“But the overall context of my particular assignment in the pastoral vocation, as much as I am able to do it, is to see to it that these men and women in my congregation become aware of the possibilities and the promise of living out in personal and local detail what is involved in following Jesus, and be a companion to them as we do it together.” Eugene Peterson in The Pastor
“I am sure you realize we believe that a pastor’s job – the coach’s job – is to raise up people to do what we do.” Jim Putman in Church is a Team Sport
Maybe you remember the TV show “To Tell the Truth” where a panel of people quiz 3 different people, 2 who are impostors and the third is the real deal. The job of the celebrities asking the questions is to come to a conclusion about which is the real deal. As we wade through this question about what defines who the pastor is… I wonder what our questions might be, along with where we might land. Unfairly, of course, are the multitude of roles that different people have thrust upon the pastor’s role. For just a moment here I wonder if it might not be worth just simply expanding our definition to be more inclusive in who might be carrying out the pastoral role in our churches. If you look at the two definitions that I began with I think you might see that even though they have some important common ground in this understanding the Putman definition pushes the role out beyond the one person (or maybe the few) people hired to be the “pastors” of the church.
In my years as both a volunteer serving in ministry (both positional and functional ministry opportunities), and one of those hired staff people I have struggled with the limiting factor of how the role of pastor has kept us from being the church. Let’s take a look at just two instances that I have seen play out in church that suggest this limiting factor.
First in the area of pastoral care I have seen way too many churches have a serious deficiency in how care was being given in their church families. In fact I have heard people actually say that even though numerous people had visited them in the hospital they were not cared for well because the pastor had not visited them (which is another whole conversation we need to have is why do we limit the understanding of pastoral care often to hospital visits). Now this is not to exclude the role of any person who has been hired as a pastor to be involved in giving care (senior pastor and other pastors included). But is it good to limit care to the paid professional? And define real care given to someone by whether or not that senior pastor comes and prays over them. I believe in Putman’s understanding of pastor he is talking about the main role about raising up people who do what they do!!! Even in Peterson’s understanding isn’t he suggesting the same when he says … “to be a companion to them as we do it together.”
A second situation that I have seen play out over and over again is when someone new would come to our church and the sense that some of our congregants had that if these new folks weren’t greeted by the pastor somehow they hadn’t been officially greeted. I have told a number of folks along the way who would want to introduce me to these new people (often when I was in the middle of talking with someone else) that they had already been officially met by “pastors” of our church. Now, of course, there is where the challenge comes if we expand the pastoral role to others in the church. Who are those others who have taken up the banner of pastor and are carrying it forward?
The “doing it together” and the raising up others “to do what we do” seem to be some really important processes that need to be put into motion more fully in our churches. If you agree that this role needs to be expanded upon what might be keeping us from being more intentional in doing so? Or is it that we are expanding the role but just haven’t really noticed those who are taking this on well together and doing what we do? As a pastor who has represented the building, implementing, and overseeing the continual growth of small groups (relational ministry) I wonder about those folks who step up to the plate in leadership roles in a groups life, and if it might help the church expand on the pastoral role if we would see them as pastor’s (coaches!!) It will require us also to expand on our definition of pastor.