The pastoral scapegoat

“We are too small to be able to afford to pay a pastor, the church will have to close.”

Bad call!

Employing a pastor is not a necessary requirement of a healthy church. In many cases it is really a convenient way to make life easier for the elders and church members.

Many small churches are struggling to balance budgets, yet the last expense to be cut is usually the pastor’s salary. As an elder myself I would never want to make a pastor redundant, but after our part-time pastor resigned a year and a half ago we did not employ anyone to replace him. Despite some doubts, our congregation is still thriving, we have an excellent Sunday school program, great sermons and heartfelt worship singing each week.

I would like for us to employ a pastor, but my reasons are largely selfish – it would make life easier for me. It would probably also tempt me to disobey God. My responsibility as an elder is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). I cannot push that responsibility onto someone else by casting my vote to pay them a salary from the church budget. The commission to shepherd (pastor) God’s people was given to me when I accepted the office of elder.

Likewise, no Christian can delegate their obligation to love one another onto a pastor by virtue of contributing to his salary. Responsibility for serving God’s people lies with all believers according to the grace God has given (1 Peter 4:10).

At its best, a group of believers would act in accordance with the exhortations of Romans chapter 12. Those with particular abilities use them for building up the whole group. God promises to give what we need to serve Him, so we can assume that He will place within each group the skills, or ability to acquire the skills, required to fulfill the purpose He has for that group. The leaders in such a group of believers would be:

  • Experienced
  • Stable and above reproach
  • Humble
  • Willing servants
  • Committed to the wellbeing of those in the group (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 1 Peter 5:1-5).

What is missing from this picture? Plenty, if you are using contemporary churches as the measuring standard. A couple of obvious things are buildings and a pastor. But if we use the New Testament as our standard, buildings are barely mentioned and neither are pastors.

We do see elders as a required church office in the Bible, and that those who labor for the gospel and in preaching are worthy of wages for their work. It is OK to pay those who labor in ministry, but nowhere are we told that a church must employ a pastor. The responsibility for shepherding (pastoring) lies with the elders.  If we can trust God to give all we need for life and godliness, and if we believe that spiritual gifts are given for the common good of the church, then it is reasonable to assume that within each congregation of His people God provides grace to corporately fulfill His mission without dumping most of the work onto one man.

In order to follow such an ideal of church leadership we have to adjust our expectations. By accepting that God gives the grace to achieve His call on each fellowship, we also have to accept His standards and priorities for His work. We know God doesn’t judge outward appearances and that He is happy to accept people who are shunned by everyone else. So elders, brace yourselves for a shakedown of any appearance-based expectations and to be called-out on substandard shepherding.

2 thoughts on “The pastoral scapegoat

  1. Hi Mike, Sorry to disagree but as a pastor I don’t see my role as making things easier for the elders. I don’t think the role of pastor is to just be an administrator or religious professional. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us the role of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is for the perfecting of the saints: To raise men up to their full potential in the will of God.
    Currently, we are pioneering a mission work in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, we started with 6 people of course we’re not going to earn a full-time salary with 6 people. But through guidance, teaching, instruction in tithing and the will of God, as well as a good Pastoral example, this small church of 30 is completely self-sufficient, we no longer receive support from America or anyone outside the congregation. It took 11 months to get there. I don’t want to knock what you’re doing, praise God for men like you and the other elders at your church who will labor in the word of God. But I think the goal should be to raise up a pastor from within the church. You, in my opinion, would make an excellent pastor. Think about it. Pray about it.
    I’ve been a pastor for 10 years, for 8 of those years I supported myself and pastored for free. Once I began to receive a small salary, when the budget couldn’t support it that salary was the first thing to cut, and i went back to work. It’s difficult to hire a person who will be that committed, but raising a man up will give you that kind of commitment. It wasn’t always easy, that’s for sure, but it can be done and it will teach you many things about faith and provision. If you want to talk it through or need information, e-mail me at cbanducci@gmail.com.

    1. Hi Chris,Actually I’m glad you disagree! I wrote this as a guest post a year ago for a blog that has now been discontinued and thought I would recycle it here. However, it has lost it’s context a bit in that there had been some discussion on the other blog about pastors becoming too professional and effectively becoming glorified project managers or administrators of large teams. The host of the blog was after a completely different viewpoint so I gave one.
      From what you describe it seems your situation was similar to the one our pastor was in, though he stopped being the pastor because he was entering full-time study and felt God calling him in a new direction. Since we could not pay a full salary we decided to keep going as best we could, and in the process I have realized that it is all too easy for churches with a good pastoral team to slip into complacency and leave a lot of things to the paid staff that we are in fact called to do ourselves. That common human trait of becoming lazy when the going is easy.
      We would love to have a pastor – what we have found is that it is very difficult to move forward and grow without the vision of a pastor and someone whose role it is to lead the church. As a board of elders we really are taking care of keeping the church operating and ensuring no major problems are left uncared for, but there is plenty that we probably should be doing but just don’t have time for. I like your summary of the pastoral role, to raise people up to their full potential in the will of God. I’m very impressed by your story, it must have been hard work and a real test – you obviously made it through.
      Thanks for your comment, you have given me food for thought (and prayer!)

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