It happened so many times in the early days of our first house church that it got old. People would call me Pastor Travis. And I would say, “It’s just Travis.”
“But you’re the pastor, right?” was the next question I would get asked. Usually, for those who weren’t part of my house church my response would be something like “Long story, but let’s just keep it at Travis.”
Why was that so awkward for me? Lot’s of reasons. Admittedly, being called a pastor at 26 was a strange thing, especially since I didn’t go the traditional route of pastoring “underneath” an older pastor. But in reality, my unease came from a much deeper place.
What The New Testament Says
My studies of the New Testament had already challenged much of what I saw being done in church culture. Church had gone from being a formal religious ceremony in a holy building to a spiritual family who met wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. As I studied the New Testament, my understanding of the pastoral role had begun to change as well.
As I studied the New Testament, a shocking pattern began to emerge. First, the word pastor was only used once in the English New Testament (Ephesians 4:11). In fact, in some translations it’s not used at all (ESV for example does not use the word pastor). The reason why is the word used in Ephesians 4:11 that is often translated as “pastor” literally means “shepherd.” It’s used 17 times throughout the entire New Testament. Eleven of those times, it’s used to describe Jesus’ relationship with the church. The other times (minus the Ephesians 4 reference) are used to describe actual shepherds who cared for and guarded sheep.
What I also found when I dug deeper into the New Testament was that this role was related very, very closely with the role of elder. In fact, when Paul and his apostolic team started churches, instead of appointing a single pastor to watch over the church, he appointed a group of elders. They were a team of people. Their job was to shepherd (note the use of a similar Greek word) the flock of God through their example, not lording over them (in other words not telling them what to do), but they were to be an example of a mature follower of Christ. They also were supposed do it willingly, not for what they could get out of it.
What Christian Culture Does With Pastors
The problem for me wasn’t what I saw in the New Testament. Obviously the role of pastor existed in there somewhere. The problem for me (especially early on) was Christianity’s outright obsession with the role. Everyone I knew in ministry was called a pastor. Every spiritual leader in a church that was paid was called a pastor. This may be true in your context right now.
I had a dear friend, hired by the church for the sole purpose of reaching lost people. He was called a pastor. He was a good man, called by God to equip the body and reach lost people, but he was not a pastor, he was an evangelist that was given the title pastor. Other people I knew in different churches I was part of were given the title of pastor, but they couldn’t live close enough to everyone in their congregation in order to know them. There was no way they could, their congregations were way too large for them to know half of them. And when you talked to them, they were sincere, godly, good men. But their primary role wasn’t the care of the body. It was leadership, strategy, preaching or something else.
And for the body, this can be problematic. I regularly saw people from church backgrounds come to men who were called pastor expecting to get spiritual care and council from them. And I watched as these “pastors” passed the pastoral tasks on to others in their body. I don’t use “pastors” to indicate any kind of animosity towards these men. They were good guys. They just weren’t pastors. In all likelihood the people the “pastors” referred them to were the real pastors.
I’ve also watched the over-emphasis of this role hinder the multi-membered ministry the church is supposed to demonstrate. Churches seem to focus so much time and attention and energy on a pastor. It’s a natural, human thing. The pastor gives the sermon, he leads the service, he does much of the ministry, especially in smaller congregations. But often this focus causes everyone else to not step forward and serve. In the most dramatic ways, people feel they shouldn’t have to do something “they pay someone else to do.” In lesser ways, people feel less qualified than the person who is the pastor.
Lastly, lets not forget that shepherds are only one of the roles that mature Christians are called in the New Testament. Apostles are frequently mentioned in the New Testament (there are as many as 25 people identified as apostles in the New Testament). But modern Christianity is largely silent about this role. Prophets and Evangelists face a similar situation. But people with these gifts can and often are unintentionally not given space to minister because they aren’t pastors.
Our House Church Network
So as we planted our first and subsequent house churches, there were no titled pastors. We all met as equals, trying to walk out the priesthood of all believers that we believed the New Testament described. We almost developed an allergic reaction to the mention of the word pastor, mostly because of the bad example I set by how quickly I downplayed my name being used next to it. We talked a lot about how Jesus was our pastor. That was (and still is) true.
But our aversion to the pastoral gifting ended up hurting us. We ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is a real pastoral gift that we were minimizing because of our attitude toward the misuse of the word. And so there were times when we didn’t get people the pastoral help that they needed from people uniquely gifted to help and care for others.
Eventually we needed to change. But we wanted to change in a way that reflected the New Testament and the multi-faceted, multi-membered ministry of the first century church.
We’ll talk about how that played out tomorrow.
It’s no secret around here that I strongly believe in having all of the gifts described in Ephesians 4:7-11 functioning in a body of believers. To that end, I’ve developed a little test to help you, yes YOU, determine what your “five-fold” or APEST gifting is. Are you ready?
If you are living on a mission from Jesus and fathering others…. you are a Christian.
If you hear God’s voice well enough to declare it to others…. you are a Christian.
If you love to tell lost people about Jesus and have success in making disciples…. you are a Christian.
If you love and care for God’s people on an intimate level…. you are a Christian.
If you know how to teach in a way that gives people understanding of Jesus and His purposes…. (Say it with me everyone!) you are a Christian.
If you are equipping other believers to live on mission and father others….or if you are training other believers to hear God’s voice…or if you are equipping younger believers to reach their friends….or you are giving other believers the skills to care for hurting believers….or you are helping believers teach others….well….you get the idea.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Therefore it says,
‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.’
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… Ephesians 4:7-13
Every week here at Pursuing Glory I try to bring together the best posts I’ve found that will equip the end-times church to operate in her God-ordained destiny. These are the best blogs, articles, books and other resources related to our purpose here at this site. Feel free to visit, comment, and make use of the resources found at each site.
Last week I talked about some of the other media out there that I’ve been thinking about including. I had some good response on some of the content that I added, so I will continue to add more as it becomes available. I also thought it would be a great idea to let you (the reader) suggest other material of similar content out there for us here at the blog to use. If you have suggestions, leave them in the comment section. And now to this week’s links:
How does the reality of Jesus’s death on the cross and His call to us to die to ourselves affect our idea of God’s mission on the planet? Kieth @ Subversive1 reposts this transcription of a fantastic message by Jackie.
Vision, Intention, and Means is the topic of this post on how human beings change. While spiritual growth is always a work of the Spirit, it’s amazing how many Christians ignore the human fundamentals of change that allow them to cultivate the working of the Spirit. Len takes snippets from a Dallas Willard article to look at the process.
Barney’s “commandments” are methods of human change applied to the subject of evangelism. If you really haven’t thought about what practical changes you need to make in becoming someone who reaches lost people, check out this post.
The five-fold ministry is designed by Jesus to reproduce an aspect of Jesus into His body. Felicity is right on in this article. Many of us cling to only one or two of these giftings which greatly hinders our transformation into a Kingdom people.
This is an audio recording from 2005 where Shawn Bolz discusses the nature of heavenly encounters and their worth in transforming the body of Christ. If you’ve never had a lot of exposure to prophetic encounters, this will be a wild ride for you.