Bottom line right here at the top: I don’t see the SBC solving this issue.
I commend the SBC Executive Committee and Baptist Press for attempting to clarify or at least give some background on a current controversial issue among us: What is a pastor? Praise to Jonathan Howe (EC VP for communications), EC Asso. VP for convention news Brandon Porter, and BP national correspondent Scott Barkley for the latest issue of the slick EC publication SBC Life which is mailed to me three times each year. All of the articles are accessible online at SBCLIFE.NET. [The publication is “slick,” my term for glossy because the paper is almost certainly made with Georgia kaolin, a white chalky clay mined near me. It’s a beauty product among other uses. Beauty eludes SBCLIFE this month but the end result is more attractive due to Georgia kaolin.]
What is a pastor? is the title of the magazine also the title of the lead article by Porter. Eight SBC pastors and theologians are quoted, listing many characteristics of a pastor: shepherding, teaching, oversight, leading, feeding, preaching, caring, disciplining, and others. Our common confessional document, The Baptist Faith and Message Statement, uses the term only twice and doesn’t define it. The BFM has a couple of dozen scriptures attached to its treatment of Article VI, The Church:
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
I am a pastor, not actively serving but retired. I have no issue with what any of the things written in the article or quotes by the various people. It is always helpful to hear people directly rather than be lectured to.
As church staffs grow, ministry leaders look to the Bible for titles. Article by Tobin Perry, longtime writer in SBC circles, ordained minister, former active “lead” pastor.
So, here we go. Tobin Perry is not just a writer but was a pastor, a “lead” pastor. Pastors quoted in the article include Steve Gaines, Darryl Jones, Juan Sanchez, and Herschel York each of whom carries the title in their churches as “senior” pastor. Mark Vance and Quintell Hill are also quoted and they carry the title of “lead” pastor.
All of this is fine with me. About half of American churches have a single clergy staff, probably just called the pastor. The rest have multiple clergy staff called a lot of things (including “elders” a thoroughly Biblical term, although not one much in use when I took my first church in1982).
I looked to the Bible for titles like “senior,” “lead,” and others. Nope. Nothing there. Look again for other common modifiers like “student,” “children’s,” “youth,” “worship,” “executive,” “lay,” “missions,” “discipleship,” “senior adult,” and others, the varieties are as endless as the imagination of churches and leaders. None of these are found in the Bible.
Special shout out for any savvy reader who can tell us how many times “pastor” is used in the Bible.
My view is that God in his wisdom gave us an incipient church two millennia ago and left it to us to fill out depending on the circumstances and eras, within certain restraints.
I subscribe to the BFM in its simple statement of the two scriptural officers of the church being pastors and deacons [and, as an aside, read SBCLIFE carefully and you will find open support for “deaconesses]. I join virtually all Southern Baptists in the acceptance of men as (ahem! here it comes!) senior, lead, main, or top pastor. Yes, I know it doesn’t say that. I consider it to have been common understanding at the time. Those who want greater clarity and would expand or amend the BFM, I suggest ignoring.
The idea of age specialists, ministry directors, and administrators of various areas of church work being a pastor and thus limited in gender, I reject. If a church wants to call their student person a pastor, fine. If that specialist is a female and thus acquires the title “pastor” fine also. I would probably not make that choice but I can live without purity in job titles. We cannot live with denominational vocabulary police examining all of our churches’ sub-staff titles, descriptions, and functions for gender acceptability.
To be candid, if we were going to reform this area of SBC church life the larger target would be ordained men who are called “a pastor” but who have very limited roles and nothing like the overall shepherding, preaching, and teaching role of one who is a pastor.
There are no female senior or lead pastors in the SBC (unless you find one or two in churches that have long since left the SBC but still, frustratingly, find themselves on the sbc.net church list). There’s broad agreement and unity among us on that, if not on various details and terminology for the wide range of staff.
Churches declare their stance on pastorship through ordination, article by Scott Barkley.
I’ll give Scott a trophy for understatement in this article. He writes, “There may be nuances related to ordination and how it is observed from one church to another, but the qualifications for the pastor role are crystal clear, said a collection of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders.” Nuances indeed.
