THE UNBIBLICAL CALLING OF THE PASTOR

How would you respond if asked, “What does Dr. Pepper taste like?” It’s hard to answer, because Dr. Pepper’s taste is the result of a blend, a marvelous blend mind you, of 23 flavors. And while the blend of flavors for this “DP” is outright amazing, there is another “DP” whose blend of flavors is downright stressing. I’m talking about what I like to call the “Deacon-Pastor,” a completely fabricated term, but a totally realistic thing, although it shouldn’t be.

You’re probably asking, “What is a Deacon-Pastor?” A “Deacon-Pastor” is an unbiblical hybrid position that merges the biblical responsibilities of the deacon and the pastor. The result is an expectation for the pastor to perform the responsibilities of both the pastor and the deacon, but often results in him not being able to do either.

Unlike Dr. Pepper, this is a dangerous concoction of flavors.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DEACON

The “deacon” is first found in Acts 6, when a complaint arose in the church over the neglect of widows in the daily serving of food. The twelve disciples called the church together and requested that they select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who could be put in charge of the task.

And thus the deacon was created, or at least the proto-type. In fact, the English phrase translated “serve tables” in Greek is diakonia, which is the same word used in 1 Timothy 3 for the English word translated “deacon.”

What’s interesting about the Acts 6 episode is that a strong distinction is made between the responsibilities of the twelve disciples and the seven men of good reputation. Of course the twelve disciples aren’t suggesting that they are better than the seven men of good reputation, only that they have a different responsibility, one that should not be jeopardized.

The responsibility is clearly laid out in their response to the complainers: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The word “desirable” implies that it wasn’t “proper” or “right” that they sacrifice their study time to serve tables. It’s almost as if the very thought of adding extra “flavors,” regardless of their importance, is morally wrong for the early church pastor. While it’s obvious that both studying God’s Word and serving tables are important, the response highlights the disciples’ calling to focus on God’s Word, and, for fear of diluting that, it wasn’t wise to to even consider doing both. So they delegated the responsibility to a newly formed role–the deacon. And if this isn’t clear enough, after implementing the deacon role, they said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).

In other words, the disciples emphasized their God-ordained responsibility both before and after their command to create deacons.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PASTOR

The disciples were essentially the pastors of the early church, and thus the modern day pastor’s primary responsibility is biblically outlined as “praying and studying God’s Word.” And, likewise, the deacon’s primary responsibility is outlined too, which is to serve the needs of the congregation, especially the widows.

One focuses on the spiritual and the other on the physical. Together, both needs are met, the latter delegated so that the pastor’s responsibilities aren’t threatened.

But somehow, somewhere, the church reverted back to pre-Acts 6 and started expecting its pastors to wear a myriad of ecumenical hats. On top of prayer and studying for sermons, (and note that “sermons” is plural), the pastor is expected to do things like visit hospitals, homes, nursing homes, cast visions, implement new ministries, develop missional strategies, and sometimes even water the flowers.

This isn’t to say, of course, that a pastor shouldn’t visit. And it’s certainly not to say that he is too good to water the flowers (I’ve been there). By all means, a pastor ought to do these things if necessary. It is to say, however, that the expectation of doing this on a daily and weekly basis is, for the pastor, biblically unwarranted. And perhaps even egregiously sinful. Yet, many churches expect their pastors to do just that. It might even be in their job descriptions.

Biblically, there are certain “flavors” that belong to things like the deacon ministry, not the pastoral ministry. This frees the pastor to seek the Lord through prayer and study, instead of tying him down to what might well be described as public relations. One focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of the church, while the other focuses on meeting the physical needs. Both are good, but the pastor is called to do the former over the latter. Demanding that he do both is like adding uncomplimentary flavors to God’s recipe for the pastor.

TOO MANY FLAVORS

The unbiblical “Deacon-Pastor” is, I believe, one of the greatest reasons for pastoral burnout.One source cites that 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of their job, and that upwards of 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout. 

