I previously posted an early comment on Jared Wilson’s book The Pastor’s Justification. You can read that brief post here. I purchased the book on the recommendation of an experienced pastor who posted a comment on facebook. Having now finished reading it, I found the book insightful, helpful, challenging and encouraging in equal measure. It has helped me to formulate thoughts and adjust my outlook on several areas of pastoral ministry. I would heartily recommend it to you if you are either in pastoral ministry, training for ministry, considering entrance to ministry or simply want to better understand (and hopefully pray for) those who labour in ministry for you.
Here, I want to offer two extended quotes that I found particularly helpful. The first comes from Wilson’s chapter on The Pastor and the King:
[P]astor, take care you are not positioning yourself, or allowing yourself to be positioned, as your church’s functional savior [sic].
In my neck of the woods, the traditional Congregationalist, one-pastor model of church ministry is still quite common. This model has its distinct advantages, and it is certainly preferable to the figure-head pastor isolated from his flock that is so dominant in the larger churches in the West. But this approach to church ministry has its drawbacks and can create a diseased discipleship culture in the church.
The solo pastor model is so hard to root out because it is so ingrained. In New England congregational churches, this model is a holdover from the old days of travelling ministers. Lemuel Haynes, a great pastor for a lot of reasons, is just one example of the pastor who travelled between towns to minister to multiple congregations. Many pastors continue to do this today. This model is also difficult to root out because folks figure that the pastor is the one who is being paid to do ministry, so he’s the one who should be doing ministry. It puts the body in a passive role and the pastor in an overactive role.
This model of church ministry is a perversion of biblical soul-care, because it goes against the biblical establishment of a plurality of elders and the priesthood of the believer. And because this model is deformed, it can have serious negative consequences when left in place too long, including, but not limited to, individuals in the church not receiving the level of pastoral care they need, expectations being placed on the pastor that lead to workaholism and then depression and then burnout, and the usurping of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of a church’s soul.
What often results is presumptuous and idolatrous levels of expectation on the pastor, and even codependency. Pastor, you must shepherd wisely to keep your congregation from becoming codependent with you (and you with them).
How this plays out is through a strategic withholding of oneself. Not a distancing, not a neglect of real duty and care. Not an insulation or isolation. That would be directly violating Peter’s commands in 1 Pet 5:1-11 and Jesus’s commands to feed the sheep. But the pastor’s role is to equip the saints for ministry, and this can’t happen if he does all the ministry himself. It is good to regularly hold back enough that if you were hit by a bus today – or worse, have an affair with your secretary – your church could live (and grow!) without you. Very few churches advertise for a pastor who will lead the church in such a way that they don’t need him very much.
On a related note, Wilson offers the flip-side of this in his chapter on The Pastor and Glory. Again, forgive the long quote but I thought he was clear and helpful:
One of the worst things a pastor can do is test his popularity among the flock. There are times when your entire church may love you… for the wrong reasons. And there are times when your church may hate you… for the wrong reasons. This is something the gospel does: it afflicts the comfortable, and comforts the afflicted. While we aim to stay winsome and kind, self-deprecating and congenial, and loving to our neighbours, seeking the approval of everyone is futile. Likewise, seeking the approval of most at all times is futile. Sometimes a pastor’s faithfulness to God’s Word will set him at odds with his flock. The shallow, cowardly pastor will side with the flock against God. It might seem the safe thing to do in the moment, but it will prove dangerous at the final judgement. It is better to be fired than to court hellfire.
He goes on to argue:
As Western culture increases its speed in the race away from Christendom, as hostility to orthodox and evangelical Christianity increases and becomes increasingly legislated, we will eventually see a separation of the men from the boys. Which pastors will cave to wordly wisdom in fear for their own livlihoods and comfort, and which will fear God, rather than men? The ones who find their justification in the definitive proclamation of God’s grace in Christ instead of public opinion polls will stand firm.
This problem is not new. Hitler knew the ministers of his day would be easy to walk all over because they were lily-livered men, protectors of their own wellbeing. (He did not count on Bonhoeffer.) In every major cultural revolution that has spurred the on the church or harmed it, there has been a revelation of which ministers pursued God’s glory and which pursued their own. In the days of the Reformation, devotees of soli deo gloria risked death from Catholic authorities and counter-Protestant churchmen. Glory-monger pastors were a problem even then. Martin Luther is particularly incisive:
“The trouble with these seekers after glory is that they never stop to consider whether their ministry is straightforward and faithful. All they think about is whether people will like and praise them. Their is a threefold sin. First, they are greedy for praise. Secondly, they are very sly and wily in suggesting that the ministry of other pastors is not what it should be. By way of contrast they hope to rise in the estimation of the people. Thirdly, once they have established a reputation for themselves they becomes so chesty that they stop short of nothing. When they have won the praise of men, pride leads them on to belittle the work of other men and to applaud their own. In this artful manner they hoodwink the people who rather enjoy to see their former pastors taken down a few notches by such upstarts.
‘Let a minister be faithful in his office,’ is the apostolic injunction. ‘Let him not seek his own glory or look for praise. Let him desire to do good work and to preach the gospel in all its purity. Whether an ungrateful world appreciate his efforts is to give him no concern because, after all, he is in the ministry not for his own glory but for the glory of Christ.’
A faithful minister cares little what people think of him, as long as his conscience approves of him. The approval of his own good conscience is the best praise a minister can have.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians)
The pastor who will see God’s glory is the pastor who pursues God’s glory in exclusion of everything that falls short. All lesser glories may be placed on the altar.
I say again, the book has been fascinating. It is an excellent look at the role of the church minister. It will encourage and challenge those in pastoral ministry and will certainly give insight to those who wish to care and pray for their pastors more meaningfully. Do buy yourself a copy, you will not regret it.