Tending

Another blogger once referred to “tending” her blog; that expression has stuck with me for years.  Earlier this year, when I added two additional blogs to my framework, I had to consider seriously the “tending” factor.  Would my felt need to “tend” exceed the actual need to tend?  And would either one of those exceed my available time and energy?

There are many things to be tended to—too many, I think, for most people.  We tend to our houses/homes, our cars, our relationships, our personal finances.  Some of us add community groups such as service clubs, churches, sports organizations.  We tend to our health (more or less).

Where the pastor role exists in a local church, that person should by all rights “tend” the flock in some real sense.  I would go so far as to say that the basic meaning of the word “pastor”—both etymologically and contextually—in pretty much every NT passage in which the word “pastor” or “shepherd” appears is in fact tend (or, in the noun form, one who tends).  Yet when most staff pastors refer to having “pastored” a church, they seem often to be referring to administering facilities and institutions and programs more than to tending to people.

And I see that as a problem.  [Aside:  this observation demands further challenge to amalgamated titles like “executive pastor” and “administrative pastor.”]

I suppose those institutions and programs also need tending to, if they are to survive and thrive.  But the existence of institutions is not by any means essential in the kingdom of God.  Ironically, the most institutional churches and their “tenders” combine to constitute a major reason I tend to wander (1) away from them and (2) toward more organic groups that do not have, or need, official titles and roles.

I figure this way:  if the institution makes it difficult to envision a relationship with the One Tender and Guardian of our souls (1Pet 2:25), that group is presenting an obstacle that this particular sheep doesn’t need to try to hurdle.  Can this be indicative of a b-a-a-a-d attitude?  Maybe, he acknowledged sheepishly . . . but he doesn’t enjoy wool over his eyes.

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3 things

Thinking out loud here . . . should I call a person by a title because religious protocol tells me I should?

“Reverend”?
“Pastor”?
“Father”?

Me genoito!  (Rom. 6:2–yeah, I’m ripping this Greek from its context to support my agenda, but it’s just an interjection, after all.)  Those 3 labels are among those that I have resolved never to call any other human.  If I did call someone by one of these titles, the reality wouldn’t change, of course: the person would still not be reverend, for example.  Yet the use of such titles does suggest subservience to a non-biblical system.

The problem is twofold.  Foremost, it’s God’s will that is conceptually over all; He, through the eternal Son, has ruled that no one of us is lord over another — and, specifically, that we should not call each other “Father.”  This much is clear:  there are no hierarchical rankings in the Kingdom.  Even Peter referred to himself as a “fellow elder,” not setting himself up over others in terms of spiritual influence, so why should anyone today think he is over anyone else?

Even if the Father, in the “vertical” sphere, had expressed nothing along these lines, the problem of religious titles would still exist in another sphere — the horizontal one.  Churches would still need to deal decisively with the ramifications of setting one person or a group of persons above others. 

Church is really not about the clergyfolk.  Those in paid ministry positions (where such positions seem necessary!) should stop calling attention to themselves by the use of titles, by hogging corporate time, and by generally thinking they have rank in the Kingdom of God.  Some of the problem is not the fault of the clergyfolk per se; it’s the fault of the system that insists, by its very existence, that we all perpetuate the problem.

Where do you stand?  Will you pander to the persistent problem, or be about the Father’s business, in and through a better body life?

Confused regarding shepherds

Shepherds. Not something we see every day in the U.S.  And something I think many of us are confused about.

I’m told that, a couple thousand years ago, shepherds would likely have been teenage or even preteen boys (or girls, at least these days).  Not the guys I imagined as the shepherds at the birth of Jesus.  Then again, I don’t suppose I’ve imagined too much, because manger scenes don’t encourage scripturally sound imagination.  They pretty much tell you everything outright, and some of it is off-base.

What about shepherds in churches of our era?  I like using the term “shepherd” to describe an elder/pastor every now & then, but it’s probably not all that apt a description of what church leaders do.  Another blogger has stated here that, in the first century, “The widespread awareness of [the shepherding] profession “made motifs of sheep and shepherding apt descriptions of human and divine roles and relationships.”  But today, ability to herd senseless sheep is not frequently seen on the job qualifications list for elder, pastor, preacher, etc., and the imagery of shepherding isn’t one that most of us “get.”  Most often, I’ve been fortunate to be in churches in which the elders do show signs that they understand something about spiritual care over & above fiscal needs, but still, the elders tend to be financial managers and oligarchs more than poimeins (Gk.).  This is a status quo not only to be decried, but to be altered.

