Christianity 201

August 24, 2021

Long Distance Pastors

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
 – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

Last night at suppertime for the entire meal, the discussion around our table centered around a West Coast pastor who is planting a church in the Great Lakes region. I know this pastor, follow him on Twitter, and have read and reviewed his books. I understand how people gravitate to his style of teaching.

Most of what we call church growth is actually transfer growth. While some people say the one area of true growth is in fact, new church plants, most of the people supporting this new venture will be leaving another church. Were they planning this, or it more of a desire to be part of something new and fresh? Were they serving in their former congregation and are now leaving a vacancy? The launch meetings for the new church are free, but are ticketed events, which are sold out. What will be the impact on nearby churches?
It also amazes me that his West Coast leaders would sense a need in a place which, a century ago, was called “a city of churches.”

Many of our modern translations render the word pastor as shepherd. The requirements of pastors (plural) are therefore the requirements of shepherds (singular). The leadership of the multi-site church launching half a continent away would argue that there are local shepherds in place who will tend the flock. But it’s the teaching pastor who will ultimately draw many people to the church.

I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.
 – Jeremiah 23:4 NIV [The NKJV, ESV and others render missing as lacking.]

One person said that the best small groups are those where you can’t actually tell who is in charge. While that may work for small groups, and while churches with a plurality of leadership are often good and healthy, it’s clear that God’s intention is that in each local expression of the body of Christ, there is someone who is “over them.”

By separating out the roles of teaching pastors from the scriptural idea of shepherds we create situations such as exist in several megachurches in the southern U.S., where after 5-10 years of attending, it occurs to people that they’ve never met their lead pastor, shaken his hand or exchanged any words. Further, these pastors don’t do weddings, funerals, home visits or hospital visits.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.
 – Acts 20:28 CSB

For many years we were part of a church where the pastor excelled at teaching, but also was diligent about staying in touch with people through various contexts. Granted, it was a smaller church, but I always felt that his mid-week contacts earned him the right to be heard on Sunday mornings. I felt his intimate knowledge of the congregation informed his preaching. It made what would have been good scripture exposition better.

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you knowledge and understanding.
 – Jeremiah 3:15

That’s just not possible when you have delegated funeral, wedding and visitation responsibilities to other staff members, although in the case of my West Coast example, he does seem to be able to have those interactions there, but I’m not sure how he replicates this when the other church is thousands of miles away.

Furthermore, I Peter 5:2 seems to indicate that this should be the desire of the pastor. The same character traits and attributes which flow through their DNA in the calling to this service, should also apply to their willingness to embed themselves in the life of their flock for the period where they serve that particular church, in that particular place for that particular time. Peter writes,

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
– I Peter 5:1-14

Elsewhere, as in I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 we see the more commonly discussed requirements of church leaders (elders) which includes pastors. There is a strong emphasis in those passages on character and ethics. But today, I wanted to focus entirely on the idea of pastors having a heart for individual people, not crowds, and a deep working knowledge of their situations and the issues which are on their minds.

Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds

Be diligent to know the state of your flocks,
And attend to your herds
– Proverbs 27:23 ESV and NKJV

There’s nothing wrong with sitting under the best Christian Bible exposition that is available, but we mustn’t confuse this with the role of pastor, which isn’t something which can be done long-distance.

 

 

 

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