Our struggles in our Western/European expressions of Christianity are due largely to innovations and inventions forming an inner and outer corrosive crust slowing down the flow of our faith. Sects, denominations and cults are the portions visible to any observer. As the layers of corrosion built up over the centuries, the major result is division and the inevitable infighting that follows. Trying to chip away or dissolve this inner and outer crust most often proves futile and downright dangerous to life and limb. We love our respective crusts! We love them in spite of the damage they do to our witness.
One of the major additions to this crust is the “pastor system.” Pastors, as revealed in the New Testament, were not paid professional public speakers in residence at each congregation under the supervision of, and answerable to, a group of men (and, in some instances, women) serving as a board of directors. In most cases, the “pastor” (“preacher” in some traditions) functions at the pleasure of this board. He does all the preaching, teaches classes, and officiates at funerals, weddings, and fulfills other duties as outlined by the board. Predictably, it doesn’t work well in most cases. It doesn’t work because it is an alien concept not found in Scripture.
When I became a preacher, an older veteran warned me to remember that I was working with people with all their strengths, weaknesses, foibles, sins, joys, sorrows, crises, victories and failures. Here’s the problem: the preacher/pastor becomes the focal point of all these things. Who you gonna call? The preacher/pastor, of course. For a while he can cope. Eventual burnout, however, is inevitable. It would be different if it was understood that we are all priests. That would take a tremendous load off the “designated priest,” who really shouldn’t exist anyway.
Perhaps you are aware, as I am, of churches where it seems to work well. The preacher/pastor has a long tenure, is loved and appreciated and, from all appearances, all is well. Not only are such congregations the exception, but seem to have a handle on the priesthood of all believers. Furthermore, the group that in other places functions as a board has become shepherds of the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3). May their tribe increase!
In most other cases, however, in addition to the expectations of the board and the congregation, the pastor/preacher becomes the primary target of disgruntled constituents. For those who have not served in this capacity, it is hard to imagine the insults, injuries, disparagement and humiliation that can come with the territory when things go wrong.
All this hinders and hamstrings our mission: to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). So what can be done? A giant first step would be to acknowledge the problem. For those who believe solutions are found in words inspired by the Holy Spirit, the second step would be to open the Scriptures and compare what we do with what we should be doing. The third step requires that we love our Savior more than our traditions and apply the solutions. Hard? Yes it is. What seems harder would be to face the returning Christ with mission unfulfilled.