At quarter till twelve, the rambling man of God wraps up his rambling message in front of a distracted, and slightly sleepy, congregation. The congregation rises for one final song and a closing prayer as faithfully as ever. Soon small talk ensues and the sermon is forgotten; no big loss, because it wasn’t much of a sermon anyway. In groups, families and friends head off to a hearty, filling casserole. From his mail slot, the pastor collects his meager check from the ministers’ support offering and heads off to his dinner as well.
Over lunch, congregants muse over the delicious food, the lovely day, and the price of soybeans, but little is heard of the message. The pastor takes a nice nap; after all, he has to work tomorrow and needs the sleep. He thinks to himself as he drifts off, “The sermon was kind of poor; I probably should have studied a little more.” This is quickly followed by, “But, I needed the overtime, surely people understand.”
One by one, sleep overtakes the other churchgoers as well. The pastor’s kids entertain themselves as usual since dad is too tired to play. And so, another average message yields to an average Sunday afternoon in the long, unfulfilling, average life of the average pastor and his very average church. At quarter past three, the leftovers sit cold on the counter as the sleepy congregants resume their morning slumber.
It seems that most of us as Anabaptists can relate to the aforementioned “average church.” To be clear, our churches are not dead; we do not need a Martin Luther to hammer on the doors. Yet, I perceive that we as Anabaptists need to reexamine the purpose of church.
The church is the primary context through which God works in his people and through which the gospel spreads to a hurting world. The church is not primarily a servant to the individual, but each individual serves and adds to the common body of the church. Church is not an activity we do once a week to work up an appetite for the pot roast; church is the pot roast and it must not be treated as a side dish.
It has been said that as goes a leader, so goes a movement. Therefore, a Christ-centered church begins with Christ-centered pastors.
“The pastor in the church of God shall, as Paul has prescribed, be one who out-and-out has a good report of those who are outside the faith. This office shall be to read, to admonish and teach, to warn, to discipline, to ban in the church, to lead out in prayer for the advancement of all the brethren and sisters, to lift up the bread when it is to be broken, and in all things to see to the care of the body of Christ, in order that it may be built up and developed, and the mouth of the slanderer be stopped.”1
Imitators of Christ
The writers of the Schleitheim Confession understood the necessity of a pastor. In fact, they believed that if for some reason a church found itself without a pastor, another should be ordained “in the same hour.”2 The purpose of a pastor is twofold: internally, the body must be developed and externally, Christ must be represented to the outsider.
These two duties are summed up as a calling to represent Christ. A pastor can say with Paul, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.”3 Thus, to describe a pastor as one who preaches sermons, or leads services, or keeps everyone on the straight and narrow is to deal in side dishes. The pot roast of pastoral duty is, singularly, to imitate Christ.
What does imitating Christ really mean? Christ was a servant. A pastor, though not ruled by his congregation, must have an attitude of servanthood. Christ was focused solely on doing the will of the Father. A pastor cannot allow distractions to steal his focus from ministry.
In this area, we as church members can help; as long as we fail to recognize that pastoral ministry is “real work” and fail to financially support our pastors, our pastors must juggle ministry and a full time job. It is our responsibility to help carry the physical support of our pastors so that they can focus on ministry. Christ loved his disciples and he loves his bride, the Church. Likewise, pastoring is worthless unless it is a labor of love.
Under the umbrella of imitating Christ, pastoral duties take on renewed meaning. If a pastor is imitating Christ, it will affect his sermons, leadership, and discipline; it will make him effective. Too many pastors settle for preaching sub-par sermons. If a Sunday service is only a time slot to be filled, only filler will be preached. However, when a pastor senses the weight of responsibility to preach the Word, his sermons will be filled with the meat and authority that comes from God’s word.
A pastor’s job is not to organize social events or to entertain us with eloquent sermons. Quite simply, a pastor is called both to live and to expound the Word of God. The Word of God should be the foundation for all of a pastor’s work; this should be very freeing for a pastor. Does a pastor have to lead in a difficult decision? Is there a case requiring church discipline? The pastor can be confident that he isn’t making a decision based on a whim; his decisions are guided by the parameters of Scripture.
Committing to More
It is exciting to see a pastor who is pointing to Christ and a church that is following him. A healthy church starts with good leadership and good leadership requires committed members. Consider how you can encourage your pastor. Plug into your church. Support your pastor with your trust and your faithfulness; he is accountable to God for how he leads. Our attitude toward church needs to change.
Let us be done with Sunday-only Christianity and part-time pastoring. When we seek to serve in the context of our church, when a pastor catches a vision for his calling, when the church stands behind its shepherds, then our churches will find renewed vigor. Then our churches can be used of God.
For the Reader
Do we support our pastors as we should?
How does the “average church” story strike you?
Please comment below.
|Bryce Wenger lives and works on a small farm near Dalton, Ohio. He has a love for music, literature, and learning. His free time is usually spent backpacking, canoeing, or otherwise enjoying nature. He is passionate about knowing God’s Word and living life to the fullest.
1 Wenger, J.C “Schleitheim Confession of Faith, 1527” Web. 01-26-2016.
3 I Cor. 11:1. The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.
4 Photo credit: Ian Britton. Downloaded from http://www.freefoto.com