I see basically two existing paradigms in ministry leadership.
The overwhelmingly dominant paradigm is that everybody is a pastor.
In this paradigm, the apostolic and prophetic and evangelistic callings are no more, except maybe for oversees missionaries and someone like Billy Graham as an evangelist.
The only role left is pastor. So we say some pastors are more evangelistic in their approach. Others are teaching pastors. Some are more traditional cultivators of loving community.
Sometimes – oftentimes – one pastor is expected to have skill in all areas. Well, in the evangelistic, shepherding and teaching aspects anyway. Some traditions appreciate a need for the prophetic voice, but many do not.
I’m having a hard time accepting this paradigm any longer.
It doesn’t make sense of the various passions and gifting I see in my peers and in myself.
It does explain some of why the church has declined. We’ve exiled a major part of Christ’s gift to his body and overburdened ministers with unrealistic expectations.
Perhaps most most of all it doesn’t make sense of the New Testament for me anymore.
Peter tells his readers that the church elders have a shepherding responsibility over the congregations they serve, but the idea of a particular Christian minister being called a shepherd (pastor) is found only in that Ephesians 4:11 passage that also speaks of the other gifts.
Doesn’t the new (I think more biblical) paradigm show that there are many church leaders / ministers who are not pastors/shepherds at all?
Why must everybody be a pastor? Is there really solid biblical warrant for our practice?
So, as I’m thinking of this paradigm shift, I’ve been thinking about how I fit in. Because for much of my adult life, the type of minister that I am doesn’t always fit in with the norm.
I always assumed that I’m a pastor, because that’s all I was told there is.
But now I’m not so sure.
And while I’ve functioned in that way to a certain extent, based on my own reflection and study and the feedback of others around me,
I think I am a primarily a teacher, not a pastor.*
I’ve found that while caring for people and nurturing relationships is important to me as a disciple of Jesus and a halfway decent human being, it’s not what drives me. I have a hard time getting motivated to make some of the visits I need to sometime. I enjoy these visits, but it’s occurred to me recently that it’s mostly the same as if anyone else in our congregation went to visit. There are many other aspects I could go into as well.
I believe that there are some good diagnostic questions to ask ourselves that will help identify our core calling. Here’s one that I’ve thought about a lot:
If I stopped having a ‘job’ with the church, what would I still do? No paycheck. No expectations. What would I spend the time I had available doing?
Teaching and applying God’s Word and helping others do the same. That’s really what I’ve always been passionate about. Challenging people to love and learn and believe and walk in obedience to the Scriptures. That’s what my passion is all about. Much more so than nurturing community, although that’s absolutely vital.
In my congregation, I’ve been blessed to work alongside of a wonderful shepherd and I’m confident that our team mentality to ministry has been good for us and good for the congregation we serve. I also see the holes in ministry where we are not gifted as much.
Most of the church world is still living under the old paradigm. But most of that world is really struggling. And looking only for solutions that fit into that paradigm.
Maybe we need more than some small tweaks.
Maybe we need to shift the way that we understand ministry.
If that wasn’t challenging enough for you, that’s probably the easier paradigm shift. Once we start to think about these gifts being distributed throughout the entire body, not merely amongst credentialed ministers, we’ll really have some potential.
*I understand that there is some interpretive debate based on the Greek text of Ephesians 4:11 whether pastor and teacher are intended to be one gifting together, separate, or related in some other way. That’s a good discussion, but it will be for another day. I will simply say for now that I believe that shepherds (and all elders) have to be able to do teaching to be faithful to their vocation, but I don’t think all teachers are shepherds. As one example, think of a seminary professor.