Are Pastors supposed to be Shepherds any more? Or is that idea long-gone? If so, have we replaced it with something better? Or worse?
Pastors have long debates about this. What if we had some raw, unsolicited, honest opinions from the people who matter? Namely, the people in our churches – maybe even the people who’ve left our churches.
Recently, a friend posted what he thought was a simple question on his Facebook page. The responses he received were so surprising that he alerted me to it.
(The people who responded to his Facebook status had no expectation they’d end up on someone’s blog and I want to respect that, so I won’t tell you who my friend is, except to say that he’s not a pastor. I have his permission to re-post this.)
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 Small Church pastor.
But he got these responses as well:
Hmm…..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. Sometimes they are useful for specific needs, such as managing adult ADD, where expertise and training is needed that most pastors don’t have.
OK, 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!
Pastors “seem to feel they have all the answers, so the questions don’t matter”? At least this person believes that applies to “many” pastors, not all. But still…ouch!
Then came this response:
…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.
Is that really how some people view pastoring today? And churches? As businesses that have done away with our need for Jesus?
These responses probably aren’t the way most people feel. And there’s something in me that wants to rise up and defend my fellow pastors. But…
What if these responses represent more people than we realize? I think they do.
What Changed? And Why?
In response to these three replies, which probably came from deep hurt, cloaked in protective sarcasm, my friend wisely responded 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. You’ve hit the nail on the head, dude. Anyone who thinks pastors don’t do that any more maybe needs to find another 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.
Way to go.
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. Thank you Larry and Linda, Carl and Linda, and most of all Paul and Rebecca!
Then someone else came in with a longer comment that included 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 We Learn From This?
What’s happening here? My knee-jerk reaction is to say that this skepticism about pastors 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 could something more than that be going on?
Food for thought.
Now it’s up to us to continue the conversation.
So what do you think? What do you think has caused such skepticism about the role of pastors? And what can be done to repair the damage?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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