By and large the church is woefully ignorant of it. The average member does not know it. The pastor doesn't have a clue. This widespread ignorance about the nature of the work of the pastor is costing the church a great deal in soul winning, in burned-out pastors, in church growth and ministry.
In all my years of training, no one taught me what I as a pastor should do. I came out of school without a clear understanding of a pastor's priorities. When I arrived at my church on my first pastoral assignment, the members had all kinds of expectations of what I ought to be and do. It turned out that they were leading me instead of the other way around. I asked my church board about the objectives and purpose of the church and ended up with 15 different statements. I knew I was neither big enough, smart enough, nor strong enough to take that church in 15 different directions. I knew something was wrong.
At the end of every month I had to turn in a report to my conference. The report specified how many visits I had made, how many Bible studies I had given, and how many sermons I had preached. To me this was proof enough that the more studies and sermons and visits I had to my credit, the better worker I was. I indeed deserved my check. The monthly report not only made me worthy of my salary but also defined my work. My ministry was evaluated by the mathematics of sermons, Bible studies, and visits.
And what are the results? I can do all the hard work that the church members and the conference want me to do and exhaust myself in the process, but accomplish little or nothing of lasting value. The spirituality of members also is affected; in fact, it may well be ruined through inactivity, even while sermons present a level beyond their measure of obedience. The church, meanwhile, remains dysfunctional.
This status will continue to be so as long as everyone remains ignorant as to the true nature of the work of the pastor. And we pastors are sandwiched, pressed from both sides. The members criticize us because the church is going downhill. The conference criticizes us for not being more productive. But how can we produce more when everyone concerned chooses to remain far from the only method that can bring productivity in church ministry?
My concern comes from the fact that whenever we see a problem in the church, we seem to be more concerned about dealing with the symptoms than the cause. God never meant for the church to be dysfunctional. God never meant for one ethnic group of our church to grow more or faster than another. God never implied that under certain conditions, out side of sin within the church body, the church would not grow. This is the problem with the church growth movement that actually teaches there are reasons for not growing under certain situations. Not so. Whatever has life will always grow anywhere and everywhere. Right principles will give life to the church— always. And the church's beginning point is to understand what makes up the work of the pastor.
Pastor's real work
So what is it? What is the work of the pastor?
The primary work of the Seventh-day Adventist pastor is not preaching, teaching, giving Bible studies, chairing committees, visiting, counseling, man aging, building, dedicating babies, and burying the dead. All these are important, and most can and should be done by regular elders or deacons. The pastor's specific work is to teach and train members to evangelize and minister.
Ephesians 4:11, 12 declares: "It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (NIV). Along with this biblical perspective, consider the following counsel:
"Christ intends that His ministers shall be educators of the church in gospel work. They are to teach the people how to seek and save the lost."1
"Every church should be a training school for Christian workers.. . . There should not only be teaching, but actual work under experienced instructors." 2
"The best help that ministers can give the members of our churches is not sermonizing, but planning work for them. ... And let all be taught how to work." 3
"Just as soon as a church is organized, let the minister set the members at work. They will need to be taught how to labor successfully. Let the minister devote more of his time to educating than to preaching." 4
I submit that the sermons, Bible studies, and visits we should report to the conference should be the ones our members give and make. Is a teacher evaluated by what he or she learns, or by what the students learn? Is a mother's success dependent on how long she can feed her babies herself, or on how quickly she can teach them to feed themselves and take care of themselves?
So with church growth. Wouldn't it be better to count the active evangelists and ministers among the laity rather than count the members? What virtue is there in having many members if they all remain in eternal babyhood? What good is there in having members who continue to remain eternal infants? Even cemeteries register numerical growth. Our business is not to build great crowds but great congregations who will worship God and serve Him.
Church growth is never a matter of location, education, population, ethnicity, tenure, lack of a model, or lack of a program. Churches stop growing when the members don't get involved in the cost of church growth. There are no bargain prices. Ask any successful pas tor of any denomination. The answer would be the same. Leaders and members alike must pay a price. When pastors return to the work to which they are really called, there will be reaction and criticism. But God will be pleased. And future members will love them for it.
Can you imagine a football game in which the coach is the only one playing against the opposite team? The coach wants the team to win, works hard, plays hard, but lets the team players sit in the bleachers and give excuses such as "We're not as good as you are"; "You have training in the game"; "You play better than we do."
No such team can ever hope to play, much less win. But in the church it happens every day. The coach, the pas tor, is the only one playing the game. No wonder we seem to be losing. Let's turn it around and win it for Jesus. He paid His price and did His work. Let's pay our price and do the work. Leave the results to Him. He will take care of them.
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940),
2 ————, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), p.
3 ————, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948),
vol. 6, p. 49.
4 Ibid., vol. 7, p. 20.