Dysfunctional pastors

Preaching cartoonPastors everywhere are not doing their job. They’re not doing what they’re called to do and it’s hurting our churches. Not only is it restricting the growth and health of our churches, but it runs contrary to God’s word on the matter.

Pastors are doing the work of ministry. They’re preaching, teaching, visiting, caring, counselling, administrating. They’re running Bible studies, prayer meetings, committee meetings. They’re leading church, leading singing, leading prayers, leading worship. They’re following up newcomers, chasing up non-comers, greeting all-comers. They’re organising dinners, lunches, afternoon teas. They’re holding evangelistic courses, missions meetings, aid campaigns. They do the baptisms, the weddings, the funerals, and all the preparations. They’re in the office, typing up news sheets, photocopying bulletins, updating the website, organising the rosters, snowed under with emails.

Our pastors are doing the ministry. They’re busy with ministry. All kinds of ministry. Exhausted from ministry. Never ending ministry. And here’s the real problem…

God doesn’t call pastors to do the ministry.

A dysfunctional church is where the pastor does all the ministry. It’s not what a church should look like. It’s not what God intends for his church. Ministry is not ‘the pastor’s job’. And if it’s not the pastor’s job, then we’ve got to stop employing pastors to do it. We mustn’t hire pastors to do all the ministry. It doesn’t help pastors and it doesn’t help churches.

God’s design is so much better. Take a look at the picture that Paul paints in Ephesians 4:

11 And He (Jesus) personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…  (Ephesians 4:11-12, my emphasis)

Here’s the job description, for the pastor and for the church. The original language suggests that pastors and teachers should probably be seen as one and the same in this list. What are they to do? Training, equipping, preparing, getting others ready. That’s their job. Not simply doing, but helping others to get doing. The pastor’s job description is to train the saints (the Christians in the church) in the work of ministry. The pastor is to be the trainer, the coach, the mentor. God calls the whole church to be involved in ministry, not simply the pastor. When the pastor does the ministry instead of the church, he breeds a dysfunctional, disobedient, and lazy church. He robs the people of their opportunity to be ministering to one another.

The stupidity of this scenario becomes clear when we transpose the situation to a rugby team. The coach’s job is to prepare the players to play the game. He must focus on training, equipping, coordinating others. If he decided that he wasn’t going to train others, then the team would lose. If he decided that he would play instead of the team… you can see the problem, and too many churches are just like this.

The picture of a healthy church is very different…

From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.  (Ephesians 4:16, my emphasis)

Ministry is for every part of the body. We’re all called to play our part. We need each other. God’s design for a healthy church is that ministry is to be shared by all. It’s not the exclusive domain of the pastor.

How can we get this happening? One fundamental strategy is to get pastors actually doing their job. They need to spend time on what God wants them to be doing… training Christians for ministry to one another. I haven’t done the research, but I have enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is often the first thing that gets dropped off the pastor’s list of priorities (if it was ever there at all).

If you are a pastor, let me ask you how much time do you spend training, equipping, preparing, apprenticing, coaching, mentoring others in their ministries? Too often, the honest answer is very little or no time at all. This is so wrong. We need to audit our timetables, calendars, priorities. We’ve got to stop neglecting our responsibilities. We’ve got to stop robbing our churches. We’ve got to stop getting in the way of others doing ministry. What is it that you need to change? And how can you make it happen? If we’re not prepared to invest in training others for ministry, then we should do the honest thing and resign as pastors.

If you’re part of a church looking for a new pastor, be careful what you look for. Don’t hire someone who will do all the ministry in your church. Don’t hire someone who is really good at ministry, but who never spends any time mobilising others. Look for someone who will prepare others. That’s the KPI that really matters. Maybe you could help your existing pastor by offering to get more involved in ministry yourself or asking him to help you get equipped.

Let’s pray for healthy churches and godly pastors. God wants pastors who take seriously their responsibility to help the whole church in building one another. God is seeking churches where everyone is involved in ministry.

8 thoughts on “Dysfunctional pastors”

  1. It can be striking how the task of equipping can be completely off the radar. As part of the process of calling a new pastor we were all asked to fill in a survey that included a question about what we saw as the most important abilities our new pastor should have. I forget exactly what the wording of the question was, but there was a list of options that we were supposed to rank and comment on, and it was obvious that in this particular list, equipping others for ministry should have been there, but wasn’t. So I just wrote it in. And I thank God that we have now got someone for whom equipping is a priority.