On our campus, I recently spied an advertisement for “A Service for God’s Shepherds.”  Nevermind that I couldn’t figure out whether it was to be held from 11A-12P or from 11P-12A.  Besides the time, I was just confused about what this “service” was all about.  The two-sentence description used the word “time” three times:  “dedicated time for . . . a time of conversation . . . time of prayer and worship.”  So was this a time for the College, or a time for talk about spiritual shepherding, or a time of prayer and worship related to shepherding — or worship by the shepherds?  I was confused, but I didn’t try to attend either at 11A or 11P, because of pressing responsibilities.  Perhaps a bad decision on my part.  But onward….

The scripture reference on the flyer was 1 Thess. 5:12-13, and while this passage does relate to spiritual leadership, the Greek word for shepherd is not used here, so the connection was stretched a tad bit.  If this whole thing was to be about “praying for your church’s head guy,” because he is the one who “has charge over you in the Lord,” I’d be pretty surprised, and not a little disappointed.  The translation of προισταμενους seems to be at issue–i.e., whether it implies oversight and hierarchy or the kind of leadership that influences more than it dictates.  I may be confused about this translation and this passage, but I don’t think I’m at all confused about the notion of spiritual leadership, as seen in the NT writings as a whole.

I’ve also been confused through the years about the term “worship pastor.”  “Pastor,” by the by, relates to “pastoral,” which speaks of the outdoor, the pastures, the countryside.  “Pastor” does not literally mean “person in charge of the church” or “person who talks at the congregation for a half-hour on Sundays.”  Rather, the term connotes leading down natural paths to water, protecting from wolves, and such.

To say “I pastored a church” these days does not usually imply what it should, and this, in turn, leads to confusion among Christians and among many others who contact the Christian world.  “Pastor” means “shepherd.”  So, does a “worship pastor” shepherd the worship, or the worshippers?  For what, or whom, does a person with this title care?  I’ve gathered that worship pastors are seen as shepherds of the spirits of the worship team, and, to a lesser extent, of the whole congregation, but I’m still confused about this.

Pastoring / shepherding is something many of us may be involved in, to an extent, and it is good to ponder deeply the nature and impact of spiritual leadership.  Shepherds may be confused about what it is they’re to be doing; sheep may be even more confused about what their shepherds are to be doing, or even about who they are!  People’s church foundations (read:  denominationally inserted presuppositions) may well lead us down a faulty path in considering what pastoring is, but close contact with biblical texts will lessen the confusion over time.

Oh, and about those shepherds at Jesus’ birth?  I don’t think they were confused for very long.  God made things known to them through the angels’ clear message, and they went to worship Jesus with an apparently clearheaded notion of who He was.  Now there’s a shepherd’s example for us.  O come, let us adore Him, too.

Titles

Recently I was thinking about the highly educated folks in my church while I was growing up.  We had no medical doctors, and only a couple of nurses, but we did have quite a few PhDs.  I learned about one of the doctorates when I was in college, and I had known him all my life.  This morning, I came up with eight names who had PhDs in psychology, chemistry, or math.  This is more significant when you realize we were a church of around 200, so it’s a fairly high percentage.  These were smart guys, and they had earned doctorates, but I had no idea that was the case throughout most of my life.  For about 15 years, my dad, who had a master’s degree plus 45 hours, served as an elder-shepherd with three other men, and my dad was actually the least educated of all of them.

The main point is that I never thought once about the advanced degrees these other men had attained, and neither did I feel it incumbent on me to call them “Dr.” this or that.

And this is the way it’s supposed to be!

I vaguely remember, while I was in college—a strongly Christian college— a discussion about whether or not the title “Dr.” should be used with our professors when we encountered them in church.  I was on the side of those who felt the Christian complimentary greeting “Brother” should be used, instead—e.g., Brother Davis instead of Dr. Davis.  I still feel that titles can easily get in the way of Christian relationship, but these days, I don’t generally use the affected “Brother” or “Sister” unless it’s seriously senior saint I’m addressing, opting instead for simply “John,” “Carol,” and “Peter.”

I much prefer simple, unpretentious first names in the church’s relationships . . . and all this sheds even more light (unimaginable, I know, that there could be any more light when we’re already hit with 7 million floodlights every waking minute!) on the use of the title “Pastor,” but this angle is for another day.