Suffice it to say that many churches are decorated with the tread marks of burnt out pastors.

Pastors are often hired with the expectation of performing all of the ecumenical roles laid out in Scripture, although Scripture clearly details that even the twelve disciples–the guys that walked and talked with Jesus–were incapable of such a feat.

These guys could cast out demons and heal the lame, but they couldn’t serve tables alongside their prayer and Bible study.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the church that cultivates this mentality, it’s also sometimes, of all people, the pastor. Many pastors turn Acts 6 upside down by choosing to focus on everything else besides prayer and Bible study, such as chasing ambulances or honing leadership skills, both of which are good, but secondary things.

If the pastor says it’s okay to dilute prayer and study in exchange for serving tables, then we can’t blame the church when they expect the same.

As a pastor, I must confess that I find myself the most profitable whenever the church cultivates an environment for me to spend more time in prayer and in God’s Word. I’m less stressed, less overwhelmed, and, more importantly, I’m able to do precisely what I’ve been called to do, which is preach the word.

This is, as the old adage says, the epitome of quality over quantity, and it’s a far more refreshing beverage!

Comments

  1. William Thornton says

    There are differences between you and me and the twelve disciples – they were apostles and they only related to an incipient church. We aren’t apostles, we relate to an organized church. While I like your thoughts and the general principle that you attempt to outline on ministerial roles, they are standard fare for pastor-church-deacon relations, I’d note that we can come across as lazy and whinny if we’re not careful. I’ve been around too many pastor, too many deacons, and too many other laypeople to swallow your piece whole.

    I get your point. Some churches and pastors value busyness over prayer, sermon prep, and Bible study. The pastor devalues his own time if he neglects the latter activities for other things. I wouldn’t conclude that you fit here, but one of the ways a lazy pastor justifies his lack of accountability and failure to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities is to try a spiritualize bad work habits in the way you outline above.

    It is not unbiblical for the pastor to be a servant. He just needs to pay attention to the balance of responsibilities.

  2. says

    “It is not unbiblical for the pastor to be a servant. He just needs to pay attention to the balance of responsibilities.”

    Thanks William. This statement articulates the mood of the post. And you’re right, such posts can come across as justification for laziness, which is why I did my best to make sure and mention that I do think pastors should visit, and that I do my best, as a pastor, to visit.

  3. Tim Scott says

    This is a great article. It often amazes me, that so many churches exchange the positions, i.e. they want their deacons to be overseers/elders and their elders/pastors to be deacons. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus also reinforce your assertions from the book of Acts about the Pastors/Elders duties. I pray no pastor will ever be/become lazy in their work but let us not continue to perpetuate a culture whereby we are placing requirements upon a pastor than what are biblically mandated. Once again Jared, this is a great article.

    • Dave Miller says

      That’s a pretty good point, Tim.

      My first pastorate was in a smaller church where the deacons actually saw themselves as something of an elder board. They’d have never admitted that nor used that term, but they exerted oversight in an elder fashion. and the pastor was expected to do all the kinds of things that the Seven did in Acts 6.

      A sort of role-reversal.

      • Tim Scott says

        Thanks Dave. My first church was very much the same way. Everything had to be approved by the Deacon Board before anything could be done at the church. While these men were great and godly men, it was definitely not something that I would want to repeat in my pastoral lifetime (by God’s grace).

  4. Christiane says

    “I WILL GIVE YOU SHEPHERDS AFTER MY OWN HEART’

    from PHILIPPIANS chapter 2, this:
    “3 [Let] nothing [be done] through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
    4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
    5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
    6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
    7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
    8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
    9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
    10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth;
    11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

