Are pastors supposed to be shepherds any more? Or is that idea passé?
If so, have we replaced it with something better? Or worse?
What if we had some raw, unsolicited opinions from the people who matter? Namely, the people in our churches – or those who have left.
We do. If we’ll listen.
Recently, a friend of mine alerted me to a conversation that was happening on his Facebook page about exactly this subject. So I’ll pass it along to you. With some commentary from me.
What Happened to the Pastor as Shepherd?
Here’s what my friend posted:
“Have received 2-3 Facebook & LinkedIn invites to connect recently from a few ‘Professional Certified Life Coach(es)’. Isn’t that the biblical role of a PASTOR? Someone who helps you define your strengths & weaknesses, holds you personally accountable for your life choices & behavior, is there for you through thick & thin?”
In response, he got a handful of positive responses, including one “Preach, brother!” from a pastor.
But he got these responses as well:
“I don’t know what church you go to or have been to but I don’t know any pastor who can do what a life coach does. At least not in the personalized way a coach does. Life coaching encompasses all kinds of things, some personal, some spiritual, some career or vocation-related.”
Okay, I get where that’s coming from, to an extent. Not every pastor will have the skills to deal with every specific behavioral issue. But neither will most life coaches or counselors.
I find it interesting and more than a little sad that this person doesn’t know of “any pastor who can do what a life coach does.” If so, why is that? That’s the premise of my friend’s original post, after all – that this is what pastors are supposed to be doing.
Then came another response:
“Well, as I understand coaching, it’s all about asking good questions and allowing a person to form their own answers. Many Pastors I have known seem to feel they have all the answers, so the questions don’t matter.”
Ouch! That turns the heat up a little and, quite frankly, it stings!
At least this person believes that applies to “many” pastors, not all. But still…ouch!
Then came this comment:
“…that is hilarious. A pastor that helps you define anything other than who would lead a committee! HA! Good one. Nowadays if you are a ‘pastor’ the only spiritual gifting your church wants is administration. Churches are corporations in search of a CEO/CFO type. They certainly don’t want Jesus.”
That anger feels like some deep hurt, cloaked in protective sarcasm.
I think it also represents the feelings of more people than we may realize. Especially those who have left our churches.
What Changed about Pastoring? And Why?
My friend wisely responded to those comments this way:
“My late father, a pastor for 30 years & minister for 46 years, demonstrated all the attributes I described in my original post. And he certainly didn’t define who was going to lead a committee. He counseled people, prayed for them, laughed & cried with them, held them accountable. Set them straight when needed, hugged them when that was best, went to the hospital when they were sick or dying. Dedicated their babies. Buried them when they were old. Was both tough & tender. And prayed for wisdom & instruction from God to lead & speak…and cast vision.
“What’s wrong with that? Perhaps in his old school way my dad fit the role. Maybe the role in the last 20-30 years has changed so radically that a pastor doesn’t coach anyone anymore. Maybe. Quick 2 point sermon w/ motivational quotes, then shove them out the door for the 2nd service crowd. But that doesn’t negate the New Testament role of people who are called to be a pastor.”
God bless my friend’s dad and so many like him. Including my dad, who was that kind of hands-on shepherding pastor, too.
But what about that last paragraph? Has the pastoral role really changed from shepherd to CEO that dramatically in the last generation? And is that change what’s causing the cynicism in this conversation?
The conversation went on. In response to my friend’s testimony about his dad, someone wrote this:
“Been looking for a pastor and church that mirrors your post for over thirty years. Seems today life coaches and therapists who ask questions without offering much input are good paying professions, but they are by no means fully committed to the people who they mentor. They are paid by the hour. They are paid to listen. Old time Pastors served and tended to those in their congregations. It makes me sad to think about.”
This is as far as the conversation had gone when I was made aware of it.
The Pastor People Want and Need
Challenging. Frustrating. Real. Sad.
That’s what hit me as I read my friend’s Facebook stream.
Then I added this:
“What you’ve described sounds like what I do every day as a pastor. Anyone who thinks pastors don’t do that any more may need to find a church with a pastor like you’ve described. We’re not hard to find. There are a lot of us. And it’s interesting that the only other person on this thread who I know is a pastor, was the one who gave you a well-deserved two-word answer, ‘preach, brother!’
“I probably don’t do it as well as your dad did, but your description of him is what a lot of us ascribe to be. We’re not just CEOs and administrators who give pat answers. In fact, a lot of us have tried that route and have found it wanting, so we’ve taken the mentor/coach route instead.”
That was followed quickly by this, from a new person:
“What an interesting thread. Makes me appreciate how blessed we’ve been for all the great pastors in our lives who have truly had the gift of pastoring, not just the title.”
Then someone else came in with these words of affirmation:
“While I think pastors at times fall short of the mark, it’s also easy for lay people to point elsewhere rather than answering the call to be the same. That’s what the footprint, the aroma, the life of the church is supposed to be wherever we are – and many pastors and believers are doing just that.
“What would it be like if the world around us was continually amazed and commenting on the life of churches in communities everywhere, because this was the exact perception?”
The last time I checked, the last comment in the stream was this:
What Can Pastors Learn From This?
What’s happening here?
My knee-jerk reaction is to say that this skepticism has happened because our corporate/rancher/pastor-as-CEO model has overtaken the relational/shepherd/pastor-as-caregiver model. That the shepherd model is not just a good-old-days longing, but the core need people seek from their church and pastor.
But I also know some great churches built on the pastor as CEO model, too.
So I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know this.
Conversations like this are worth having. And listening to. And learning from.
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