Certain segments (seemingly divided along regional and racial lines) of our churches seem to like more formality than others, so I will sometimes capitulate in order to fit in with my surroundings.  “Brother Moore” or “Brother John” may replace the simple, more familial and brotherly “John,” but that doesn’t mean I like it all that much.  The more we can move away from any terms and titles of special respect—not lacking respect for age and experience, you understand, but divesting ourselves of titles and moving toward a more egalitarian concept of who we are and what we call each other in church—the better.

Ekklesia values 6 (leadership and hierarchy)

Continuing in the “Church Values” stream today, and extrapolating a bit from the nondenominational, nonsectarian ideals  now.  My ideal church will employ

==> Non-hierarchical leadership

and is

  • mutually pastoral in terms of ministering to one another

and uses no

  • no extrabiblical (or reappropriated biblical) religious titles.

In the NC scriptures, I see contraindications of positional authority in the church.  Put negatively, I see no hint that there were, or were to be, hierarchical leaders.  Positional leadership is ubiquitous in churches these days–seen most starkly in such figures as the pope, but lived out in virtually every church I’ve ever been with, known of, or read about.

If we must have the “pastor” as a role, understood as most Christians understand that job today, let us at least not have “senior pastor.”  “Lead pastor” is more functional than positional, and I would rather see that modifier than “senior.”  In the eyes of some, as I’ve come to understand it, Timothy and Titus may have filled precursors of the modern-day pastor role.  But this is an assumption, an inference; it’s not particularly explicit.

In the CofC grouping, we tend to believe and write one way, and live out our polity another way.  If we really believe elders are pastors are shepherds are bishops, well, let’s do church that way.  Let us not have our preachers/ministers/evangelists in charge of everything.  Let us not conceive intellectually of an upside-down pyramid with elders at the top.  And by all means let us not live as though it’s a regular pyramid with the minister at the top, the elders in the middle, the deacons at the bottom, and everyone else referred to as “you” instead of “we.”  And, by the way, let us avoid the perception that eldering/pastoring happens primarily in the humanly invented institution called the “elders’ meeting.”

Although I’ve been taught it all my life, I’m not sure the NC scriptures really equate the bishop (episkopos) with the elder (presbuteros) with the pastor (poimein).  These may be describing similar, overlapping, but not identical functional roles.  Perhaps the ideal is more fluid than many of us have come to understand:  could it be that Timothy was primarily a functioning evangelist, and there were no deacons or elders or head “pastor” in Ephesus, while Titus was more of a “lead pastor” in Crete?  And further, could it be that

  • the churches in Galatia had neither a head pastor nor elders
  • the groups in Corinth and Colosse and Laodicea had several poimenoi each, like most CofC groups, and
  • the church in Rome had none of the above, because they had an apostle?

It deserves mention that the early church in Jerusalem appears to have been led by few apostles/elders, and James the brother of Jesus seems to have had executive influence (see Acts 15).  The Acts 6 precedent leads us to select servants to fulfill needed tasks–giving rise to modern-day “deacons” (same word as “minister,” by the way).  Let it not go unnoticed that deacons have jobs to do.  There is no deacon, biblically speaking, who simply has the title but no designated function in the local church’s work.

Nashville’s Belmont Church (which has Restoration Movement roots but left any real association behind years ago), at least at one point, separated its elders by function.  Some were executive, and some were pastoral (caring for sheep).  Some were paid, and some were not.  This devised arrangement made some sense to me, given that no particular hierarchy is specified in the scriptures, and given the size of that particular church.  But when all’s said and done, it’s more important that people not attempt to assert or exert authority based on position or salary.  Given that we are not in the apostolic age, spiritual authority should arise naturally, along the lines of relational, respected influence.  It should be invited by people, not inflicted on them.  “Having authority,” by the way, is different from “acting authoritatively” or “being authoritarian.”

In sum:  my church won’t obviously deal in positional leadership.  Not that there won’t be leaders.  There must be leadership, and leaders will emerge naturally!  But it will not be because of some mail-order license, or a degree-granting institution’s blessing, or a denomination’s “call” (whatever that is).

Leaders serve, their leadership is respected as an outgrowth of their service, and ideally, they begin to have spiritual influence because of recognized insight and genuine relationship.  Leaders are marked by service to humankind, beginning with the household of faith, in the name of God.

