Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ministry Is Not Mastery

Pastors sin. One of our sins is to try to become what we are not, masters, CEOs, or ranchers. We are ranch hands. We work in the mail room not the board room. The great good news for sinful pastors is that Chief Shepherd laid down his life for us and our sins. He redeemed us from the curse of the law and bore the penalty due to our sins. By his Spirit, he has also set us free from the power of sin and we now free to take the posture appropriate to our office, that of a servant. This posture is ultimately an act of faith.


There are myriad temptations in ministry. One persistent temptation is to stop ministering and start mastering. There are many reasons mastering is tempting. All congregations are non-profit organizations. Most are under-funded and understaffed or staffed with volunteers. Often the pastor is the only paid employee. Congregations are not usually very efficient organizations.

Pastors face pressures to be “successful” and efficient. It comes from members, elders, and deacons who implicitly or explicitly add the pressure that many ministers already feel to have a growing church. It comes externally from so-called “church growth experts.” Like those home rehabilitation shows on cable television, the church-growth experts tell “success” stories about pastors who turned (flipped) their average little congregation into a fast-growing “dynamic” congregation. Typically these narratives include a portion detailing how the pastor put his foot down and exercised strong leadership in chasing off discontent members and even elders. The message is clear: real leaders tell their people to get with the program or get out of Dodge.

Then there is a the internal desire to reach the lost. Faithful pastors think about the lost in their neighborhoods, towns, and regions. They long to see the congregation fulfill its mission to bring the gospel to the community and to see many in come to faith and to worship the Savior. The mission is great but typically the resources are limited.

Episcopacy is efficient. Though there are some newer tech businesses that are said to be organized on a more democratic model—Steve Jobs approach at Apple does not seem to have been very democratic however—most successful organizations have an episcopal structure. There is someone at the top who is in charge and authority flows from the top. There may be a board of directors, but the day-to-day decisions are made by one person. He or she sets the tone, provides the leadership, and has the final say.

In contrast, Presbyterian and Reformed congregations are inefficient by design. The P&R churches confess that, by nature, humans are deeply corrupt in all their faculties. Even believers, who are in a state of grace (favor), who have been regenerated by the Spirit, are still beset with sin. So, by design, P&R churches have built-in impediments to doing things quickly. Few things are as inefficient as committees and P&R churches are run by committees, layers of them. A Presbytery is, in essence, a committee. Before that there are “sessions,” which is local committee of elders and ministers (or ruling and teaching elders). The Reformed also have committees. We call them a consistory (elders and ministers) and council (ministers, elders, and deacons), classis (Presbytery), and synod (elders and ministers).

The tension between the structure of P&R churches and the pressure to “succeed” can tempt pastors to trade in ministry for mastery. By definition minister is service, it is to put the needs of others before one’s own needs and desires.

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