Profile of a Bad Pastor #2
We live in a world of specialized roles in the workplace. This is the case today among businesses, government institutions and even churches. The generalist vanished like a shadow in the bright light from the new dawn of the information age. And this has caused a crisis in the church today: the loss of the pastoral identity.
Church leaders too often look to commerce, sports, education and the military for role models. Practically, this means the pastor is seeking to lead the church as an executive, a coach, a professor or a general. And while there are lessons to be learned and applied from these roles, Jesus’ gives us pastor types a much better model.
Jesus openly and harshly criticized the bad pastors of his day. He called out the spiritual leaders who were preaching but not practicing the truth. And he also called out those who were preaching but not pastoring. Jesus says it this way in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
While Jesus often corrected the lack of orthodoxy among Pharisees and scribes (see Matthew 5-7, for example), here he is confronting the loss of orthopraxy. The bad pastors in first century Palestine were speakers but not shepherds. They were preachers but not pastors. They were communicators but not caregivers. Does this sound familiar to you? It does to me.
I too have been a bad pastor in this way. I recall a new members’ class I was teaching several years ago. In attempt to establish expectations, I said something like, “The way I will serve you is in teaching the bible. I won’t be able to be at your parties. We won’t take family vacations together. We won’t be meeting regularly over coffee. I can’t be at your ministry committee meetings either. We likely won’t be close friends and I don’t want to disappoint you down the road so I am letting you know now. But I will be committed to preparing sermons that I hope serve you well.”
An older man approached me with his wife after the class finished. He was tearful and troubled. He said, “Pastor, I know you have a busy life and many demands on your time. But, it sounded to me like you love preaching to people but you don’t love the people you preach to.” His words cut deep because they were true. I loved preaching more than I loved people.
Preaching and pastoring are inseparable. Together, they form the powerful epoxy Jesus applies in loving and leading his people through imperfect human vessels. Jesus said it this way to Peter (the senior leader among his first disciples): When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus gives Peter a pastoral sandwich. Between two slices of preaching bread (“feed”) is the meat of pastoring (“tend”).
I have room to grow. But I am making some progress. Another pastor recently asked me why I spend so much time with a man in our church struggling with mental illness living in a group home. I responded, “Because he lets me.” I deeply enjoy his friendship. I am being changed by the gospel lessons we are learning together. Preaching without pastoring isn’t only bad for the people in the church. It’s actually worse for the preacher. There’s a better way for sure. Thank you, Jesus.