Think about the 1000 largest churches in America. Now imagine if they all were to have their senior pastors resign tomorrow. What do you think would happen? Do you think there would be problems and chaos? How anxious, scared, upset, sad, angry, or confused do you think they would be? Now ask yourself, “Why would most of the members feel any or all of the above mentioned emotions?”
More than likely, these churches and members would immediately experience some or all of these emotions, not about the spiritual welfare of their members, or their effective witness to the communities they find themselves in, but in all probability, these emotions would be from their concern about maintaining attendance, cash flow and the ability to meet their budgets.
Most people choose the church they attend primarily based on the personality in the pulpit. If we believe the Apostle Paul and the writings in which he affirms that the body is not one part but many. So, with this in mind, it doesn’t require a lot of spiritual discernment to come to the realization that building a congregation around the personality of one man just doesn’t make sense. Yet, that is typically what most churches do. The result is that it leads those in the pew to be passive, disoriented, spoon-fed consumers that have a hard time functioning in day to day life without the direct input from the pastor.
First, we need to understand that this type of church is not found anywhere in the scriptures and it would do us well to look a little closer into it. There is no doubt that there are many unhealthy congregations out there today.
Just imagine if your own body were to suddenly be dependent on one part to carry out all its vital functions? One part to control heartbeat, breathing, thinking, digestion, etc. I think you get the idea. Now, if that were the case it wouldn’t take very long for you to become deathly ill, or worse, deathly dead. But that is exactly what we have done with the local body of believers, we somehow expect life and vitality to be there when the whole body seems to rely on one part of the body for all functionality. Albert Einstein once observed that insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.
So, lets look at a couple of the characteristics, apathy and immaturity, that seem to be prevalent in almost every congregation traveling down this unhealthy path:
Apathy – I hear pastors often lament that they can’t get people to help in the different ministries of the church. Statistics have shown that as much as 90 percent of the ministry workload is done by 10 percent of the members. Part of this comes from the mindset of “clergy” and “laity” which are both terms for something that is non-existent in the Bible. The mindset is, “That’s what we are paying the preacher to do. He should be doing all of the visiting, counseling and teaching.” With this kind of thinking, a local congregation can in no way be healthy when they look to the pastor alone as the center of communication both vertically (from God to the body) and horizontally (from the body to God).
Immaturity – Like all living things, people grow best in unrestricted and unhindered environments. That kind of environment for people is one in which they are respected as persons, and are encouraged to express themselves openly and honestly. A place where they are expected to be accountable for their actions, and to have their input taken seriously. It will be very hard for believers to grow in Christ and prosper as they should within most churches in the western culture, especially if the pastor is the only one front and center week after week, and is the primary filter through which all things must be evaluated.
This kind of thinking may initially ruffle some feathers because I am challenging the “church” status quo by highlighting that there is no NT basis supporting the centrality or necessity of a pastor as the principal functionary within each local church. I have noted that pastor-dependence is contrary to Paul’s statement that “the body is not one part.”
This being true, then it is no wonder that the one-pastor dogma creates a host of other problems for both churches and those who see themselves as clergy. We are mortgaging our spiritual future upon a bankrupt concept. In light of this, I ask you to carefully read and ponder the following observations made by those who believe in and defend the one-pastor doctrine. These shocking admissions cannot be dodged in order to deny that our house is sitting upon some very rotten timbers.
One survey I came across published sobering information about pastors. It claims the following:
- 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month in the USA from the unique pressures associated with their job.
- 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their roles.
- 80 percent of seminary and Bible school graduates entering the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
- 70 percent felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry only 50 percent still felt called.
- 80 percent of pastors surveyed spend less than 15 minutes a day in prayer.
- 70 percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons. This report also reveals the feelings of pastors’ spouses:
- 80 percent feel their spouse is overworked.
- 80 percent wish their spouse would choose another profession.
- The majority of pastors’ spouses surveyed said that the most destructive event occurring in their marriage and family was the day the pastor entered the ministry.
And don’t forget the feelings of the children of those pastors:
- 80 percent of adult children of pastors surveyed have had to seek professional help for depression (The data was collected by Richard A. Murphy; cited by Ivan C. Blake, cf. “Pastor for Life,” Ministry, July/August, 2010, p. 6).
The one particular heart-cry expressed by pastors’ wives especially touched and grieved my heart: “The majority of pastors’ spouses surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day the pastor entered the ministry.”
This remark establishes — just from a pragmatic perspective — that there is something very dysfunctional built into the clergy-centrality doctrine. Why would God sacrifice His Bride in such a way?
When linked to the fact that there exists no basis for pastor-dependence in the NT, the destructive nature of this system — for all parties involved — is confirmed.
Jesus himself pointed out that there is only one force, one stronghold that “sets aside” and “nullifies” the revealed will of God — that is the human force.
This traditional way of doing “church” involves a lopsided reliance on one person: the pastor.
If it appears that this system seems to “work” outwardly and accomplish many good ends, it is only because we have temporarily masked the deeper problems with invalid testing of what is good. Regardless, the fact remains that the practice itself has no moorings in the NT and ultimately brings with it problems, which cannot remain hidden or ignored.
What I am compelled to ask is: Are we interested in the Lord’s heart regarding his church?