If There Were No Pastors

If there were no pastor, if the sheep were left without shepherds as they were in Jesus' time, the helpless people would be harassed and ultimately destroyed.

-Dean, Philippine Union College at the time this article was written

A "pastor," in the agricultural sense, cares for sheep in a pasture. He sees to it that they get the grass they need, that they are protected from their enemies, and that they are given assistance during lambing or sickness. If there were no pastor, if the sheep were left without shepherds as they were in Jesus' time, the helpless people would be harassed and ultimately destroyed (see Matt. 9:36).

What is the use of catching a lot of fish if they all slip right through a hole in the bottom of the net? The goals of the church are (1) to persuade people to assent whole-heartedly to the gospel, and (2) to help them grow up to the full stature of men and women in Christ Jesus. The specialist in itinerant evangelism is primarily concerned with the first goal while the pastor spends most of his time on the second. Both are evangelists.

What is the use of delivering a healthy baby if you are going to put him into an environment where he can't survive? The obstetrician is a vital member of the medical team, but there is no point to his techniques if we give the children such poor pediatric care that they fail to survive their infancy.

Everyone agrees that this line of thought is reasonable in theory, but we are nevertheless baffled at times to meet those who are willing to do almost anything to bring new members into the church but almost nothing to keep them there. As far as they are concerned, the pastor's role is at best a necessary evil. True evangelism, as far as they are concerned, has to do almost exclusively with the tent and the sawdust trail and is entirely foreign to the experience of worship, to the encouraging of devotional life, and to spiritual guidance.

What's the Point?

But why do we bring people into the church? Isn't it so that they will worship God and forsake their idols? Rachel went back to her idols. She is not the only person who has done so after having nominally given them up. It is the pastor's work to represent the continuing concern of God for the welfare of the convert. If people are evangelized but never taught to worship, to study the Bible, to do missionary work, then hasn't the crusade for souls been a wasted effort? It is the pastor's duty to lead his people into the daily life that makes God supreme in every sector of experience. It ought to be obvious that while this is not a pioneering task like that of the itinerating evangelist, it is just as crucial as his.

Ancient Israel had kings, prophets, priests, and wise men. None of these offices corresponds exactly either with the pastor's or the itinerant evangelist's calling, although the priest's work overlaps that of the pastor. It is difficult to distinguish between the pastor and the evangelist in the early church, but Paul seems clearly to have assigned many pastoral duties to others, while he gave himself to entering new territories.

It is probable that in ancient times the pastoral function really was performed by parents. Today parents spend so much time apart from their children that society and the church have provided surrogates who do some of the things that their forefathers did for their own children. To some extent the pastor is one of these people who act in loco parentis.

Why were the people in Jesus' day like sheep without a shepherd? Because the intellectuals of their day, the legal scholars and theologians, cut themselves off from the common crowd "who knew not the law," and confined their efforts to those of their own class.

Technically In but Spiritually Out

No one who has ever held a pastorate can doubt the existence of thousands who are technically within the fold but who, owing to the lack of a concerned shepherd, are harassed and helpless under the stresses of our time. What pastor has not entered the home of a nominal Adventist and seen tell-tale signs of compromise and concession with the beggarly elements of the world? Not only the liquor closet, the record cabinet, the TV screen, and the bookcase but also the faces of these straying sheep betray their need of pastoral guidance.

The evangelist comes, presents the electrifying truths of the gospel, and then moves to another field. Those who take their stand during the meetings are still newborn babes when he leaves. They need someone to whom they can put questions, from whom they can ask help, and on whom they can look as an example and friend. Fortunate is the new convert who has a pastor after God's own heart to supply those needs!

Perverted Hierarchy of Prestige

In some places there is considerable prestige attached to the work of the itinerant evangelist, the college instructor, the conference or mission administrator, the departmental secretary, the doctor, and the institutional officer; but if you mention the name of some of the men who lead our local churches, you'll hear, "Who's he? Oh, just a pastor. No wonder I never heard of him!" This hierarchy of prestige is a perverted one.

I attended a meeting during which nearly everyone within a radius of a hun dred kilometers was introduced by his title —everyone but the pastor of the spacious church in which we were gathered. When my time to speak came, I made it a point to give him a bit of the recognition that he deserved.

If there were no pastors, who would instruct those seeking membership in the church? Who would see to it that church buildings are built and maintained so as to accurately portray our concept of the Lord who is high and lifted up? Who would comfort the bereaved and give needed assistance for funeral arrangements? Who would counsel with the about-to-be-married and the nearly-ready-for-divorce? Who would represent the church in the community's civic and ecumenical affairs? Who would deliver sermons of encouragement, reproof, and guidance on Sabbath morning and at other times? Who would look out for the social activities of the believing community? Who would see to it that the church's discipline is enforced?

What is everybody's business usually turns out to be nobody's business. There are plenty of schemes to get other people to do the jobs that pastors do, but who is going to do them when those people fail? Show me a strong church and I will show you a strong pastor, although he may not always bear that precise title and may not always receive a check from the conference every month.

Like Faith and Works

Show me a church with a vital worship experience, a superior program of education, members who are studying the Bible, provision for the help of people with problems, and vigorous departments all around, and I will show you a church that converts will find it easy to join and easy to stay members of. But show me a church that has no glory, no success, and no liveliness, and I will show you a church where the most zealous new convert will easily lose his way. The soul-building church will be a soul-winning church, because healthy organisms always reproduce. The pastor and the evangelist are like faith and works— one without the other is of no account.

It is a pleasure to note that in many places the prestige of pastors is coming into its own after a long period of downgrading. In our stronger congregations the people look to the pastor who lives in town, takes a leading part in its life, and has established a relationship with them as their spiritual leader rather than to someone from the conference or mission office, as used to be the case. It should be added that this development is possible only in those jurisdictions where the infamous custom of changing district leaders every couple of years has been consigned to the dust heap of malodorous practices to which it should have been banished long ago.

When a man achieves a sense of security and self-worth in the pastorate, he will not always be looking for some other line of work. Because he stays around long enough to achieve the confidence of his people, he can achieve a degree of influence that no transient sojourner could ever enjoy. One of the best bits of news in recent times in the church is that traffic with respect to the pastorate has stopped going just one way. Many superior men are finding that they can obtain a sense of fulfillment as pastors that is lacking in most other ministerial callings.

Instant Decline

If there were no pastors, the work of the church would begin an instant decline. Like Joseph in Egypt, when the church has a job to do it looks to the pastor "to per form the doing of it," and it is likely to go on that way for some time to come. Men who enter parish work, interact with their people, and stay by them through storm and stress, do not develop the sense of futility that troubles so many in other callings. They never wake up in the morning in doubt as to whether the day's tasks will be significant enough for their powers. But those who leave the pastorate some times do and wish they were back with the sheep beside the still' waters.


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-Dean, Philippine Union College at the time this article was written

January 1968

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