Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Does It Mean To Be A Pastor?

I was just thinking (again), and here are some semi-random thoughts on being a pastor.


First and foremost, being a pastor of a church means unconditionally loving every person in the congregation with the love of Jesus Christ. While all followers of Jesus are called to express love for others and to have a servant attitude, pastors are to be living models of what this actually looks like. This does not mean a pastor is always doing this well (as we are all “simultaneously saint and sinner,” as Luther says), but it does mean that I as a pastor am transparent in my own struggles to be a loving and authentic follower of Jesus.

It is the love of God experienced in the body of Christ that truly marks Christians as truly unique (holy). It is the wonder of a group of persons who find acceptance with one another despite their differences, shortcomings, and failures that truly marks the church as different from other groups of people in this world. So, we are “holy,” that is, set apart, not by anything that makes us better or superior to anyone else. Rather, we are “holy,” because we are literally carriers (vessels) of the love of God, called to share this “treasure” (as St. Paul calls it) with everyone.

In the openness of authentic community such as this, people can experience the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, and then and only then will participation in the life of the church become blessing rather than bother, desire rather than duty. In this atmosphere of authentic relationships, people will find personal fulfillment in discovering their Spirit-given gifts, exploring the nature of their particular call to do the ministry of Christ, and then become involved in an expression of mission that serves others.

Vision Carrier

The pastor is responsible for clarifying and promoting the overall vision of a congregation, and for leading the congregation in the implementation of that vision. The guiding vision of a congregation is the product of all the fellowship as each one prays, struggles, learns, disciples, serves, worships, ministers, follows, and leads. All vision and call is the result of earnest and seeking prayer, and is the created and guided by the Word.  Pastors do not come up with their own visions, but are the carriers and interpreters of God's vision as understood in the Scriptures. It is the cultivation of prayer in the life of the people and the openness to the Holy Spirit that determine how well we hear what God is saying to us as a fellowship, and will determine how well we listen and do what God says. It is the pastor's role to emphasize leadership and decisions through prayer, and for making sure that prayer is both a regular practice of the fellowship and a special focus in extraordinary times.


The pastor is the one who leads in equipping the people for their works of service and mission in the name of Jesus. This can be done directly through discipling or mentoring emerging leaders. Generally speaking, though, the pastor leads and equips the leaders of a congregation, who in turn equip leaders under their care. It is important that in the equipping ministry of the pastor and other leaders, the guiding vision of the congregation be used to inspire the personal visions of each individual believer.

In a fellowship with a healthy equipping ministry, there is a relational emphasis that flavors every aspect of the congregation. There are no programs to attract people, only mission that arises out of the Spirit-led interaction of the people with each other. Thus, the life of the people is what attracts, or to use the more accurate word, “invites” people into the congregation. When people who desire to live earnest and authentic lives see a group of believers in Christ living out active lives of mission service and doing this in a genuine spirit of Christ-likeness, they come and invest themselves unreservedly.


Good pastors take the lead in developing effective communication structures that nurture the health of the congregation. It is critical for a fellowship to be open and authentic in addressing concerns and issues in above-board and honest ways. Biblically healthy congregations do not participate in private alliances to challenge or subvert the vision and goals that have been arrived at through open discussion and prayerful discernment.

In order for openness to everyone’s concerns and issues to work well, the leadership of the congregation must have a clear grasp of a shared vision and core values. This understanding of the fellowship’s identity will enable the leadership to provide biblical and encouraging rationale for both positive and negative responses to people and their concerns.  The pastor, however, is the one responsible for providing the essential support for all the leaders of the congregation as they seek to communicate and implement clearly defined ministry values and goals.

Preacher And Teacher

Preaching is not just verbal proclamation of the Gospel, but also the lifestyle and ministries of the church’s participants. So a member who talks to someone at their job about Jesus and the member who goes on the mission trip are both part of the “preaching” activity. Everything about a missional church will be geared to presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a great invitation to know and experience God through truth, love, and grace. It is the pastor who inspires and equips others through the biblical and relevant proclaiming of the Word.

Teaching is the discipling process, and is absolutely critical for creating an atmosphere of spiritual growth into Christ-likeness. This should take several forms, from one to one mentoring to conferences, workshops, and retreats. While everyone in a church should be able to identify and explain the process their church uses to “make disciples,” the pastor bears the primary responsibility for making sure there is a clear and working discipling process in a congregation.  Pastors are called to encourage an atmosphere of discovery where people are free to explore the frontiers of faith and to have their understanding of themselves and God be continually transformed by the Word.


