Pastor, you aren’t doing your job!

I hadn’t been serving this small, rural congregation for long when God brought that problem to my attention. Though I’d been counseling a number of young Christians for only a few months, I was feeling drained. I wanted to blame it on the fact I was pastoring a church full of recovering drug addicts, but it was really my fault. I was attempting to carry out the ministry alone.

It’s the pastor’s job to equip his congregation to do ministry. Needless to say, I wasn’t doing my job.

Superman Pastors

Many pastors have learned and practiced a deficient model of leadership in the last century: the Superman model. A Superman pastor sees every ministry as either his responsibility or the responsibility of the paid staff. He functions like a CEO, like a paid professional, like the minister. It’s his role to do the church’s work, and it’s the congregation’s role to reap the benefits of his expertise.

There are a few things in this model we can commend. First, it takes seriously the role of the pastor; he does not abdicate responsibility. Second, the Superman pastor takes seriously his accountability to God, his training, and his calling as he works hard to oversee the mission of the church. Ultimately, however, the failures of this ministry model are grave.

1. This model of ministry undermines the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and the doctrine of the church.

The Bible teaches that all Christians have access to God; all worship him, serve him, and lead others to do the same. Ephesians 4:16 depicts the church as a body of members working together to grow and build itself up. Paul writes that as the church speaks the truth in love, the “whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” The entire church actively ministers to one another. The New Testament is laced with “one another” imperatives given to the congregation as a whole. Any model of ministry that circumvents the responsibilities of the church, no matter how well-meaning, is simply sub-biblical.

2. This model of ministry fuels pastoral burnout.

The pressure to be the minister is crushing pastors everywhere. As recently as 2010, research found clergy were suffering from some of the most serious health- and stress-related illnesses. Obesity, hypertension, and depression have marked ministers for years.

I know pastors who haven’t taken a vacation in more than 20 years. I recall with a heavy heart the suicide of one pastor in our community. If you need evidence that pastors suffer from depression, think of my friend hanging from the stairwell in in his church. Pastoral burnout is a deadly serious issue that can be significantly diminished by a proper model of ministry in which the congregation is empowered to do the work of the church.

3. This model of ministry fails to fulfill the role Jesus gave to pastors.

Paul plainly outlines the role God has given to shepherds and teachers in Ephesians 4:11-16. The risen Christ has given teachers and shepherds to his church “in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” That’s his design. In short, Superman shepherds are unbiblical shepherds. We must return to God’s plan for the pastorate.

Realizing what the pastorate does not look like, then, how do we frame the pastor-as-equipper positively and biblically?

Instruct, Train, Release

At my church we give theological and philosophical foundations for ministry through instruction—whether from the pulpit on Sunday mornings or in classes on Wednesday evenings. It’s vital for people to be grounded in Scripture and sound doctrine as they seek to do ministry. We want them to pursue biblical goals and to employ biblical means in order to achieve those goals. As a counselor, that means helping my people see the Bible is indeed sufficient for our problems. It also means explaining why we don’t simply duplicate the theories and approaches of modern psychology in our discipleship.

Modeling is also a crucial part of equipping. The apostle Paul says “imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1). One way church leaders can help equip people to do ministry is by showing them what it looks like. Practice evangelism. Practice disciple-making. Practice worship. By doing this, we help others get a clearer picture of what they should be doing.

It’s not enough, however, to launch people with good models and good intentions. We want them to be fully equipped—and that means working to train them in the specific skills and disciplines they’ll need to do their ministry well. Personally, I want men sitting in counseling sessions with me. I want them reviewing the tough cases with me, asking questions, and even doing some supervised counseling of their own. It should be the same for any ministry within the church.

Finally, equipping the congregation means helping people get involved in ministry. Release people to do the work. Pastors cannot micromanage every detail of every ministry in their church. My congregation can’t serve well or grow and develop if I interject every time I think I could offer better counsel or oversight. As Jesus sent out the twelve in Matthew 10, so also we need to be willing to release our people for ministry.

The ministry of the church belongs to the church. God has given his church pastors, teachers, and leaders to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. If that’s not what we’re doing, then whatever else we might call ourselves, we’re not pastors.