But, there’s a large and obvious omission in this article. While the article helpfully provides views of ordination by several pastors and theologians, nowhere is it disclosed that the term fails to appear in the BFM. Not one time will you read about ordination in that document. Churches might declare their stance on pastorship through ordination but do so without being able to appeal to our common doctrinal confession.
I am ordained. Churches I have pastored have ordained both pastors and deacons. It was important to me and conveyed the gravity, responsibility, and seriousness of my calling. But, I agree with Jonathan Leeman who is quoted, ““It’s a contested term that we have inherited and brings a lot of baggage from medieval Catholicism,” he said. “It can unhelpfully communicate, as it were, a mystical mark on the soul that a man receives once for all, whether or not he’s in this church or that church.””
Indeed. It can be messy. Next issue maybe SBCLIFE could address ordination as “gun for hire” or ordination as a brag-point for large churches, or seen as inherited or conveyed virtue by the ordinand upon whose shaved head some megacelebrity pastor placed his hand.
The newly introduced concept of a pastor having church wide pastoral responsibilities. In an attempt to clarify this business of staff pastors as real pastors and, thus, necessarily male, some have begun to say that a staff pastor with church wide responsibilities is indeed a biblical “pastor” and should never be a female. In this regard, the titles we customarily use for staff “pastors” argue against their being real pastors. If your job is children, youth, administrative, music the limits are expressed. There is some room for argument here but passionately declaring a dog to be a cat doesn’t move the animal from canine to feline. Same for sub-pastors.
There is a long list of titles and responsibilities and descriptions and functions of a pastor sprinkled around these few articles. But no one want to ask exactly what an “executive pastor” pastors, or a “worship pastor” pastors, or a “lay pastor” pastors. The term is fungible. We stick it here or there at times because we want to convey importance of the task or of the individual. “Pastor” just sounds more important than “director.”
And in SBC churches we’ve always played games with job titles. Call the student minister a “pastor” if they are male but change the job title to “director” if they are female.
As an example, one pastor in the article described his church’s process of first “hiring” a female children’s ministry “director” but when the job got to the place where they “needed a children and family pastor” the woman quit so a man could be hired. A pastor. Odd, although I’m a true believer in local churches making whatever arrangements they wish in this regard. I can see the distinctions that the senior pastor made in his explanation of the scenario. I cannot see the association, state convention, or SBC credentials committee making a detailed examination over it if the church had gone through the same process and ended up with a woman as director or even pastor over children in the church. Let the local church make their decisions.
The Executive Committee addresses, tries to tackle this business of “what is a pastor?” Well done. But not brought to ground.
There are a thousand other points to be made and probably a thousand ways my views can be critized. I care not, am retired, and seek only the approval of the other two residents of my domicile – my wife and cat. I’m halfway there, brethren..
I’m not an academic. The subject and explanations don’t have to be locked down, air tight, to suit my purposes. Feel free to disagree in a civil manner. I can cope with my SBC colleagues disagreeing with me.
In regard to our Grand Old SBC, my wish would be that we let the autonomous churches make these decisions. We agree on the main points. If we are propelled down the road of policing vocabulary or job titles, or job descriptions, we will run off a cliff. My fear is that we will end up with another of these “declarations” which are never adopted by the SBC and which are the product of a handful of self-important SBC oligarchs who want to impose on the entire denominational machinery. Phooey on those. (But if you need a good title, I’d suggest “The Armageddon Declaration” because it would blow up our cooperative enterprise.
Naturally, this is too long of an article for anyone to read. I figure a smart guy could chop it up into maybe 50 tweets and really make people mad. I could do a podcast but I’d have to get a haircut and get a funky T-shirt.
Read the SBCLIFE magazine. It’s free. It’s online. It is a good effort and we usually ignore the things that need to be talked-about.
Go Dawgs! I’m not a betting man but I read that if you bet $100,000 on UGA to win against Vandy, and UGA wins, you make $100. Nuts.
[I’ll predict that this piece gets single digit number of comments.]