Okay, I’ll admit this is very opinionated. But think about it: In so many ways, a pastor has to be a generalist. I think pastors have several big jobs. Equip the saints, pass on creedal basics, lead and shepherd the local church, and think like an evangelist.
But in my mind, this is what we should stop pretending to be:
1. Bible Scholars.
Face it: we’re not. Anytime I hear the average pastor or TV preacher say, “A better translation in the Hebrew would be…” or “The Greek verb really means…”, I get nervous. I’ve done my own fair share of hacking Hebrew and Greek based solely on a commentary, concordance, century-old Edersheim material and “Follow The Rabbi”-type websites…and it ain’t pretty. And I’ve had people who are intensely schooled in dead languages and Koine Greek call me out. As they should.
While pastors must and should study the Bible, it’s not a full-time vocation for us. Of course we know doctrine, understand the canon and its origins, and be able to disciple people through scripture. But we don’t really have the luxury of spending the bulk of our waking hours studying texts because, remember?—we’re pastors.
So let’s stop pretending to be Bible scholars. We can read their work, we can quote them, we should know a few, but we’re not them because we can’t hole up in libraries for hours a day and because we should be with our people in order to lead them.
The Cliff Notes version is this: Bible scholars study text, theologians study what different voices believe about the text. Trees versus forest. And don’t get me started on Biblical theology or systematic theology. But it requires inordinate amounts of time to recognize the nuances and roots of various theological themes. Not for the faint-hearted. Yes, I know by default every believer is a theologian, but you’re a pastor first, a theologian second. Or third. (As Paul said to Pastor Timothy: Do the work of an evangelist.) At its heart, the Good News is deep, but not complicated.
But the argument is the same as #1. Enough said.
3. Professional Counselors.
I believe in Christian counseling with all my heart. I’ve been to some. It’s like the old joke: Q. “Do you believe in infant baptism?” A. “Heck yeah! I’ve actually seen it!”
But it’s a black hole for pastors. And here’s why: it will suck the leadership and pastoral life out of you. For one, most pastors don’t have enough serious clinical counseling training and, second, most of us suffer from acute messianic complexes—we think if we try hard enough we can fix anything. But people are complex cocktails of spiritual, emotional, relational, neurological and chemical challenges. And I can guarantee the psyche-vampires will find you out and want to meet with you. Endlessly. And drain the pastoral blood out of you.
Sure, we can do generalized Biblical counseling; we can even cast out a few demons. But take it from me: beyond one or two introductory meetings, you’re probably in over your head. If you really enjoy counseling people—and many pastors do—just make sure you get continuing education and training, network with professional counselors in your area, and realize that your leadership of the church and evangelistic thrust will take a backseat. You’ll have great stories for sermons (uh, if you’re discreet and wait two years before you tell any “anonymous” story), but have less time mentoring and modeling for leaders.
There’s a reason why we always did our support and recovery work in the context of groups at the church I pastored…and referred intense one-on-ones out to professionals.
Plus, people seem to get better faster when they pay for it. At least they have some skin in the game.
4. The Smartest Guy in the Room.
This is more internal with respect to staff/volunteer/leaders meetings. If you’re the lead pastor, people will naturally turn to you when a decision needs to be made or a confirming or counterpoint view requires expression. That’s your job. But just because you have the position and are potentially the decider, it doesn’t make you the sharpest crayon in the box…and the sooner you realize that, the better. What pastors can be is this: expert generalists. You can and should know a little bit about most things (such as these five roles), but you’re not the expert of any one of them.
Besides, all of us have probably worked for different bosses in different contexts. Did you ever seriously think they were the smartest person in the room? Really? And why would you think differently now that you’re in the first chair?
I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be prophetic. And I mean the whole range of the prophetic: from classic foretelling to forth-telling, from proclamations about direction…to encouragement…to exposing justice-oriented issues often overlooked.
It’s just that typically prophets don’t make great pastors. They can have an edge that counteracts invitation. A church led by a prophet will typically end up being a small group of spiritual Rambos. And those who lean into a prophetic-stance can be susceptible to becoming authoritative and controlling, copping a my-way-or-the-highway style. Interestingly, church people will easily give authority to a prophetic personality, but when they’re discontent they’ll more-than-likely pull out the “God-card” as to why they’re leaving the church because that’s the style that’s been modeled for them. A dangerous “less-than-transparent and false-authenticity” church culture can quickly develop.
Prophesy, but circumspectly and humbly. And be on guard for spiritual abuse; we can easily fall prey to it.
That’s it, pastors. Now go do your real job.
Dave Workman | Elemental Churches