I believe the words we use are very important because those words speak to something that is lying underneath, like a attitude or perspective, that, though not realized, impacts how we think and act in real life situations. For example, if I were to conduct a survey about the word “church,” how many would say that the first thing that comes to their mind when they think of “church” is a building, not a group of people or a faith community? And how much has that reality impacted how a building is venerated? There have been too numerous to count times where I’ve had someone tell me that if they walked into a church (meaning the building), it would fall down on them for some reason. That tells me that the common view of “church” of many is that it is a building. And that has caused the building to become a focal point, rather than the real and true church, which is the people gathered in a faith community.
There is another one which has really come into focus for me as of late: pastor vs. minister. These two words have often become interchangeable for many; they have become synonyms. But are they truly? Is there a biblical difference between what a pastor is to be doing and what a minister is to be doing? And has the merging of the two caused an incorrect perception and reality?
I will not call myself a minister. A minister is one who tends to the needs of the body (a local church) for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The common paradigm, though, in the church of today is that this is what a pastor is to do when, in reality and from Scripture, it is the job of those who make up the body. There has been a detrimental outcome to this common paradigm. There are many who have a consumerist mentality when it comes to the church and the pastor. What I mean by that is that the attitude is that the pastor was hired to do the ministry of the church so that those who make up the church don’t have to. They can do other things they want to do. And if the pastor isn’t ministering to them as effectively or as often as they think s/he should be, well, it’s time for a new pastor. Under this attitude, the pastor is nothing better than a lackey whose job it is to service the church.
The result of this common paradigm is that the overall church gets weak. It’s just like doing physical workouts to stay in shape. What would happen to one’s legs if a person only exercises the arms and chest and back? S/he be pretty fit from the waist up, but from the waist down, pretty weak, due to the lack of exercise with the legs.
So, what is the biblical role of the pastor in the church? Paul is very specific about it. A pastor is to be a trainer and equip those who make up the church to carry out the work of ministry for the building up of the body. He says this in Ephesians 4:11-16: “And indeed, he gave apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints unto the work of ministry unto the building up of the body of Christ, until we all shall have attained unto the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fully grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we no longer will be infants, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of teaching in the cunning of men, in craftiness with a view to a system of error, but confessing the truth, we may in love grow up unto Him in all things, who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body is being joined and held together through every supporting joint according to the energy in the measure of each individual part, causing the growth of the body unto the building up of itself in love.”
So, a pastor’s job is to equip, to train, the people so that they can carry out the work of the ministry. The word translated “ministry” is the word from which we get our English word, “deacon.” The pastor is to train and equip the people so that through their carrying out of the ministry the body is built up and grows in love unto maturity.
What would people say if a teacher in school did all of the students’ homework? They would say things like, “That’s not right” and “How will students learn?” if the teacher does the homework. And they’d be correct. But that is very often what the approach and attitude is of what the pastor’s biblical role is, if the people see him/her as the one who is to see to the needs of the body.
When that is the case, the body becomes passive, just receiving, while rarely being active and actually ministering to others in the body. When that happens, a person’s significance in the body becomes negligible. No longer is there any type of value placed on being actively connected to the body. And when that value disappears, those people put their focus, energy, and time elsewhere.
And that’s why I truly believe that many in the two youngest adult generations have left the church in droves. They want to be significant. They want to make a difference. They want to be important to the health of something. But when the paradigm in the church is that it is the pastor who does the actual ministry of tending to the needs of the body and building it up, they haven’t found significance in being an active part of that church so they go elsewhere to other things where they hope to find it. And in my heart, I just cannot blame them.
So what happens when the expectation is that it is the pastor who will tend to the needs of the body? Those who want to be actively involved in significant ministry in and to the body go elsewhere, taking their energy and life with them. And that starts a march down a path that only leads to death. And there are many churches in the USA which are on that path.
How will that reality be changed? I believe it can only be changed by a changed perception and attitude of what the role of the pastor is. If the pastor is freed up to carry out his/her role of training and equipping the people for the carrying out of ministry and then frees them and empowers them to do so without coming along after them and just redoing what they have already done (because if it were me and the one who trained and equipped me came along after me doing again what I had just done, I’d quit doing it), then once again people will become active and find high value and significance in it because they are making a real difference and make being connected to the body a high priority. When this becomes not only the attitude, perspective, and paradigm, but also the reality, those who make up the body will once again be engaged, will be active, and will find significance in being an active member of the body.
But until then, the march toward death continues.
I am a pastor.