At some point, we will have to move forward and leave behind the spectator sport that is the modern institutional church. How can we be satisfied with coming to a building, singing, putting money on a plate, hearing a sermon, and then going home? As a churchgoer, I did my best to stay enthusiastic about the "go to church" experience. The Bible teaches that we are the Church (ekklesia). Sitting passively in a pew while only a select few (clergy) exercise their gifts was never prescribed in the Bible, and for a good reason. One of the reasons is that the least effective method of long-term retention is the sermon method. When an individual stands before a group of people and gives a sermon, the amount of instruction retained is only around 5%. I have several Christian friends that go to church. Occasionally I will ask them, "how was the church on Sunday?" Most of the time, the church experience is usually described by how well the pastor's sermon was. The typical response is, "church was good; the pastor brought a good sermon." My answer is, "that's wonderful; tell me about the sermon." It is at this point that I usually get the deer in headlights look. My friends that know me are well aware of the fact that I am making, and so they laugh it off and we begin discussing other things.
Have you ever noticed that none of the epistles written in the NT ever greet or address a pastor? Wouldn't we expect that when Paul, Peter, James, John, or Jude wrote an epistle exhorting the ekklesia (church), they would have addressed 'the Pastor' someplace in their writings? Isn't the pastor supposed to be in charge of the flock? The Lord Jesus never addresses a pastor in His admonishments to the seven churches in the book of Revelations.
THE PASTOR: OBSTACLE TO EVERY-MEMBER FUNCTIONING by Frank Viola. The following is excerpted from Chapter 5 of Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Bold emphasis is mine.
"It is a universal tendency in the Christian religion, as in many other religions, to give a theological interpretation to institutions which have developed gradually through a period of time for the sake of practical usefulness, and then read that interpretation back into the earliest periods and infancy of these institutions, attaching them to an age when in fact nobody imagined that they had such a meaning."—RICHARD HANSON, TWENTIETH-CENTURY PATRISTIC SCHOLAR
He is the fundamental figure of the Protestant faith. So prevailing is the pastor in the minds of most Christians that he is often better known, more highly praised, and more heavily relied upon than Jesus Christ Himself!
Remove the pastor and most Protestant churches would be thrown into a panic. Remove the pastor, and Protestantism as we know it would die. The pastor is the dominating focal point, mainstay, and centerpiece of the contemporary church. He is the embodiment of Protestant Christianity.
But here is the profound irony. There is not a single verse in the entire New Testament that supports the existence of the modern-day pastor! He simply did not exist in the early church.
Note that we are using the term pastor throughout this chapter to depict the contemporary pastoral office and role, not the specific individual who fills this role. By and large, those who serve in the office of pastor are wonderful people. They are honorable, decent, and very often gifted Christians who love God and have a zeal to serve His people. But it is the role they fill that both Scripture and church history are opposed to.
THE PASTOR IS IN THE BIBLE ... RIGHT?
The word pastors does appear in the New Testament:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. (EPHESIANS 4:11, NASB)
The following observations are to be made about this text.
> This is the only verse in the entire New Testament where the word pastor is used. One solitary verse is a mighty scanty piece of evidence on which to hang the Protestant faith! In this regard, there seems to be more biblical authority for snake handling (see Mark 16:18 and Acts 28:3-6) than there is for the present-day pastor. Roman Catholics have made the same error with the word priest. You can find the word priest used in the New Testament three times. In every case, it refers to all Christians.'
> The word is used in the plural. It is pastors. This is significant. For whoever these "pastors" are, they are plural in the church, not singular. Consequently, there is no biblical support for the practice of sofa pastora (single pastor).
> The Greek word translated pastors is poimen. It means shepherds. (Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd.) Pastor, then, is a metaphor to describe a particular function in the church. It is not an office or a title.' A first-century shepherd had nothing to do with the specialized and professional sense it has come to have in contemporary Christianity. Therefore, Ephesians 4:11 does not envision a pastoral office, but merely one of many functions in the church. Shepherds are those who naturally provide nurture and care for God's sheep. It is a profound error, therefore, to confuse shepherds with an office or title as is commonly conceived today.'
> At best, Ephesians 4:11 is oblique. It offers absolutely no definition or description of who pastors are. It simply mentions them. Regrettably, we have filled this word with our own Western concept of what a pastor is. We have read our idea of the contemporary pastor back into the New Testament. Never would any first-century Christian have conceived of the contemporary pastoral office!
Richard Hanson observes, "For us the words bishops, presbyters, and deacons are stored with the associations of nearly two thousand years. For the people who first used them, the titles of these offices can have meant little more than inspectors, older men and helpers. It was when unsuitable theological significance began to be attached to them that the distortion of the concept of Christian ministry began."'
First-century shepherds were the local elders (presbyters) and overseers of the church. Their function was at odds with the contemporary pastoral role.
WHERE DID THE PASTOR COME FROM?
If contemporary pastors were absent from the early church, where did they come from? And how did they rise to such a prominent position in the Christian faith? The roots of this tale are tangled and complex, and they reach as far back as the fall of man.
