The writer declares that pastors are not created by seminaries, but God makes
pastors and seminaries can only train those who have been called by God.
I just finished reading the reflective autobiography of Eugene Peterson, the
pastor who authored the Message version of the Bible in contemporary
American English. The book titled The Pastor: A Memoir, is Peterson's
description of his life along with reflections on that life as a shepherd of God's
people. As the son and grandson of early Indian Pentecostal pastors and as a
pastor/teacher, I was moved by this book as I realized once again the privilege I
have been given to live out this vocation.
Born to a butcher father and Pentecostal preacher mother, Peterson was lured
away by God's call from a prestigious academic life as professor to become a
pastor of a local church. This journey of joys and sorrows, pain and pleasure
has been most rewarding to him. In his vivid description of that journey,
Peterson makes many vital observations that are very important for
contemporary pastors who are highly tempted to go for the glitter and glory of
unbiblical leadership models and professional performance.
The current culture demands leaders who can "get things done" and "make
things happen." Bible Colleges and seminaries are guilty of buying into this idea
without critique. Christian media are also guilty as they promote performers
rather than true pastors. Certainly pastors must also be doers, but according to
Peterson, if pastoring is reduced to simply performance, we are losing the
essential element of being a pastor which is to watch over the souls of men and
women, to care for them and to pray without ceasing.
Pastors are not created by seminaries; God makes pastors. Seminaries can
only train those who have been called by God. Not everyone attending seminary
should become pastors. Seminary gives tools; God gives the call. It is the call of
God that makes a pastor. We have some people now in pastoral positions
because they have certain skills, but no call and they wind up exercising their
real call to be merchants or entertainers and do those things from the pulpit in
the name of pastoring. They have made the congregation of the people of God
their "audience" and the ekklesia, the Church, the community of faith has
become their marketplace and platform.
Personally, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with adapting useful
ideas about organization, leadership or communication for the sake of the
gospel. The problem is accepting them without biblical scrutiny and adopting
those that are contrary to the spirit of the word of God just because they "work."
I am not suggesting that we abandon all methodologies of ministry just because
they are not directly mentioned in the Bible. What I am saying, as Peterson has
so eloquently done, is to go by the word of God. Peterson is right. Pastors are
not called to be bureaucrats. Their main job is not management. Primarily they
are shepherds who pay attention in the name of Jesus to people who live their
lives here and now.
Churches are meant to grow naturally because they are living organisms. This
growth is supposed to happen through conversion of people as members of the
Body of Christ bear witness to the Truth that has transformed their lives.
Stealing sheep as the mode of church growth is not biblical. Churches are not
supposed to be in competition with one another fighting for a fair share of the
Peterson makes many interesting observations. Churches are not franchises, he
says. Pastors must preach the word that their people need to hear, not just
preach about the "furniture in heaven and the temperature in hell." Jesus Christ
and Him crucified should be our topic.
Peterson is very hard on modern church growth movement. He may be
overstating the case, but his warning that there are three intoxicators that tempt
pastors - wine, women and crowd - is very interesting. He feels that "crowds are
a worse danger" because "size is the great de-personalizer." Peterson is calling
the church to return from the entertainment business back to the edification
Pastors should not be control freaks. They should not manipulate people. They
must care for the people and do all they can to create a "culture of hospitality" in
their churches. The church should be a place where relationships are primary, a
place of hospitality. Pastors must live with the awareness of their own mortality.
They die daily, but also live daily with the anticipation of the resurrection. "We
practice our death by giving up our will to live on our own terms. Only in that
...are we able to practice resurrection," says Peterson.
Reading Eugene Peterson's memoir brought back many memories of my own
parents and grandparents. They toiled in the hills and plains of South India,
finished their work and went home to be with Christ. Informed by the word of
God and nothing much more, they lived out their vocation of being shepherds to
people of modest means. They loved them and cared for them. They extended
their own lives unselfishly for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That model of
pastoral ministry scared me, but also drew my attention. God's call led me to it.
Having been a pastor and teacher, I now recognize more fully the importance of
what I saw as a child in my family of shepherds.