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What is the Pastor?

March 6, 2008

Now that I am in the midst of reading “Pagan Christianity” and should be finished by today, I have many questions. These come out of reading the book, but are not inspired by the book as much as they are stirred up by it. I guess that’s what makes a good book…does it agitate you to think?

I will lay aside most of what Barna and Viola say about the pagan origins of today’s church to another day. But here I will continue the discussion I started before I read the book. Where does the Pastor of today’s church fit into the biblical scheme of what the church should look like?

On one major point, I completely agree with PC: Today’s pastor is not what the Bible calls pastor. In the only listing of that particular word (Ephesians 4:11), the pastor shows up as the word “poimena”, which means “shepherd”. This is a radical concept for the early church to adopt, even in its biblical form, since the poimena as a religious figure was more Egyptian and Turkish than Hebrew. Of course, there were shepherds in Israel; that’s not what I’m talking about. The religious shepherd was someone whose job it was to coach others in their spiritual pursuits.

The Church of England probably comes closest to that function with a title they give to some of their workers called “Curate”. A Curate is a man or woman who gives “cure” to souls. That’s a curious/unknown expression today, so let me explain. When you “cure” meat, you let it soak in certain chemicals or under low heat or both. The purpose is to give the meat flavor, to allow it to season properly and especially to prevent it from spoiling in cultures where there is no refrigeration. Cured meats have unique taste, texture and durability compared to other meats.

A Curate is a person who helps people in their pursuit of God to develop the flavor of Christ, the durability of a godly lifestyle and the sensibility of the Spirit. This is probably what was meant by the New Testament concept of Pastor. And just because this person is only mentioned once in the New Testament, it is in a list of Ministry titles that is short and includes all the major designations we adhere to still. So there is no reason to throw out the idea of pastor.

But is today’s pastor a curate? For the most part…no. Not really. There are several reasons for this that owe very little to Greek and Roman paganism (with no apologies to Viola’s research). First, the pace we live at now no longer affords most people the luxury of slowing down enough to be coached. Albeit, there are jobs that require personal coaching, or highly recommend it, but the average Christian probably doesn’t have one. Coaching is not the same as mentoring or accountability. Mentoring is a process of skill transference. Accountability at its best is deep friendship that offers levels of intimacy to share the deepest need. No Shepherd can do that with more than one or two people: certainly not an entire congregation. A coach’s job is to push someone who already has skills, and to hold them to a certain defined standard.

(Sidenote: It is curious that many pastors now are being urged to have life coaches. That just shows that pastors know very little about curating).

The second reason most pastors are not pastors is because too much is expected of them. They are expected to be in charge of an ever-increasing, ever-burgeoning expanse of people. If they are a successful pastor, their group will keep getting larger. As the group gets larger, the less contact the pastor has with any one individual. As Win Arn says “he moves from Shepherd to Rancher”. Funny, I don’t see “rancher” in any biblical lists. Why? Well, on this point, Viola is spot on. The early church had no interest in the size of the group. They just started more home churches. Bully for them. They had a culture that admired and encouraged coaching. We don’t. But more on that in a moment.

The larger the church gets, the more today’s pastor becomes CEO. If it does not get larger, the more courses in evangelism, counseling and marketing they must take. That leaves less time for giving cure to souls.

Finally, one of the biggest reasons that today’s pastor is not the same as the biblical “pastor” is that we are educationally driven and not vocationally driven in our culture. Can we honestly say that the people who care most for our bodies are doctors? Can we say that the best people to inspire learning in children are teachers? Is it possible that those who love books the most may not be college professors or editors? (Please take note: many editors do not love books….they love ‘their’ books).

A pastor, in most circles, must complete a minimum of theological and practical training to serve in a church. In many places, this also includes some master’s work, and in rare circumstances, a doctorate. This perpetuates the concept of a “book-smart, academic, hierarchical” pastor – one who does not resemble a Shepherd as much as a research scientist devoted to sheep.

So what is the answer? That is for the next installment tomorrow

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