With the Fall came an implicit desire in people to have a physical leader to bring them to God. For this reason, human societies throughout history have consistently created a special caste of revered religious leaders. The medicine man, the shaman, the rhapsodist, the miracle worker, the witch doctor, the soothsayer, the wise man, and the priest have all been with us since Adam's blunder." And this person is always marked by special training, special garb, a special vocabulary, and a special way of life."
We can see this instinct rear its ugly head in the history of ancient Israel. It made its first appearance during the time of Moses. Two servants of the Lord, Eldad and Medad, received God's Spirit and began to prophesy. In hasty response, a young zealot urged Moses to "restrain them" (Numbers 11:26-28, NASB). Moses reproved the young suppressor saying he wished all of God's people could prophesy. Moses had set himself against a clerical spirit that had tried to control God's people.
We see it again when Moses ascended Mount Horeb. The people wanted Moses to be a physical mediator between them and God because they feared a personal relationship with the Almighty (Exodus 20:19).
This fallen instinct made another appearance during the time of Samuel. God wanted His people to live under His direct headship. But Israel clamored for a human king instead (1 Samuel 8:19).
The seeds of the contemporary pastor can even be detected in the New Testament era. Diotrephes, who "love[d] to have the preeminence" in the church, illegitimately took control of its affairs (3 John9-10). In addition, some scholars have suggested that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans that Jesus condemns in Revelation 2:6 is a reference to the rise of an early clergy.'
Alongside humanity's fallen quest for a human spiritual mediator is the obsession with the hierarchical form of leadership. All ancient cultures were hierarchical in their social structures to one degree or another. Regrettably, the post apostolic Christians adopted and adapted these structures into their church life.
(Click here for the in-depth historical detail of where the pastor came from. Listed next is the summary offered at the end of the book).
The Single Bishop (predecessor of the contemporary pastor.)—Ignatius of Antioch in early second century. Ignatius's model of one-bishop rule did not prevail in the churches until the third century.
The "Covering" Doctrine—Cyprian of Carthage, a former pagan orator. Revived under Juan Carlos Ortiz from Argentina and the "Fort Lauderdale Five" from the United States, creating the so-called "Shepherding-Discipleship Movement" in the 1970s.
Hierarchical Leadership—Brought into the church by Constantine in the fourth century. This was the leadership style of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.
Clergy and Laity—The word laity first appears in the writings of Clement of Rome (d.100). Clergy first appears in Tertullian. By the third century, Christian leaders were universally called clergy.
Contemporary Ordination—Evolved from the second century to the fourth. It was taken from the Roman custom of appointing men to civil office. The idea of the ordained minister as the "holy man of God" can be traced to Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Chrysostom.
The Title "Pastor"—Catholic priests who became Protestant ministers were not universally called pastors until the eighteenth century under the influence of Lutheran Pietists.
HOW THE PASTORAL ROLE DAMAGES BODY LIFE
Let's shift our attention to the practical effects that a pastor has on the people of God.
Tremendous psychological factors make laypeople feel that ministry is the responsibility of the pastor. It's his job. He's the expert is often their thinking. The New Testament word for minister is diakonos. It means "servant." But this word has been distorted because men have professionalized the ministry. We have taken the word minister and equated it with the pastor, with no scriptural justification whatsoever. In like manner, we have mistakenly equated preaching and ministry with the pulpit sermon, again without biblical justification.
The unscriptural clergy/laity distinction has done untold harm to the body of Christ. It has divided the believing community into first-and second-class Christians. The clergy/laity dichotomy perpetuates an awful falsehood—namely, that some Christians are more privileged than others to serve the Lord.
The one-man ministry is entirely foreign to the New Testament, yet we embrace it while it suffocates our functioning. We are living stones, not dead ones. However, the pastoral office has transformed us into stones that do not breathe.
Permit us to get personal. We believe the pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a full member of Christ's body. It has distorted the reality of the body, making the pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear. It has rendered you a mute spectator who is proficient at taking sermon notes and passing an offering plate. To put this tragedy in the form of a biblical question, "And if they were all one member, where would the body be?" (1 Corinthians 12:19, NKJV).
But that is not all. The modern-day pastoral office has over-thrown the main thrust of the letter to the Hebrews—the ending of the old priesthood. It has made ineffectual the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14, that every member has both the right and the privilege to minister in a church meeting. It has voided the message of 1 Peter 2 that every brother and sister is a functioning priest.
Being a functioning priest does not mean that you may only perform highly restrictive forms of ministry like singing songs in your pew, raising your hands during worship, setting up the PowerPoint presentation, or teaching a Sunday school class. That is not the New Testament idea of ministry! These are mere aids for the pastor's ministry. As one scholar put it, "Much Protestant worship, up to the present day, has also been infected by an overwhelming tendency to regard worship as the work of the pastor (and perhaps the choir) with the majority of the laity having very little to do but sing a few hymn sand listen in a prayerful and attentive way."'"
We expect doctors and lawyers to serve us, not to train us to serve others. And why? Because they are the experts. They are trained professionals. Unfortunately, we look upon the pastor in the same way. All of this does violence to the fact that every believer is a priest. Not only before God, but to one another.
