Rethinking Church #7 – What the traditional church model does to pastoral leaders

pastoral leadersPastoral leaders are vital to the nature of the New Testament church

The are called by God to shepherd the flock of God with care, diligence, and insight (1 Peter 5:2).

But in over 20 years AS a Pastoral leader in one way, shape, or form, I’ve come to see that the structures by which the western world tries to DO church tend to be detrimental to the overall health of pastoral leaders. The traditional, top-down, get more people in the doors type of church structure…

  • Burns out pastoral leaders because the numbers simply don’t fit. Jesus Himself only took on 12 men as disciples, yet even a “small” church today will expect the pastoral leadership to take on 30 to 40. The job is too big for one man.
  • Separates pastoral leaders from the flock. There is an artificial division between shepherd and flock due to things like education level, salary, top-down authority structures and the like. The leader is not able to be cared for well because he’s set apart in an unhealthy way.
  • Makes the pastoral leaders into a commodity. Enough said?
  • Isolates him from true accountability. Because the pastoral leader is paid (typically) he’s often afraid to be honest about his own struggles. He doesn’t know how the church family might handle his “true confessions” so he keeps them inside… and suffers silently for it. No wonder so many pastoral leaders wind up in sin.
  • Makes him fair game… yes, as in hunting. The pastoral leaders of a typical church walk around feeling like they have a target on their foreheads. By virtue of being paid staff, most people in the church feel the right to criticize, evaluate, and knit-pick the pastoral leadership’s life, decisions, and use of time. It’s hardly conducive to making him a cared-for member of the church family.
  • Puts the pastoral leaders in a position where they have difficulty being servant leaders as Jesus described. Instead they become the point at the top of the organizational pyramid and eventually fall off.

I don’t highlight these things because I’ve been hurt by them (I’m just being honest, here). I highlight them because I care about the well-being of my pastoral leader brothers out there.

Things need to change. Pastors need to be part of the body, not a hired gun who can be fired just as easily. Genuine relationships need to extend even into the leadership of the church.

I’ve yet to see a church that has pulled off the last part of Hebrews 13:17…

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

 

I believe it will require a change in the way we organize the church.

Things need to be done in an intentionally, deliberately, purposefully smaller context so that one man doesn’t have to take on too large of a load… so that it is more natural and do-able to create shared leadership among qualified men… so that true body-life and accountability can be joyfully provided to the leaders just like everyone else.

What things do YOU see the traditional structure doing to pastoral leaders?

SERIES: Identify, Assess, Equip Church Elders – Post 3: Pursuing a Candidate for Elder

OK, so you’ve done a decent job of identifying some candidates for serving as church Elder (see the previous post).   What do you do once you identify men who might be a good fit?

You should approach them, in specific but vague terms.

I know… to quote Ricky Ricardo, “You got a lot of ‘splaining” to do Lucy!”  Here’s what I mean:

SPECIFIC about what you are asking the candidate to consider…
VAGUE about what the final outcome will be…

HERE’S HOW I GO ABOUT IT:

  1. Get together with the man one-on-one, in a casual environment.
  2. Tell him you’ve noticed his heart for the Lord, his interest in the spiritual well-being of others, the spiritual fruit in his home, etc. (whatever you truly HAVE noticed)
  3. Tell him you’d like his feedback or reaction to an idea you had…
  4. HERE COMES THE SPECIFIC BUT VAGUE PART: Tell him that if he is at all interested, you would like to begin a process of exploration (a key word) together.  What you’d be exploring is the biblical role of Elder, and whether or not he has interest, gifting, or fit for serving in that role.  (The reason I say it this way is because I in NO WAY want to make the mistake of communicating that I think he should be or will be an Elder.  It’s waaaay too early for either of you to be thinking along those lines.  There is a TON of learning AND assessment that needs to take place before you begin thinking along those lines.  You ONLY want to challenge him to consider the possibility and be open to exploring the idea more.  That way both he and you will be able to know whether your idea is a good idea or a bad idea.)
  5. If he’s open… you move on… to the initial step of the exploration you’ve already mentioned.  You could do this initial step during the same conversation if he’s truly open and interested, or at a later.  In this initial step, you’d describe the process you’d like to use to do a thorough exploration of the possibility.  Include time-frames, topics of study, and tools involved as you tell him what you have in mind.  This way, he is clear on the commitment he will be making to make a thorough exploration of the subject to with you.  FOR EXAMPLE: In the process I’ve developed (found in my “Elder Training Handbook” link at the end of this post), I take a year or more to do that thorough exploration, for some very specific and important reasons (to be explained in the next post).  Your candidate needs to know all of this t up front, and be willing to commit to it.

