It is no longer uncommon to hear of pastors who have faithfully labored among local congregations, to be asked to step aside. Sometimes those men have labored for more than twenty or thirty years, and yet, their faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion are rewarded with a rather unceremonious encouragement to resign or retire. There are always two sides to a story, and we can never assume that just because a pastor has been somewhere for a long time that it is right that he continue there. It is disconcerting however, when a pastor has faithfully labored in a gospel-centered ministry, and is told that he is no longer what the church needs because his “success ratio” is not meeting the standard.
Now, sometimes pastors need to be dismissed (or at the very least, strongly admonished and rebuked). No congregation should have to endure a man who is not faithful to lead Biblically in worship, word, and witness. Yet, a grievous trend has become entrenched in the life of the church here in America, and it is deeply affecting our ability to have strong, Bible-centered community.
If you examine the Bible and early church history, you can see that the pastor was charged with the duty of teaching and preaching, caring for the spiritual needs of the flock, and to some degree, making sure that some physical needs were met. Part of his pastoral duty was to encourage the body, but also to instruct and correct it. The pastor would address issues of sin in his people and apply the Scriptures to their lives where they had departed from clear, Biblical ethic. Of course, sin and pride still made this an unpleasant experience, but it was broadly understood that that was part of the pastoral office. People largely submitted to it, and expected it when they strayed from the path of Biblical fidelity.There are documented cases of men like Charles Simeon, who stayed in his call for 54 years, with many of those years being extremely difficult because he was hated. Many of the Puritans remained in their pulpits decades not because they tickled their people’s ears, but rather because there was a different view of the pastoral office.
A great shift took place in the thinking of man, and while we can see traces of it before the Enlightenment, I think the Enlightenment really established the modern view of pastoral ministry. The pastor gradually ceased being a man called by God to proclaim truth to a local body and became a business man, whose task was to build a successful organization by “recharging the batteries” of those who came to hear him in a given week. The tables were quickly turned. No longer was it the pastor who was in the homes of his people examining them with the word of God, he became the examined. It was the pastor who now sat under the scrutiny of the people and if he did not give them what they wanted, he would be dismissed and pronounced, “unsuccessful”, “without a good vision”, or even, “unloving and unconcerned about growth and community.”
Why is Christian community a glimmer of what it once was, or what it was intended to be? Well, it seems that we needn’t look very far to see one of the major issues. The voice of the pulpit has almost been hushed to a whisper because the shepherds whom God has gifted and sent out are expendable. The pastor is often the target of much criticism, but it is understood that he is to offer none in return. Failure is largely laid on the shoulders of the pastor, regardless of the fact that few have sought to support him in ministry. Pastors don’t personally build the church, but as we examine Scripture, the church is not built without them. What must the church do? How must she respond?