But there is something more. The contemporary pastorate rivals the functional headship of Christ in His church. It illegitimately holds the unique place of centrality and headship among God's people, a place that is reserved for only one Person--the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ is the only head over a church and the final word to it.'" By his office, the pastor displaces and supplants Christ's headship by setting himself up as the church's human head.
For this reason, nothing so hinders the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose as does the present-day pastoral role. Why? Because that purpose is centered on making Christ's headship visibly manifested in the church through the free, open, mutually participatory, every-member functioning of the body. As long as the pastoral office is present in a particular church, that church will have a slim chance of witnessing such a glorious thing.
HOW THE PASTOR DAMAGES HIMSELF
The contemporary pastor not only does damage to God's people, he does damage to himself. The pastoral office has a way of chewing up many who come within its parameters. Depression, burnout, stress, and emotional breakdown occur at abnormally high rates among pastors. At the time of this writing, there are reportedly more than 500,000 paid pastors serving churches in the United States.'" Among this massive number of religious professionals, consider the following statistics that testify to the lethal danger of the pastoral office:
> 94 percent feel pressured to have an ideal family.
> 90 percent work more than forty-six hours a week.
> 81 percent say they have insufficient time with their spouses.
> 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively.
> 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend.
> 70 percent have lower self-esteem than when they entered the ministry.
> 50 percent feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
> 80 percent are discouraged or deal with depression.
> More than 40 percent report that they are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and unrealistic expectations.
> 33 percent consider pastoral ministry an outright hazard to the family.
> 33 percent have seriously considered leaving their position in the past year.
> 40 percent of pastoral resignations are due to burnout.
Most pastors are expected to juggle sixteen major tasks at once. And many crumble under the pressure. For this reason, 1,400 ministers in all denominations across the United States are fired or forced to resign each month. Over the past twenty years, the average length of a pastorate has declined from seven years to just over four years!
Unfortunately, few pastors have connected the dots to discover that it is their office that causes this underlying turbulence. Simply put: Jesus Christ never intended any person to sport all the hats a present-day pastor is expected to wear. He never intended anyone person to bear such a load.
The demands of the pastorate are crushing; they will drain any mortal dry. Imagine for a moment that you were working for a company that paid you on the basis of how good you made your people feel. What if your pay depended on how entertaining you were, how friendly you were, how popular your wife and children were, how well-dressed you were, and how perfect your behavior was?
Can you imagine the unmitigated stress this would cause you? Can you see how such pressure would force you into playing a pretentious role—all to keep your authority, your prestige, and your job security? (For this reason, many pastors are resistant to receiving any kind of help.)
The pastoral profession dictates standards of conduct like any other profession, whether it be teacher, doctor, or lawyer. The profession dictates how pastors are to dress, speak, and act. This is one of the major reasons why many pastors live very artificial lives.
In this regard, the pastoral role fosters dishonesty. Congregants expect their pastor to always be cheerful, completely spiritual, and available at a moment's call. They also expect that he will have a perfectly disciplined family. Furthermore, he should never appear resentful or bitter. Many pastors take to this role like actors in a Greek drama.
Based on the scores of personal testimonies we have heard from erstwhile pastors, many—if not most—pastors cannot stay in their office without being corrupted on some level. The power-politics endemic to the office is a huge problem that isolates many of them and poisons their relationship with others.
In an insightful article to pastors entitled "Preventing clergy burnout," the author suggests something startling. His advice to pastors gives us a clear peek into the power-politics that goes with the pastorate. He implores pastors to "fellowship with clergy of other denominations. These persons cannot harm you ecclesiastically, because they are not of your official circle. There is no political string they can pull to undo you."
Professional loneliness is another virus that runs high among pastors. The lone-ranger plague drives some ministers into other careers. It drives others into crueler fates.
All of these pathologies find their root in the history of the pastorate. It is "lonely at the top" because God never intended for anyone to be at the top—except His Son! In effect, the present-day pastor tries to shoulder the fifty-eight New Testament "one another" exhortations all by himself. It is no wonder that many of them get crushed under the weight.
The contemporary pastor is the most unquestioned fixture in twenty-first-century Christianity. Yet not a strand of Scripture supports the existence of this office.
Rather, the present-day pastor was born out of the single-bishop rule first spawned by Ignatius and Cyprian. The bishop evolved into the local presbyter. In the Middle Ages, the presbyter grew into the Catholic priest. During the Reformation, he was transformed into the "preacher," "the minister," and finally "the pastor"—the person upon whom all of Protestantism hangs. To boil it down to one sentence: The Protestant pastor is nothing more than a slightly reformed Catholic priest. (Again, we are speaking of the office and not the individual.)
Catholic priests had seven duties at the time of the Reformation: preaching; the sacraments; prayers for the flock; a disciplined, godly life; church rites; supporting the poor; and visiting the sick.'" the protestant pastor takes upon himself all of these responsibilities—plus he sometimes blesses civic events.
The famed poet John Milton put it best when he said, "New presbyter is but old priest writ large!"' In other words, the contemporary pastor is but an old priest written in larger letters!
FOOTNOTES OF INTEREST