out…” Instead it was a “be here at this time and be ready to help out. I felt like a pawn in the system…..

    Here’s another problem….try getting a hold of a pastor when you need one. I tried meeting with a pastor from where I went to church (another location…) and he said he was willing to talk by phone and that was it. It sounded like he was very busy but after playing a lot of phone tag that was going no where I more or less gave up…It sure wasn’t the “Hi Pastor xyz…can I make an appointment and see you…?

    • “When I think of pastor I think of Super Pastor due to the mega church business models I’ve seen. Instead of the pastorate I think many pastors should get a degree in business and marketing given where they have taken the church.”

      Interestingly, it seems something like this is happening. Pastors with advanced theological degrees are becoming more rare, because many of them cannot compete with pastors who may have less biblical and theological training, but are better communicators, administrators, or visionaires. A couple years ago some studies concluded that 80% percent of seminary and bible school graduates who entered ministry dropped out within five years. Other studies have suggested that the figure is more like 60-80 percent by ten years. Either way, the thought is amazing (and disoncerting). Imagine if 70 percent of lawyers or doctors had left their field ten years after graduation.

      Perhaps the blame can be shared by many here, (seminaries, pastors and congregants). But I am reminded of the church member who encouraged me to preach more like Osteen, and left after it became clear I was’t going to. Or the former elder who left for a seeker-type church because, he told me, the kids found it “more interesting”. And the visitor who cares deeply about right doctrine and correct teaching is becoming an endangered species in our culture.

      Again, perhaps it is not so much that Pastors have changed, but the pastors who survive in the consumerist culture we live in are usually of a certain type.

  10. Here’s a question. How is a “pastor” supposed to be different than any other member of the local body? What is he supposed to do that is different than what the other members are to be doing?

    I think it’s so easy for us to have the expectation that the “pastor” has every spiritual gift and is supposed to be ministering every single one of them to every member of the church. That doesn’t sound like a body to me.

    • Every member is a minister, and each one serves the church family while at the same time fulfilling vocations in the world, including a career. A pastor is called to serve the church as his or her career vocation.

  11. do we think the size of churches is a problem (too big) ??????

    • sorry, are a problem??

    • David Cornwell says:

      My answer to that is YES! I’m sure many others don’t agree.

    • I’m pretty sure that there was a post regarding that very topic that had well over 200 comments. People have strong opinions. But it’s impossible to have the kind of pastor that Michael Spencer was talking about in this post in a church that is more than a couple hundred members.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I think maybe a church with a good pastoral staff, where duties are shared 450 to 600 might be possible. Or is that stretching it too much? Beyond that you start losing intimacy and community in my opinion. However this is probably also dependent on other things as well.

    • seems to me people want the ‘capitalist’ church w/o the CEO pastor. I’m not sure such a pastor or church can exist together.

    • That will be brought up in this article.

    • My short answer (because I have spent too much time on this post today, and learned a lot!) is YES – at least part of the problem is that many churches are too big. I will leave it at that!