Service & Ministry

Pastoral Resources

What Part is the Pastor?

Tod Bolsinger

“Tod, I wasn't looking to start another church. I was just going to resign my current position and go off and teach somewhere. But so many people who were so disillusioned with the direction of the church came to me and said, ‘We need a shepherd. We need a pastor. Please be our pastor.' I am shepherd, and I just can't abandon sheep. So, that's when I felt God calling me to do this.”

This was 400 people from one church following this well-meaning, godly, caring pastor to another, thereby splitting the original church. And that scenario seems to repeat itself every few months lately.

Here's my question: What's wrong with this picture?

Or in a world where we can't seem to discern communal goals and shared values; where pastors seem to divide between those shepherds who “care” for the flock, and those who “lead” (or "drive") the flock; where Christians change churches as fast as they change coffee shops that adjust the menu, is this going to be the future of “church planting”?

We have been in the middle of a discussion stemming from my awareness of five churches in four different denominational structures that are all in the midst of painful division. Unlike many of these kinds of cases in the past, to my knowledge there are no accusations of immorality flying around, no controversial social issues pitting one camp against another. Instead, in every case the division in the church is related to the leadership abilities, style, vision and personality of the pastor.

In a couple of posts already I have said that I believe that the pastor has a God-ordained but limited role in every congregation. For the next few posts I'd like to draw some attention to that role.

While eventually I want to address the shepherd/flock metaphor, first I want to put the pastor's role in the context of the greater biblical metaphor of the church as Christ's body in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

What part of the Body of Christ is the pastor?

To be sure, MANY pastors think they are the brain of the church, the mind of the church, dare I say, the head of the church. Some of the greatest conflict in churches stem from pastors who would never claim the papist ability to speak “ex cathedra” but by their actions communicate that they and they alone have received divine revelation for the direction of the church and anyone who disagrees with them is disagreeing with God.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those pastors who think they are the “feet” of the church. They just hold everyone up, let every one “walk” on them and really only respond when told by someone else to get moving. They don't so much lead the body as carry it. And over time, the lack of direction and vision from the pastor leads to either a stagnant church that is alway "putting their feet up" or frustrated church that can't seem to go anywhere.

A better option is to think of the pastor as the “mouth” of the church. Pastors speak to and for the church, they communicate the messages and direction of the head and they express what is happening in the body.

When I was in seminary, my preaching professor, the late, great Ian Pitt-Watson used to say that the pastor's job was not so much to preach TO the congregation as FOR them. That is, that the job of the pastor when preaching is to put into words what the Spirit of God is doing in their midst. I have always felt challenged and focused by this idea.

But biblically, there is another body metaphor that needs to be recovered. This one comes right out of Paul's own expression of “body life” in Ephesians 4. In v. 16, Paul teaches that pastors (and other church leaders) are “ligaments” in the body of Christ, helping the body to work together properly and “build itself up”.

In many ways, I think this is the problem in a number of our churches. Most of us pastors think we are the “head”, are trained to be the “mouth” and have no idea how to be a “ligament”.

So, some ligament lessons seem to be in order next. But let me let you chime in here. What should ligaments do to help the body of Christ “build itself up in love?” What, according to this passage, is the pastoral role and call?