I have often heard, all too often, the charge that the church, and especially the pastor, was indifferent to some crisis or difficulty in a person’s life. Often that accusation was aimed at me in my decades of pastoral ministry. So, let me take a shot at seeing if I can give some clarifying context to the role of the pastor.  First off, the very word pastor is synonymous with that of shepherd, which was rich in meaning in the scriptures, i.e., the shepherd loves his sheep, and calls them by name.

Secondly, God doesn’t intend that any one of his people shall languish in anonymity. When the 600,000+ Israelites came out of captivity, strong leaders were chosen and that large number was broken down into units of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. This, of course, within their twelve tribal units. No one was to be anonymous. As their history unfolded with all its tumultuous episodes, we come to their paradigm king David, who was revered as the shepherd-king. As this structure all began to unravel, and the nation became oblivious to their reason for being, and forgot their covenant constitution which was the Torah, any accountability faded, and their behavior began to reflect the nations around.

Stick with me here. When the “greater than David” or God’s anointed servant-messiah appeared on the scene in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, it is instructive to see how he began to bring into being a new community that would be the living-breathing demonstration/incarnation of God’s New Humanity. Here ,no one who was his follower was to be anonymous. Jesus was the great Shepherd, the “bishop and shepherd (e.g. pastor) of our souls” (I Peter 2:25).

So, then, how did he implement this new community (which was soon to become vast) so that no one got lost, so that each person had a name and a face, and a story. The answer is two-fold, and very instructive. As more and more people began to respond to his message and to his person, and become is followers, … Jesus selected just twelve, and invited them to come and be with him. Those twelve became his intimates. He knew their personalities (and even that one of them would betray him), their strengths and weaknesses. They felt free to ask him questions, and to air their doubts. He, in turn, taught them to duplicate his ministry of preaching and healing. So, that toward the end of his pre-crucifixion presence with him, he would announce that who he was and what he had done was the foundation upon which he would build his church. The clear implication for the twelve was that they would be responsible to be and do the very same kind of ministry after he had left them.

Twelve is still a very helpful number. One cannot be an intimate, or be in a sensitive inter-active relationship with large numbers. One also cannot be anonymous in such a group. It is here that we can interact, share strengths and weaknesses, confess our failures, encourage one another, laugh together, and also to actually pastor one another. Even after the Pentecost event, we find the apostles teaching to a crowd of thousands, … but then those thousands met together “house to house.” Out of those house-to-house units emerged those more mature participants, those who were looked to for wisdom. They were the authentic practitioners of the faith. Pastoring and teaching were gifts given to individuals for the building up of the saints.

Our problem may have to do with the subversive creation of something designated as clergy, by which church leadership is endowed upon someone with an academic degree in divinity, and the approval of some ecclesiastical body.  That is not a Biblical practice or category!

In my own career, I often taught to congregations of many hundreds from the pulpit, but I could only be God’s pastor to the much smaller number in house churches, or gatherings around the table. I, and the church, could indeed be oblivious to real destructive or traumatic things going on in those who were keeping themselves aloof or anonymous, or hiding behind a churchy persona. I hope you catch my drift. Our pastoral ministry to one another is for another Blog.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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  1. Jermaine Ladd says:

    This is an awesome blog. The church has become too religious, too structured, too business/corporate and politically oriented. The new reformation will be as you have stated back to the basics of the original church. The Holy Spirit ordains and selects based on HIS own agenda. The credentials required of the status quo religious bodies will have no power or influence. It’s not to say that those who have obtained or in the process of obtaining institutional/academic credentials cannot be amongst the elected shepherds. It’s just that credentials themselves will not sustain assurance of election. When I often think of these religious requirements, I am reminded of the social-policitical structure of the pharisees, sadducees, etc. As such, the church as become very exclusive even country club like in its essence. What happened to that pioneer spirit movement of old? I am highly excited about the Acts of the Holy Spirit and I pray for its empowerment of HIS agenda and movement for the upbuilding of the Kingdom for those of the WAY!

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