Every church body has a number of persons who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to be in the “healing” ministries of the church, which would include intercessory prayer, care-giving in illness and distress, counseling, spiritual direction, and church discipline. While it is important for a congregation to identify and deploy these people for service to others, it is the pastor who is called to be the catalyst in leading, overseeing, supporting, and encouraging them in their ministries.

The Word of God makes clear that the healing power of pastoral care (which includes discipline) is experienced in the relationships formed in community with one another, as evidenced in the scriptural call to “Let us not give up meeting together, but let us encourage one another...” (Hebrews 10:25) and James’ exhortation to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16). For a church to be alive and interesting to anyone (especially to God), people must experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in healing ways that transform their lives. Jesus reached out to people (us) at the point of their (our) needs, which is the quintessential missional action.

Anyway, I was just thinking (again) ....

Monday, April 4, 2011

Is The Reformation Dead?

Is it possible that we are witnessing the end of the classic expressions of the Reformation in American society?  Now, I know that the Reformation itself was over a few hundred years ago, but the American churches that can claim to be direct descendants of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli's teachings may well be nearing their final days (and in some cases, like the Episcopal Church and the UCC, are already buried in their fine ecclesiastical coffins).  With the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America having officially renounced the Word of God last year by opening the way for ordaining practicing gays, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) about to do the same thing by adopting the new form of government and/or opening the way for presbyteries to ordain persons who reject the authority of God's Word and the reign of Christ in their lives (on a "case-by-case" basis, of course), the result will be the self-elimination of two primary Reformation streams from the apostolic, orthodox, and catholic expressions of Christianity.

O yes, there are still other groups that can claim to be carrying on the banner of the Reformation, such as the Baptists, Mennonites, and other assorted groups that can trace their origins back to the ecclesiastical upheavals of the 16th century.  But these groups identify more with the Radical Reformation, and were never the major expressions of the church resulting from the major protestant efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church rather than reject it.  After all, it was the refusal of the Roman Church to respond positively that forced the emergence of the "separated brethren" of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, as Luther, Calvin, and even Zwingli had hopes of "reforming" the Roman Church.  As for the Methodists, Disciples, and Assemblies of God, they have an even less direct lineage to the Reformers.

Then, there are the "other" Lutheran and Reformed expressions, such as the Missouri Synod Lutherans and the assorted smaller Reformed bodies.  It remains to be seen, however, if any of these can grow and assume the mantle of maintaining or expanding the influence and presence of a Reformation-oriented fellowship in the growing secular society in America.  The Reformed Church in America did this in the early days of this country, but it rapidly became a sectional church for the New England  and upper Midwest areas as time went by and America expanded.  If the RCA and the Christian Reformed churches can become more established throughout the country and grow substantially in numbers, they may emerge someday as the new heralds of the Reformation in American society, but this is clearly not an impending reality today. 

Then, there are the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America, both of which are growing, and showing some significant energy, but, being rather new to the scene, they are still fairly introspective denominations seeking their true identities.  Plus, neither denomination has the infrastructure to do mission and ministry on the scale that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has done (though what both do with their resources is very impressive).  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is perhaps the one denomination that is best poised to carry the Reformation banner.  Yet, despite its size, longevity, and organizational capabilities, it has been a rather insular church and therefore not very adept at being a presence and influence in today's American society.  So, if the ELCA and the PCUSA abdicate their places as the major Reformation expressions in the United States, there is really no one able or ready to assume this role at this time.

So, from where I stand, it looks like the churches that have carried the heritage and promise of the Reformation in American society are abdicating their theological birthrights.  They are trading them for a very bad stew prepared by "the world, the flesh, and the devil."  Thank God for the vibrancy of the Reformed, Lutheran, and Anglican churches in the world outside of the United States and Europe.   Thank God that the words and actions of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Melancthon, Knox, and Beza are inspiring anew the theologies and lives of Christians in the other three corners of the globe (especially Asia and Africa), where most of the church of Jesus Christ resides today.  The message and mission of the Reformers will continue strong and unabated in these faithful followers of Jesus Christ.  And maybe, just maybe, someday their faithfulness will return the truth of the Word and faith in Christ to American hearts --- rekindling a new and greater presence of the message and mission of the Reformation.