    Now roll on to Bible study last Monday, when we were going over prayer points. It occurred to me that we ought to pray that our shiny new pastor was not viewed as the “solution to all of our problems”. While one person in the group thought that a surprising suggestion, I was not alone in thinking that in some ways we were already starting to take him for granted after only three months on the job, because he was doing a lot of the “ministry”. Old “habits” (a.k.a. sins) die hard.

  2. A friend sent me this personal message, which I felt I should share anonymously…

    Nice rant on dysfunctional pastors Macca. We do need to encourage each other to pastor properly and train others for ministry.

    There are also dysfunctional churches (local and denominational organizations) that prevent pastors from doing what they should. They exercise their power by refusing to be trained, and eviscerating anyone who tries to train them. The organisations maintain beligerants in their positions of power and assist them in their campaign.

    Ok, you touched a nerve that is still raw. What I need to say is this: please challenge and encourage pastors who are doing it tough with a little more grace.

    I don’t know what happens in other places, but where we are I am not aware of pastors being pastored. I see all sorts of other schemes being practiced, but none seem to be geared at supporting, challenging and encouraging pastors to do proper pastoral ministry.

    1. Yeah, ‘rant’ was the word that came to my mind, too. ‘Dysfunctional’, for doing ministry? Labelling won’t change things, IMO.

      Why not a post on, ‘Why do pastors do so much ministry’? Analyse, get a good diagnosis, look at positive reasons why, consider options, etc.

      1. Thanks Chris,

        A rant eh? Probably! But I do care about this. I’m sure there is more analysis that could be done, but at least one reason for the problem is at least sometimes the pastors. So hopefully the appropriate pastors and churches will read, and the others can keep going about their good work.

        I cut and paste the personal comment above because I sympathised with the dilemma. It’s not always or entirely the pastor’s fault. Churches can resist pastors efforts to mobilise, equip and encourage people in ministry.

        However, I stand by the intent of the post – if pastors think they can drop out the need to be equipping others for ministry, then they need to repent of this. I think a healthy audit of our priorities is a very useful thing.

        For God’s glory, I hope.

  3. Yes, this needs to be said. However where is the middle line? I have moved recently and have been to a number of churches. The pastors did not bother to come to the door at the end of the service to greet people at a couple of the churches. Such a small thing but it raises the question: what does the pastor see as his responsibility? I can only glean from this action on the pastor’s part that he is not the least interested in the congregation – or of intending members/visitors. Does he have a shepherd’s heart; does he know the condition of his flock? However to get back to the original communication. As a start I suggest the congregation needs to understand Ephesians 4 and that comes back to the pastor, eg sermon, Bible study. I have also been a member of a church where the minister was exactly as described in the second paragraph of the anonymous post above (not, I know, what is being said in that paragraph) ie no-one was capable of doing anything except the minister/pastor and everyone in the church had to be obedient and not question his “authority”. The church went down hill. Thank you for raising this. But how to get pastors to read this and think about it and how to get congregations to read this and think about it. Prayer

  4. As a minister’s/pastor’s wife at the end of 50 years in ministry I look across the churches and see that there is a lot of dysfunction for a variety of reasons in all the different churches. In my denomination “we have always done it this way” is from the pew as much as the pulpit and I see this in many guises in the many different churches I have visited over the years. The end result seems to be that there are many people with a shallow understanding of how they may be a functioning part of Christ’s body. I found your blog to be pretty fair. The need is to turn things around by God’s grace not so much blaming but encouraging one another .

  5. 11 And He (Jesus) personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-12, my emphasis)

    We need to be careful to employ those who have been given these roles. Take the fish out of the water he will dry up, and if he doesn’t make changes he will die while he works.

  6. It’s interesting how many seem to forget that the pastors are there to equip / train the ‘saints’ for the work of ministry. I once heard it said (using the image of the body of Christ) “These days if a hand gets cut off churches just employ someone to be the hand.” And so the ability of the ‘saints’ to do ministry is whittled away, and we get the mentality that ministry is done only by those who are paid to do it. No wonder we treat our churches like shopping malls.

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