Avoiding Poimacide (Part 2)

Previously on Blind Man’s Fancy: Poimacide (Part 1).

Surveys show that 90% of pastors will not retire as pastors (see Poimacide (Part 1)).  Pastors do get burned out and found out, but most often get run out.  Most Western, affluent churches do not have a sterling track record of treating their pastors well for a long time.

We must reverse this trend.  The church cannot afford to lose any more influence or credibility in American culture.  Running pastors ragged, over, through and off does not speak well of a community entrusted with the gospel of grace.

It will take another couple of generations, but churches must seriously consider, confess, repent and commit in several important areas.  In this installment I suggest the first two of five measures every church should seriously and prayerfully consider.

1.  Pastoral authority.  Hebrews 13.17-19 could not be clearer.  Our pastors are to be obeyed and joyfully submitted to.  That’s the biblical principle.  Obviously, if they command anything blatantly unbiblical or sinful we are to resist.  But most pastors I know have never done so.

Consider that many churchmen (and women) will champion male headship.  Wives are to submit to their husbands because Scripture says so (Eph 5.22; 1 Pt 3.1).  Will these same men (and women) then blatantly ignore or disobey the same command to submit to their pastors?

Christianity is marked by a humble submission to those we consider equal in value (Gal 3.28; Phil 2.3).  The Trinity teaches us just that.  Moreover, our submission is never contingent on the worth of the one(s) to whom we submit.  Employees submit joyfully to bad bosses (1 Pt 2.18).  It doesn’t matter if your boss stiffed you, you work even harder tomorrow.  Citizens obey a secular state (Rom 13.1; Titus 3.1; 1 Pt 2.13-14).  It doesn’t matter if Congress earmarks funds for otter research, you pay your taxes (Rom 13.6-7).  It doesn’t matter if the police officer was a jerk, you pay the ticket.  Wives submit to pathetic husbands (1 Cor 7.12-16; 1 Pt 3.1).  It doesn’t matter if your husband lampoons your faith, you still make his favorite meal.  None of this easy, by the way, which is why faith in the gospel is crucial.

We simply don’t have the liberty to disobey Scripture because we don’t like the person in authority over us.  We are not responsible for how those in authority use or abuse it.  We are responsible for God’s explicit commands for us to submit.  God will hold us all accountable to what he’s commanded us.  Rebellion by any other name is still rebellion.  In fact, Heb 13.17 clearly says when we regularly frustrate our pastors we are actually jeopardizing our own gospel progress.

Maybe we don’t have the greatest pastors.  Maybe he should smile differently, joke less and visit more.  But as long as he is faithful with Scripture, keeps his door open, prays with/for us and urges us toward Christ then we are to obey and submit.  Like you, he’ll grow in love.  Our pastors really have our spiritual progress and Christian joy at heart.

2. Plurality of pastors.  Churches must recover the biblical model that local churches are led by a group of men equal in responsibility and accountability (Acts 20.17; 21.18; Phil 1.1; 1 Tim 5.17; Titus 1.5; Jas 5.14; 1 Pt 5.1, 5).  They will not necessarily be equal in gifting, but they should be in their pastoral care for the church.

Historically, virtually every Protestant confession of faith has called these men elders (overseers, bishops).  For you Southern Baptists who just rolled your eyes, you might want to review Article XII of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message, where the church’s officers are identified as “bishops, or elders [plural], and deacons [not synoymous with elders]”.  Now we call them “pastors” (the biblical terms for pastor, elder, bishop and overseer are interchangeable) but the principle has remained the same. It has been the long-standing practice of local churches (including, or especially, Baptists) to have a plurality of elders/pastors who share spiritual oversight of the congregation.

Baptist churches have never historically recognized treasurers, nominating committee chairmen, trustees, pianists or church councils as church offices.  We’ve only and rightly considered elders/pastors and deacons to be offices and therefore biblically necessary.  We have cannibalistic, pastor-killing committees, chairmen, and councils because we’ve drifted from our biblical and historical convictions on church health and polity.

The notion of The Senior Pastor is not necessarily unbiblical, but it’s not ideal and should be remedied as soon as possible.  Given the rate of pastoral attrition it’s not even practically sustainable.  Paul considered the lack of elders in a local church unfinished business and therefore left Titus in Crete to appoint them (Titus 1.5).  Maybe a church is not a place where elders are feasible right now, but she should be working toward it to “set in order what remains.”  This, by the way, doesn’t mean picking the popular, successful men and calling them elders.  It means identifying who already fit the profile of 1 Tim 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9 and then appointing them elders.  Any church not having such men should (1) repent for not having them (what has it been doing if not producing gospel men?) and (2) dedicate to raising them up by any means necessary.

Aside from the biblical instruction, the sole pastor model is practically unhealthy.  Expecting one pastor to lead or be an ex-officio member of all committees, conduct business meetings, visit all the infirm, prepare multiple sermons, juggle the building campaign, manage janitorial duties and plan all the services is simply impractical for both he and the church.  He is not a CEO leading several levels of middle management (associate, music, youth, children’s pastors) or junior staff (interns and secretaries).  Ironically, the very ministry the pastor is charged with from God (ministry of the Word and prayer) are the last things he is able to fit in.  His own soul, family and church suffers for it.

If you have cancer, would you want one doctor or a team of doctors collaborating on treatment?  If you have a neighborhood crime problem, would you want one man trying to address it or a team of dedicated men?  If you have a terrorism problem, do you want one man trying to contain it or a military staff?  In virtually every other area of life we value and appreciate collective wisdom and experience.  How much moreso in the church where eternity hangs in the balance?

If we want to reduce the poimacide rate, churches must consider and work toward having a plurality of pastors who share equally in the ministry.  They don’t all have to be paid (most of them shouldn’t be), but they should all be considered pastors.  It’s both biblical and better.

(Back to Part 1 or on to Part 3)

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