If your experience is anything like mine, most guys of the caliber you’ve identified will at least be interested in finding out more.  But not all will be willing to make the time investment (the year or more I mentioned) in finding out if they are a good fit for the role.

That’s O.K.  In fact, it’s good for you to know… as it may be indicating that the man’s life situation, pace of life, or spiritual condition are not truly ready for the Elder role – which will be even more demanding.  If you find that to be the case with some of the men you have identified… graciously let them go.  Both of you (not to mention the church and their families) are probably better off for the time being if they don’t pursue the exploration.

If he’s game to do the longer exploration, move ahead with your thorough exploration.  BUT, make sure that you are NOT, in any way or at any time, guilty of communicating any sense of certainty about what the conclusions of your exploration together will be.  You are exploring exactly because you don’t know whether he’s a good fit for the role.  Neither does he.  Both of you need to be clear on that.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Post 1, Post 2

I’ve recently published my first book – “The Elder Training Handbook” that covers all of these blog posts and much more, in greater detail.  If you’d like to get a copy for yourself, go to the FREE tab at the top of this blog.  There you’ll find options for the free E-book download of the ETH, as well as an option to buy a hard-copy and have it shipped to you.

SERIES: Identify, Assess, Equip Church Elders – Post 1: My Journey

I grew up Baptist – the kind of Baptist that had “Deacons” instead of Elders.  From what I remember, they were a board of men who served alongside the Pastor, but not with much decision-making power, and certainly no spiritual oversight or shepherding responsibilities.  From what I recall, the Deacons took care of the finances and the Pastor did all the shepherding.  And the congregation voted – on EVERYTHING!  It felt like a spiritual democracy of sorts.

As I became an adult and began studying for ministry, I became aware of different models of church government.  You could say it was an awakening of sorts.  I realized that what I had grown up with was not necessarily the best, or the most Biblical model.  Over the years, I’ve had my understanding tweaked on countless occasions, and have come to see that the New Testament does give pretty clear guidance, at least regarding what the Apostles expected/intended to be the “norm” in the new covenant church.

Once I moved into positions of primary leadership in the church, I began to face the difficulties of implementing that guidance.  Every existing church has its own set of traditions regarding leadership, well examined or not.  Often, men are serving as Elders who never should have been placed in that position in the first place.  Evaluation is needed and adjustments may need to be made.  A delicate task, to say the least!

Brand new churches (of which I’ve been a part of two) have to start from scratch.  That’s a better situation in some regards (no traditions to overcome), but harder in others (not a lot of “qualified” candidates for serving as Elders).  Then you face the harsh reality of having to figure out HOW to go about the process.  You must identify good candidates, assess their qualifications and readiness, and equip them for the role.  What I’ve found is that if you take those three tasks seriously, you have a job of epic proportions on you hands!

This series of posts is about that process… It will include principles and tips to help church leaders go about the very necessary task of identifying, assessing, and equipping candidates for the role of Elder.

I’ve recently published my first book - “The Elder Training Handbook” that covers all of these blog posts in much more detail.  If you’d like to find a copy for yourself, go to the FREE tab at the top of this blog.  There you’ll find options for the free E-book download of the ETH, as well as an option to buy a hard-copy and have it shipped to you.

Are you managing sin or dealing with it?

Matt Johnson writes the following on the Resurgence

Both the average churchgoer and those seeking one-on-one pastoral care are generally seeking two things: spiritual life-coaching for sin management and deliverance from pain and chaos. Self-improvement advice is more palatable than proclaiming death to the believer and their indwelling sin. (read the rest of the article here)

When you are seeking counsel or advice from those spiritual leaders the Lord has put over you (your local church leadership) are you doing so for either of the reasons Matt describes?

  1. Seeking to how to manage your sin (instead of killing it through the power of the Spirit)
  2. Deliverance from pain or chaos (instead of imitating Christ’s example through the power of His Spirit, by perseverance through suffering)

Give it some thought…

Related post - Three Prerequisites to Changing Your L ife