Search our archive:

« Back to Issue 1

Can the Pastor be Reformed?

By Michael Griffiths.

Is the pulpit a pedestal on which to display our own gifts or a platform from which to develop the gifts of the congregation?

There is a significant difference between the pastor who is a spiritual performer and one who is a spiritual leader. Looking for a model of true pastoral leadership, I have been for some years in the habit of contrasting soloists and conductors of orchestras. The greatest of Prima Donna pastors may be capable of inducing spiritual ecstasy in their congregations, as they fulfil their perceived functions as spiritual teachers: but the drawback is that in exercising their own spiritual gifts, they are essentially soloists. Congregations, unenthusiastic about greater commitment, function in unspoken collusion with extrovert individualists, who enjoy doing it all themselves! Richard Baxter, though in a different time warp from ourselves, wrote of the danger of the minister's spiritual pride in his `Reformed Pastor' (Epworth 1950 edition p55 ff). More recent psychological studies suggest that some people enter the ministry in the first place in order to fulfil their own need for attention and significance: that some church leadership may be a form of self-gratification. However threatening such a view may seem, we have to face objectively the possibility that there might be some truth in it.

By contrast is the pastor who sees himself likened to the spiritual conductor of the congregational orchestra, encouraging others to exercise their gifts, and using their own gifts and authority to enable others to play their parts following the Biblical score. My use of this illustration was enriched recently whilst enjoying the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, when the solo violinist Silverman played both a Haydn Violin Concerto and Vaughan Williams `Lark Ascending' while also conducting the orchestra. He would play his own violin part, but then using his violin bow as a baton, ensure that the whole orchestra played their own instruments as they should. This offers us an alternative model of the way in which both teaching gift and true congregational leadership may be exercised together. Frankly, it is always easier for the minister to conduct the whole service solo: to involve others in praying, reading the Scriptures, organising drama, giving reports and so on means time consuming telephone calls and face to face discussion. The quickest way (and the laziest) is for us as pastors to do everything ourselves. But that perpetuates congregations of passive concert going spectators, rather than developing churches packed with actively involved participators.

A second illustration, from Hong Kong, underlines this point. The sampan is a small, clumsy slow moving boat, because it is propelled by a single oar operated by its owner from the stern. As such it represents the one man band pastor, who does all the work, the rest of the congregation being mere passengers on the boat. By contrast the dragon boat is a very fast boat, with slim lines and many paddlers, and the captain beats out the time and ensures that all the crew are paddling furiously and in time with each other: the boat leaps through the water. There are no passengers: everyone is energetically committed to the propulsion of the boat. The function of the leader is to make everyone else work and pull their weight! There is no doubt which pattern of leadership results in the fastest progress.

But we need clear Biblical authority for such teaching, which cannot be based merely upon such colourful analogies. For the past three happy years at Regent College, Vancouver, I have seen each day engraved in stone at the entrance, a reminder of the purpose of Christian ministry, the words of Ephesians 4:12, `to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.' I was still a teenager when I first heard the late Alan Stibbs explaining that the translators of the Authorised version reflected their own cultural view of the ministry. In translating Paul's unpunctuated Greek, they inserted commas, in such a way as to suggest that apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor teachers, had a threefold function:

(i) `the perfecting of the saints' comma

(ii) `the work of the ministry' comma

(iii) `the edifying of the body of Christ' colon.

They seem to have seen these as three functions of the ordained ministry. It is a culturally conditioned translation based on the presupposition that church work would all be done by the ordained hierarchy. The subsequent realisation of later translators that we have here not three parallel descriptions of the work of ordained ministers, but rather three steps towards a Biblical goal, may have been recognised by Biblical scholars, but is still so rarely implemented by ministers or their colluding congregations.

According to the NIV, the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor teachers are:

Step 1: `to prepare God's people' - a nice verb (k a t a r t i x w ), part of the pastoral vocabulary of the early church, used of mending nets, or setting dislocated bones, meaning to prepare something to fulfil the function for which it was made, to render it efficient (a r t i o V ). The result of this equipping of the saints by those gifted by the Holy Spirit to prepare them is that God's people will engage in:

Step 2: `works of service' - that is the people of God as a whole will serve and minister. The task of these `first, second, third' gifts is to enable the rest of God's people to work and serve. It is not a form of substitution so that the professional acts on behalf of, and instead of, all the rest, so that the minister labours while the congregation dutifully listen, spectate and applaud: the true spiritual leader is a coach; a trainer whose chief function is to equip, enable and activate all the members. They are organic catalysts who enable everyone else to become active. How far is this true of our ministry?

Step 3: `so that the body of Christ may be built up'- a metaphor developed further in verse 16, from Him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work'. The body is built up by the total activity of the total church membership, relating to each other and functioning together.

It is a cliche that there are no laymen and laywomen in the New Testament, or rather that all Christians are seen to be members of the l a o V , the people of God. It is an anachronism to speak of `laymen', in Scripture because the Christians of the New Testament make no such distinction. Of course some are distinguished by apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic and teaching/pastoral gifts, but these are differences of function not of status. Let me illustrate this anachronistic thinking in this way: was Paul a tentmaker or a missionary? You see, we are reading back from a twentieth century mindset in understanding the Scriptures. Was Philip, the evangelist, a professional `full-time worker' or a `layman'? Sure he evangelised Samaria, and the Ethiopian, but then appears to have settled down in Caesarea with his four prophesying daughters. And what about Aquila and Priscilla, Andronicus and Junia, Mary, Persis, Tryphena and Tryphosa: were all these women whom Paul calls fellow-workers, or colleagues, and who `labour' in the Lord, full time workers or laywomen? The question is absurdly anachronistic for it seems unlikely that first century Christians thought in that way. So whenever we catch ourselves talking about `lay ministry' we have to recognise that we have a great accumulation of cultural presuppositions hindering our thinking from being truly Biblical.

