I consider the typical pop evangelical (mega)church of 500 to 5,000 regular attenders and observe the man at the pulpit. Er, the man at the barstool on stage. He gives the message most Sunday mornings, but he isn’t otherwise particularly engaged in the lives of anyone in the congregation. He’s largely an unknown in his personal life. Some days, I can have concerns he’s largely unaccountable. Or that whatever news I receive is carefully crafted and curated politics. Something seem wrong about calling him the lead pastor.
To be sure, he has an intense, high-profile job. He’s often the key visionary for direction in the campaigns of the local church. He’s doing a good deal of management over people and initiatives. In our culture where the rhythms of marketing shape and inform the rhythms of church life and practice, he’s effectively the spokesman for the brand. The man is not solely to blame for the way he functions. It’s the nature of the position in the system, and the vacuum of a vacancy pulls a man into the position and molds him to function as such.
I don’t find it biblically fitting to refer to such a visionary and spokesman as a pastor. The title of pastor is synonymous with the title of shepherd. Shepherds tend, feed, and guard the flock. Not just in broad strokes but with individual care. There’s a familiarity between the shepherd and his sheep. Read John 10 and see for yourself. He seeks out stragglers. He binds the wounds of the injured. He trains the flock to go out and to come in. So, pastoral practice is centered in the discipleship, care, and comfort of individual members.
When men serving in church who perform no actual pastoring are given the title “pastor”, the word and the office suffer a loss of meaning in the eyes of the sheep.
The man (even if he’s an unordained layman) who labors closely with congregants and lays down his life for the sake of their discipleship, care, and comfort is the one who is being truly pastoral in nature. And if a church has no one doing this, God save them!