Monday, December 14, 2015

Sometimes parishes want a puppy instead of a pastor. . .

Pastors generally work long and hard, feel guilty about what they did not get done, and make great sacrifices for the sake of their people.  I do not say this so that you pity your pastor but that this is a general truth and fact (even no matter the denomination).  So when you read a column by a well meaning individual whose basic point is that pastors should not be doing what they are doing or they will prevent the church from growing, it is like twisting a dagger into the back of a hard working and well meaning pastor.

When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding and funeral and make regular house calls, attend every meeting, and lead every bible study or group, he or she becomes incapable of doing almost anything else.  Message preparation falls to the side, and providing organizational leadership for the future is almost out of the question.  The pastoral care model of church leadership simply doesn’t scale.

It’s somewhat ironic, actually.  If you’re a good pastoral care person (and many pastors are), people will often love you so much that the church will grow to two hundred people, at which point the pastoral care expectations become crushingInevitably, pastoral leaders with larger churches can’t keep up and end up disappointing people when they can’t get to every event any more.  Caring for 30 people personally is possible. Caring for 230 is not.  Many pastors burn out trying.

There is some truth to everything -- even wrong headed criticism.  It is true that pastors cannot and should not do everything.  It is true that pastors often do what is visible and urgent while allowing what may be more important to slide by.  It is true that people have very unrealistic expectations of their pastors.  But the model so often given a pastor by the mega church is that you are too important to do pastoral care and we need you to be the visionary leader instead.  And this is just plain wrong.

Pastoral care IS exactly what the pastor is charged with doing and must do.  There are a host of things pastors do that they need not do (vision casting, administration, and kingdom building are a couple of them) but pastoral care is what ONLY a pastor can do.  By pastoral care I do NOT mean visiting everyone all the time or attending every meeting or running the business of the church.  I mean caring for the people of God with the means of grace.  THAT is pastoral care -- whether in the hospital room or living room, nursing home or apartment, to individuals or to large groups.  Pastoral care is what the pastor and only the pastor can do -- serve the people of God with the means of grace.

That means giving great attention to worship, to the liturgy, to the preaching that takes place within the liturgy, to the rhythm of life through the church year, to the instruction of young and old (catechesis), to the visitation of the sick and shut-in, to the admonition of the erring and those who neglect the means of grace, hearing confession and absolving sinners, burying the dead, preparing people for baptism and parents for the baptism of their children. . .   These are exactly what pastors can and must do or they are not pastors.

Yes it is true.  Churches want puppies rather than pastors, pets rather than shepherds.  Pastors are guilty of being people pleasers and wanting to be loved by their people more than they want to be faithful to Christ.  We are flawed and sinful individuals, to be sure.  Where is it that God has said that pastors are judged by the numbers of people in a building rather than by faithfulness to the Word and to the responsibilities exclusive to the pastoral calling? 

The goal of Christian leadership is to lead, not be liked.  There it is.  Pastors are not really pastors at all (according to this way of thinking) but are leaders.  When the Scriptures speak of the ministry they do not speak of leaders (at least as this author defines them) but as the shepherds who care for the sheep with the means of grace God Himself has provided.

I will admit it.  I do a ton of stuff I probably should not be doing in the parish.  I feel personally responsible for everything that happens here.  I want us always to be our best and do our best as a congregation.  I am conscious of the money entrusted to us for programs and resources and insist that we be the best stewards of these resources for God's glory.  I am too often tied and worn out.  But the funny thing is that in the business world this would be normal and yet in the church I stand condemned by those who think there is a more efficient use of my time.  They may be correct about some things but that is not the kind of pastor I want to be or I believe I was called to be.  I am the shepherd whom God has placed among this people to administer to them His gifts through the Word and Sacraments.  That is what is given to the pastor to do.  The people also have a distinct and profound minister of service to one another and to the stranger who does not yet know Jesus Christ.

I do not make sheep and I am not called to manufacture them.  I am called to faithfully preach and teach the Word of God and to administer the means of grace and God has promised to do the rest.  Whether or not my congregation grows may be my fault if I am unfaithful in this administration of the means of grace but if I am faithful within the boundaries of my mortal flesh, God will produce the results He has intended.  His Word cannot return to Him empty handed.  I will try to spend less of my time doing what is not my urgent priority or calling as a pastor but I refuse to be the kind of  Christian leader like this author and so many others intend.  The Church is not a business in search of market dominance but the kingdom of God in which the Word and the Sacraments are the means through which the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole people of God.  I wish we Lutherans could rejoice in this instead of living in envy of every big box mega church down the street.

I used this book as a resource, and told them that we would never break 200 in attendance unless I stopped doing pastoral care.  It was a tough, but we made it.  We now have a church of 2300 people with almost 1100 in attendance on weekends.  If that is what it takes as a business model to have a church succeed in worldly terms, well, I guess I will have to learn to be content with failure.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

So many of we "sheep" fail to understand what the "undershepherd" does because we are not the same thing. Yes, pastors are sheep also, and need shepherding. Yet we sheep are not shepherds. How would it be if real sheep told the shepherd where to graze, made sure he took care of the ones that baahed just for the sake of it (while shutting out the truly sick ones)? The undershepherd is here to care for our souls. Trust him to do it, as he is responsible to the Great Shepherd.