A similar emphasis may be detected in 2 Timothy 2:2. The things that Timothy has heard from Paul, he is to pass on to faithful persons (`men' is anthropoi not androi here, if the apostle had really meant `faithful males' he would have said so. German versions more correctly use `mensch'), who will in turn teach others also. We may see the analogy of the four legs of a relay race. It would be stupid for the runner of the first leg of a relay race to hang on selfishly to the baton and stubbornly run all four legs on his own! Paul passes the truth on to Timothy who teaches faithful persons who in turn pass it on to others. Paul is about to be martyred, perhaps Timothy is under threat too, so it is essential that successors must be trained up. It is a bogus professionalism that keeps certain esoteric doctrine for the clerical few. There is nothing that a religious professional can understand and learn that is beyond the capabilities of men and women supported by their own labour. We are not a mystery religion, where only initiates are instructed in secret truth. Colossians 1:28. seems relevant here: `We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.' As those who teach Biblical Christianity we are not interested in professional elitism: it is our purpose to admonish and teach every believer, so that every one of us may be perfect in Christ.

This raises the whole question of the authority of the pastor as it relates not only to the exercise of his own spiritual gifts, but to the exercise of gifts by the whole congregation. Let me use an apparently more Biblical illustration to explain this: a body in which only one organ is functioning is almost dead. We detect that the heart is just ticking over, there is a faint pulse. So we call the ambulance, and take the body to hospital. A church in which only the pastor is working is close to death. The heart is the most important organ perhaps: but its function is to pump blood to all the other organs, so that they will function properly. There is a great difference between this almost dead church body on the operating table, and the body of an athlete where all the parts are working properly. Notice that in all three illustrations the role of the spiritual leader is still to lead: whether as the heart, or the captain of the dragon boat or the conductor of the orchestra. The skill and authority to do that remains crucial, but it is the authority to involve, employ, organise and lead others. The pastor who is a mere soloist is not a leader. He is not really leading anybody anywhere! The high jumper is a solo performer, and not a leader, but the captain of a football team is a leader, because his task is not only to play, but to lead the team.

Perhaps the coach is an even better example, because his whole task is to get others to play.

I am deliberately leading you up a non-Biblical garden path now, for this is not precisely the Biblical analogy at all, since in the first century, the role of the heart was not yet fully understood and it was the head that was seen to be the indispensable organ from which the body derived its life. Thus, and the reminder is salutary, it is not the pastor at all, but Jesus Christ Himself who is seen as the Head. The firm reminder of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:8-12 is relevant here. It is not just that Christians should forswear bigheaded titles, which hopefully we do. The significant thing is the reason He gives as to why we should: that we have only one Master, one Father, and only one Teacher. `You are all brothers' is not just a happy denominational slogan for the Christian Brethren, but equally relevant to all of us. The church is God's church and not ours, even if we labour within it. Peter says we have `returned to the Pastor and Bishop of our souls'. The Lord alone is the true Pastor, who never needs to be reformed! I have sometimes been tempted to claim that `My wife and I planted such and such a church', but the real truth is that we watched the Lord plant it. It is a salvific truth for the workaholic church leader to realise that the real truth is that he is a junior fellow-worker, with a front row seat watching God at work. Christ Himself is the missionary Lord, who evangelises Saul of Tarsus and opens Lydia's heart. If Richard Baxter is our model, he would repudiate the human pride that wants to take the credit for emulating his ministry in Kidderminster. If the congregation is transformed, and comes alive and takes up its corporate responsibilities then I certainly cannot take the credit for overcoming the natural inertia of the natural man and woman in the congregation, and through my feeble words and explanations, quickening their active participation. Without Him I can do nothing. He is the great church worker and church builder. He it is who gives us numerical church growth in Willow Creek or anywhere else, and most significantly He it is who gives us qualitative church growth through the work of His Spirit among us.

One congregation through which we have been blessed down the years provides a closing illustration. Pastor A was one of the most incredibly gifted performers I have ever known: a superb preacher and teacher and an outstanding leader of worship. He was however not so gifted pastorally and did little to affirm and encourage the ministry of others. All the traditional expectations of the one man band oninicompetent minister were abundantly fulfilled. His successor Pastor B is extraordinary in the difference of his perception of his own role. He does preach and teach, but gives opportunity to many others to share that teaching ministry: the occasional gifted preacher comes from outside, but mainly members from within the congregation. The first daughter church was launched a year ago and another has just started: and each new congregation provides still more opportunities for more people to serve. This second man is a model of humility in doing what Paul says in Philippians 2:3, `Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves'. Our traditional omnicompetent pastor naturally regards himself as better than everyone else, in a humble way, of course. Have we not had a theological training and now have pastoral experience? It is because we are `better' that we are in charge, surely? But are we ministers alone among Christians exempt from obeying this Scripture? Do we regard members of our congregation as `better than ourselves' in their use of spiritual gifts like teaching, pastoring and administrating? This is a significant verse: and a challenge to us. Do we obey this in our ministry? And are we satisfied by being really mere `performers' displaying our own gifts, when we ought to be more concerned to be `conductors' developing the gifts of all our fellow Christians?

Ministry Today

You are reading Can the Pastor be Reformed? by Michael Griffiths, part of Issue 1 of Ministry Today, published in January 1994.

Who Are We?

Ministry Today aims to provide a supportive resource for all in Christian leadership so that they may survive, grow, develop and become more effective in the ministry to which Christ has called them.

Around the Site

© Ministry Today 2021