Shepherds as public leaders

Effective church shepherding structures may well have each shepherd with a sub-flock, as opposed to considering the shepherds collectively, as though they are all “over” the entire flock.  One church I know of uses the term “under-shepherds”; the implied structure there could be very effective, although I suspect that the under-shepherd is under a single (head, or “senior”) shepherd or pastor.  The one-person-at-the-top model is certainly not the most widely biblically supported one, although Timothy and Titus might have ministered in such an arrangement.

Just as I do not believe that deacons must be leaders (some areas of deacon-type service do not require leadership “gifts”), I do not believe that every spiritual shepherd must be a public leader.  Pastoring, literally speaking, is tending, pasturing, and perhaps pointing flocks to water, but not necessarily with the public charisma that goes with proclaiming, teaching, and preaching.  However, surely a shepherd will have something to offer the gathered saints from time to time.  It is important that shepherds speak words of admonishment, words of response to lessons and scriptures, and words of worship.

If the shepherds are not able to lead musically and are not naturally inclined along the lines of public leadership, they still might be given opportunities to share orally.  It is important that the congregation actually be led by its spiritual leaders, and that includes influence in the assembly.  Don’t let it be only the song leader, the preacher, and the guy who makes announcements doing all the public stuff.

Announcements, by the way, when they spring from the heart and voice of a caring shepherd, can be transformed into more than mere church business:  the sharing of such information can powerfully unite a gathered family of believers when the communication is handled by a genuinely spiritually oriented shepherd, or by any sensitive “announcer” who has the pulse of the church in his heart.

Church Titles

I heard a pretty good sermon on Wednesday that had to do with differences between churches, structurally speaking. This sermon tied things to scripture but pointed up that scriptural patterns aren’t always clear; thus, the differences that result in human workings-out of things, in various eras.

Despite the feeling of many that Christians need to accentuate the positive, deal in the areas of common ground, etc., instead of working ourselves up over the differences … I’m still hung up on titles, because I’m passsionately averse to hints of hierarchy in the church Jesus wanted to build. A few comments on a few titles found in our churches today:

Evangelist. A few churches in my acquaintance like this term for their guy-in-charge. He may or may not have bona fide evangelistic gifts, and he may or may not spend much of his time in weekly evangelism. But some have moved away from other, more common terms such as “preacher” or “minister,” and “evangelist” seems to signal an emphasis on “reaching the lost.” One might legitimately be called “evangelist” if, as part & parcel of his daily work, he communicates the good news of Jesus Christ to humans who are not believers.

Preacher. Many churches routinely call their guy “preacher,” but it’s more rare as an official, letterhead title. Whether or not this role is scripturally required or logically justified today, we all must admit that in terms of corporate activity, “preacher” is an apt label for many who preach sermons weekly. Or 2+ times/week … in some churches, the preacher teaches an adult Bible class and ends up sermonizing then; plus, another sermon on Sunday night and maybe a mini-sermon on Wednesday night, too. I’m not negating the value of all the administrative work, hospital visits, etc., that preachers do during the week when I say that their primary role in most congregants’ lives is that of preacher. In other words, I do know that the preacher does a lot more than preach, but in terms of my weekly existence, what he is to me, a person in the pew, is “preacher.” The obvious follow-up questions (to me, anyway) are what is being preached? and can it be firmly connected to that which was preached (kergyma) in the First Century?

Teacher. Some paid preachers are really more teachers than preachers in my eye. This is no downgrade!

Pastor. Said it before; saying it again. “Pastor” is a term that has been misappropriated, wholesale, in most Christian churches today. “Pastor” is etymologically related to “pasture,” i.e., a place for flocks, and the biblical role spoken of is that of the shepherd. While many who bear the title “pastor” actually do shepherd individual sheep and sub-flocks of sheep, there seems to be little, if any, scriptural evidence that pastor should be used as a singular, hierarchical title.

Senior Pastor. So-called “senior pastors” may be 35 years of age, fresh out of divinity school, and for some organizational reason set above “associate pastors” or “worship pastors” or “youth pastors” who have been serving longer and who may be older. I don’t get this. Of all the hierarchical machinations, this one irks me the most.

Some other time, I’ll comment on the titles “Reverend,” “Rector,” “Father,” and “Minister.”

Addendum: Please see this post, on or after 12/22/2009, for the follow-up.