Where Have All the Pastors Gone?
Many in the church today feel uncared and abandoned. There are numerous stories of people, when facing a crisis, feeling alone and forgotten by the church. The result is that many are scattered from the church and some either only nominally attending or giving up entirely. Others feel exhausted and uncared for in the problems of life. Both the scattering and the exhaustion are symptoms of there being no shepherds.
36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them because they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd.Matthew 9:36
Jesus served with compassion. It was common practice for people in Bible times to express emotions in terms of the effect they had upon the body. The ancient world linked the digestive system to intense sorrow. Even now, we can talk of gut-wrenching emotion. The heart was more linked to the mind and thinking. The literal meaning of compassion referred to the intestines and was the same word used when Judas died, and his intestines spilt out (Acts 1:18).
When Jesus experienced compassion, He felt the pain that others felt. He mourned with those who mourned and rejoiced with those who rejoiced (Romans 12:15). It can feel painful and unpleasant to sympathise with people who are suffering. Jesus felt people’s pain acutely. When standing at Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept (John 11:33, 35). When Jesus encountered the widow of Nain burying her only son, He moved with compassion, and this motivated the miracle of the resurrection (Luke 7:11-17). Repeatedly we see the compassion of Jesus.
Biblically a pastor is not a church leader in the modern sense of the term. Frequently administrators, entrepreneurs and teachers have been referred to as pastors and often a pastor functions as a CEO in a large church nowadays. People have wrongly labelled many within the church with the title pastor. A pastor is a shepherd. Shepherds did so much more for their sheep than simply lead them. They tended their flocks, and this could even mean laying down their lives for the sheep (John 10:11-14). Jesus calls people within the church to be under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4) caring for His sheep (John 21:15-17).
Jesus made it very clear that we are to love people in the church and practice genuine care for one another. At times we have to expose ourselves to the hurt and pain carried by others, and this is an example of genuine compassion. Jesus also said that people would know His disciples by the love and care shown to one another (John 13:35). There is no way our evangelism strategies will work if we do not take time to support one another. We bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
Many focus on evangelism and church growth and leave pastoral issues to the few or ignore them altogether. They rationalise the situation by saying they are too busy building the church or bringing in the kingdom. What is the point of bringing sheep into the fold if they then die for lack of proper care? The measure of care we show to new people will never exceed the love we offer to those we already know.
Western culture has become less relational. Increasingly loneliness and abandonment become the norm. Rather than the church transforming this culture, we are being influenced by it. The church has become greatly influenced by the business world. Businesses focus on making a profit. They avoid anything that will produce a loss. Many people in the church are viewed as unprofitable and ignored. Despite the ongoing protestations of the church being a family, often family is only the experience of a few.
We need all sorts of gifts and callings in the church. The latest worship songs and worship leaders are enthused over. Some people try to be more anointed and spiritually cool. The training with the lowest status in some Bible Schools is pastoral care. In churches that have paid staff, often the pastoral staff are unpaid. Where are the people who are willing to take the unsung and unloved place of caring for the ones who have difficulties and are challenging to be around?
Many talk enthusiastically about apostles, prophets, teachers and evangelists but the pastoral gifting is also essential for the building of people and the church (Ephesians 4:11-13). The Corinthian church was very zealous for spiritual gifts. Paul had to remind them that the more excellent way was love (1 Corinthians 13).
One person in a church can’t be a pastor for everyone. It can sometimes take all we have to help the one. It can also take considerable time and commitment. There need to be many within the church willing to pastor. It is not fair to blame leaders for not doing this; it needs to be a collective responsibility. We care for one another. The stronger helps, the weaker, and sometimes we are the ones who are vulnerable.
When we stand before Jesus, what will He commend? Some will claim to have raised the dead, and He will tell them to depart because He never knew them. The ones who give the cups of cold water to the despised are the ones He will reward (Matthew 10:42).
Many churches have a small central group who are considered the more spiritual and who have the focus and attention of the leaders. Their church experience is very different from the majority who are expected to get on with life and serve the needs of the central core. There is a division between those who are considered to be keen and teachable from those who are viewed as lukewarm or cynical.
Such a division is the opposite of what Jesus has taught. He taught that we are all brothers, and the way to excellence was to serve the needs of the others.
8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for one is your teacher, the Christ, and all of you are brothers. 9 Call no man on the earth your father, for one is your Father, he who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for one is your master, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.Matthew 23:8-12
This un-Biblical division produces a different set of care for those considered to be inferior. Paul taught that the stronger was to bare the weaker. If people are struggling, they should not be ignored or marginalised but encouraged and helped (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Let us all work to restore the ministry of pastoral care to its proper function.
- What is your experience of pastoral care in the church or lack of this?
- How can we help people better when they are struggling or facing a crisis?
- How can we better understand how others experience the church?