  5. Tim B says

    I would like to offer a slight redirection. The phrase “and thus the modern day pastor’s primary responsibility is biblically outlined as “praying and studying God’s Word.”” is not exactly what the disciples outlined as their role. They said, ““But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (nasb)” (The word ministry could modify both prayer and “the word.”) They were not asking for more time in the study. They were asking to be freed from a service role so that they might have more time carry out the two essential ministries of the pastor which are the ministries of the Word and prayer. The ministry of the Word and prayer were not only private ministries but were public ministries in temple and from house to house every day, not just twice a week. The ministry of the Word was also done daily in synagogues, the marketplace and on the streets. They undoubtedly visited the sick and the widows to minister the Word and prayer. A case for more Bible study time on the part of the preacher might be made but the idea that some have conveyed that the preacher’s primary responsibility is to prepare in his study for hours on end only to emerge twice a week for 30 minutes cannot be found in this passage.

    Just as the church sometimes tends to hang deacon responsibilities on the pastor, sometimes pastors try to hang pastoral duties on deacons. Pastors who ask deacons to take over hospital, evangelistic, ministry and sick visits are abdicating the ministry of the Word and prayer. These are ministerial functions. If one pastor can’t make all these kinds of visits then the church needs more ministers not more deacons. He should ask his deacons should shuttle folks to and from the hospital, organize meals for the sick or bereaved, handle benevolence, perhaps sit with the family at the hospital, and mow the lawn for widows. These kinds of functions are functions of service and in keeping with the responsibility delegated in Acts 6.

    • Tim Scott says

      Tim B. you have an excellent point there. To that end, I think this shows the weakness of the single elder/pastor model.

  6. says

    Great post, so often churches expect the pastor to be at every funeral, birthday, open house, hospital visit, new baby, new pet, first haircut, flat tire (ok, I am exaggerating a little, but not much). Ministry is a job that requires more hats than people can keep upright. I have noticed that most pastors who focus on the Deacon’s job suffer in the sermon, Bible study, prayer and personal devotion. It’s a bad sacrifice to make.

  7. says

    There are tragically too many churches that have somewhere along the way gotten confused on the proper rolls of the Pastor/Deacon church model, that is true. As has been delineated in this thread it has produced a tremendous amount of controversy and hard feeling with the fellowship. In the wake of this I have noticed that many sharp young pastors opt not to even consider pastoring a church that has a “history”. This is certainly understandable. Who needs it?

    However, in many situations in small communities this is about the only witness in that community. When sharp pastors seek other miniseries in which they do not have to deal with this, that witness is left to continue to die on the vine.

    I long for the day when these churches are seen as ministry opportunities. Opportunities for a pastor to go in and patiently teach the church the better model. This is a win win situation.

  8. says

    In many respects we tend to take secular ideas of organizational leadership and assign offices or roles mentioned in the Bible to the slots of those leadership roles.

    For example, the deacons are like the board of directors and the Pastor is like the CEO. In this false model, the deacons hire the CEO to get the job done and the deacons sit back and make sure he gets it done. if he doesn’t, it’s time to find a new one.

    You can have a franchise model where the deacons or council members represent the “customers” and the pastor is a manager sent by the owners. This false model is often used by quasi-hierarchical denominations.

    Another example is the priest model which is more like the RCC. Very hierarchical. Everything is dictated and leaders in the congregations step up to get things done. If they don’t the priest has to do it. But the priest’s primary responsibility is to administer rites. Some element of this filters down into Protestant churches. The Bible clearly states that for the NT Church, all the sacraments and ordinances are to be handled only by a priest, right? No.

    I am concerned that a single pastor is typically called on to do far more than any one person is gifted to accomplish. A mouth has no business trying to be a heart. A heart has no business trying to walk around. Legs have no business trying to hear (unless the body of Christ is that of a grasshopper). There are people who aren’t pastors precisely because they aren’t gifted to do the things that pastors shouldn’t be doing anyway, but are typically expected to do. The pastor should never be a hired hand although he should be compensated where possible. But if we think our tithing ends with merely giving 10% of our money, we have the Christian life wrong. While a church needs a pastor, no church can survive without her members bearing the ministry of the church as fellow servants alongside him according to the gifts they have been given.

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