by: Rev. Ed Schneider
A few thousand years ago, there was an argument between two opposing factions within the tribes of Israel. It involved the concept, philosophy, structure and application of leadership within the “people of God.”
The folks in the north were absolutely convinced they needed a “leader” who would allow “the people” to vote on everything so that there would be a consensus of opinion and agreement prior to anything important being decided upon. The folks in the south were absolutely convinced that a singular king with final authority would be all that was needed, as long as he or she was carrying the obvious attributes of being chosen of God.
Truth be told, that 3,000 to 4,000-year-old argument was never really resolved to any degree of certainty, and in a real way, still rages today. This confusion over what God’s leadership should not only look like, but act like, has been passed on generation after generation.
Each side of these preferences of religious leadership continues a stalling and stagnating reality in the life of churches everywhere. It’s a challenge that cannot be ignored and needs to be directly dealt with for the betterment of the gracious mission placed on the life of God’s church. There are churches and religious organizations all across America in the process of transitioning into new and different leadership within their congregations. Some congregations are assigned new leadership while others go through a gut wrenching process that seems to drag on forever just to find anyone to “fill” the pulpit.
Just like the argument of ancient times regarding style and substance of religious leadership, we too are paying the price today for the misunderstanding of the term “servant leadership.” There continues to be an overwhelming reality of confusion in every denominational setting, every local church, and every sincere heart of lay leadership on how, who and what kind of leadership to search after. People are far too often confused about whether they should have the “spiritual mind-set” of hiring a minister or calling a pastor.
I suppose one of the first things we should establish is that when any church finds itself with a void in pastoral leadership it should profoundly realize there are three basic local congregational distinctions of clergy. They are (1) preacher, (2) minister, and (3) pastor. For simplicity, they may just quickly classify each under the following understanding:
A preacher is a man or a woman (there were any number of examples throughout both the Old and New Testaments where men and women were classified as preachers of God’s Word) who exhorts, uplifts, edifies and testifies through public and private verbal proclamations the what, who, why and how of God as described in Scripture and the world around us.
A minister is one that serves another. A minister is one that is called by God to care for the spiritual and practical needs of the people of God in a way that relieves, comforts, and enlivens each soul’s opportunity to get closer to God’s grace, power, mercy and joy.
A pastor, on the other hand, is one who has a broad-based responsibility of guiding, directing and securing the overall environment of the congregation as well as also accomplishing items 1 & 2.
The pastor certainly has the privilege to preach. The pastor certainly should have the heart to serve. However, the pastor’s role is far more expansive than that of a preacher. A. pastor is far more expansive than a generic minister. A pastor is the epitome of “servant leadership”.
A good pastor is first and foremost a servant leader. The pastor “serves” the congregation of believers as “leader”. The pastor is charged with board development, community relations, discipleship training, support ministry development, property acquisition or development, sermon preparation, counseling, softball games. barbecue picnics, baptisms, weddings, funerals, conflict resolution, lifting the down-trodden, challenging the haughty, sitting down the hypocrite, empowering the weak, supporting and expanding mission development as well as evangelizing each person, the congregation and the community. Of course, while this is going on there must still be time for study, growth, rest, fun, family and a vigorous prayer life.
Too many churches are missing great opportunities for growth because they still think they should be “hiring” a minister. Too many churches are missing great opportunities for growth because they confuse a “pastor” with a “preacher.” Some of the pastors I know are at best OK preachers. Some of the worst pastors I know are tremendous public speakers. Some of the greatest and most loving ”ministers” are severely lacking in leadership skills and visionary boldness and thereby are at best mediocre pastors.
Folks, we need to take a long look at our own perception of church leadership. We also need to take a long look at getting out of the way of new leadership so that they can have a clear view of what may be needed and what may need to be done to provide enhancements in the life and mission of each local congregation. You know the folks I’m talking about, don’t you? They are the ones who will only “accept” a pastor if he or she follows their personal agenda of church life. They will gleefully follow only if nothing changes and the status quo remains the same. Well, the truth is that if not much has changed at the local level in the last several years then change is probably long overdue.
If your local congregation is losing members due to death, anger, frustration, confusion, arguments, demographic shifts in population, etc., you need to get out of the way and get in line with divine opportunities for growth through servant LEADERSHIP.
If your local congregation is slowing in offerings, if your local congregation is slowing in outreach to the community that it sits in, if your local congregation could be doing far more than it has in any number of areas of kingdom-building, then maybe, just maybe, you might be in need of a pastor and NOT a preacher or a “hired” minister.
Just thought I would give my loyal readers something to think about. Hopefully, it won’t take another 3,000 to 4,000 years to come up with an appropriate answer.