While trying to wrestle with a friend’s question about pastoral ministry, I began thinking along the lines of this illustration. I share it here because it might be useful to you. If it’s not, then feel free to have the same old argument about everything in the comments. Here’s some words to help you with that: alcohol, Calvin, Conservative Resurgence, Great Commission Giving, Women, Trustees, Yankees, SEC (not the government agency).
I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning pondering what it is to pastor a normal-sized Southern Baptist Church. Actually, we’re on the high side of normal, but about 80% of Southern Baptist-affiliated churches run our size or smaller (based on the cool information-display thing the Caskey Center was handing out at #SBCAM18hashtagSBC18). So, I’ll claim normal status for us. All the statistics you see, all the proclamations from on high lead one to believe that churches like this are doomed. We need to either adopt the latest and greatest new craze or go back to the old ways, and that will save us. Perhaps we need to become satellite locations of the regional mega-franchise, or join a better network, or show up for another round of meetings that simply rehash what the last half-dozen meetings were about, and that will get us on the right track. Who on earth knows? For every expert opinion, there’s an expert opinion on its wrongness. For every success story of implementing New Program A, there’s a church that invested a chunk of time and money into New Program A and now has a closet full of unused material from it. (For the record: if you are looking for lost treasures of the Bible, check the average Baptist church closet. There’s got to be some real relics in there. I found a new-in-box CWT kit one time.)
All this pondering has me back to this question: where have we gone wrong? And what is the Biblical model that we’re missing? We have leadership consultants, preaching consultants, growth consultants. The aim is to make pastors better at everything.
And I think that this is part of our problem: in the bulk of our churches, pastors are trying to do everything. Some of us are trying to do everything because we’re control freaks and dictators. Some of us are trying to do everything because not enough others step up and do. Some of us are trying to do everything because we perceive that to be the expectation of the church we are accountable to (perhaps because it’s written that way in the church’s by-laws). We shouldn’t be.
If we take as an illustration the Parable of the Banquet in Matthew 22, what can we see about service in the church? Now, traditionally, we keep the focus of interpretation on the evangelistic bent of the parable, and I do not intend to argue with that. Rather, I want us to contemplate banquets. Since Jesus uses a banquet as an image of eternity, it is perhaps also a valid image for us to think about the church. Let’s take it as one:
When you contract with someone to prepare a banquet, typically you engage a team of people to do the work. Some of the team are good at decoration; some are good at table settings and arrangements; others make salads; some make drinks (SWEET TEA AND LEMONADE, YOU HEATHENS!); some make desserts; some cook main dishes and others vegetables. True, there is one person responsible for coordinating it all, but that person does not accomplish it all. He may even be hopelessly incompetent at salad preparation! (If you have me do your banquet, you’re getting the salad-in-a-bag from Sam’s Club.)
At the moment of your banquet, the success is based on every person doing well what they are good at, what they are trained to do, and what they are assigned to do. If the steak-griller insists on meddling with the salad-makers, then you’ll have burnt steaks and meddled salads, causing a problem in both areas. Where, though, do you assign your best person? Salads or steaks?
It’s a nonsense question. You assign someone gifted with steak to steaks, and the one gifted with salads to salad. Likewise with desserts, drinks (TEA AND LEMONADE!), decorations… (and training applies the same way.) If you took someone who was a genius at preparing desserts and stationed them grilling steaks because you think the most important person should be doing steaks, then you may have frustrated the whole process. Further, each person needs to be valued for what they bring–and celebrated for what they do rather than belittled for what they do not do.
The work of the local church is not unlike the banquet preparation: there is plenty of work to be done, and plenty of people to do it. But we get wrapped up in expecting folks to fill responsibilities outside of their skillset, giftings, and training. We make a specific spot, like preaching, out to be the most important possible thing to do in the church–and then we expect someone who is skilled with that to also be skilled with a dozen other tasks. Or to split his attention among those dozen other tasks which he’s really not good at! Meanwhile, we sideline someone who would be good at encouraging the fellowship of the church because she’s not a preacher, so we do not let her lead out in developing ways that we do that whole “encourage one another daily” concept.
In keeping with the illustration, we take the person who is supposed to be working the grill and insist that he grill and bump the salad person out of the way, fiddle with the desserts, and decorate the room. Meanwhile, the grill is not being used well. And then the banquet is unsuccessful because one person cannot do everything and do it all well.
But we operate our churches this way, expecting someone to be both a great teacher and great organizer, not stopping to consider that a great teacher may need someone to do the organizing–and that the church must value each one equally. Perhaps this is our drawback? We continue to structure our churches in a way that puts a single person at the head, involved in everything, whether or not his gifts, training, and personality are equal to it all. And believe they: he’s not up to the whole task.
Yes, there are definite aspects of pastoring: if a man cannot preach at all, then someone else must take up the pastorate of that church. But is there no room for the pastor of moderate preaching who organizes well and empowers others to service? Or for the pastor who preaches and teaches well, but needs others to wrestle the administrative and even long-term leadership ideas of the church?
I am not advocating giving license to sloth in the work, but in the coming years it may behoove us to rethink our approach to church leadership. I firmly believe every church needs a trained, growing-in-experience pastor who handles the Word of God rightly. But not every man who fits that bill will also be a lively, outgoing, people-person who is great with all the other aspects we’ve attached. And we need to not belittle those who handle the other parts of leading the church but instead find a way forward that celebrates and engages all the gifts God has given in His people.