The church is medium-sized in attendance, yet, on paper the membership roll is even larger. Its solo pastor is a frustrated man. There are some good days, and certainly some fine people who encourage him, but he’s frustrated because the job God called him to do just cannot be done. He has many people to tend to, numbers of which are missing, and even those who are present are more than any average man could possibly care for—that is, really care for.
So, this good-hearted, spiritually-minded pastor lapses into frustration over his inability to do much more than put out fires. And there are plenty of those.
He tries to project the view that he is a true shepherd of all the people. He speaks in warm terms to those attending on Sundays, and to all of the people through the church’s regular publications. The website shows him as if he were the best friend and confidant of all the members, constantly attending to their spiritual growth, mentoring, guiding, and comforting. But the blurb under his photo is only a wish and not a reality. He actually is only able to pastor an inner core on that level—perhaps twenty to thirty, at most. He sometimes thinks that his loving words are no different than those of the TV preacher who looks into the camera and acts as if he is directly speaking to the listener as his dearest friend. He has become a pastor who is not able to pastor.
Across town is the fastest growing church. They are driven by entertainment, appealing music, and a large staff. Sometimes his members visit there, just out of curiosity or perhaps out of the need to have a little relief from the sedate experience they are used to. When a special event comes to the mega-church, perhaps several of his members attend, including his own children. It often adds to his frustration, though he would not say much about it.
The pastor of the mega-church expresses his love for the people also. In fact, he may be better at saying it than the pastor of the smaller church. His website portrays him in several photos and videos as a caring, magnanimous friend of the people, who all smile and love him.
Yet, if the truth were known, the fast-growing church has more of a pastor/people gap than the smaller church. And in that church even a higher percentage of the people do not attend. It is not necessarily because the large church pastor is any more or less interested in shepherding people. He can hardly be blamed for the fact that people love to hear him speak and that his staff is able to carry out programs that attract. Yet, behind the scenes, the larger church pastor is often frustrated as well. As he reads the Bible, he sees that there is much he is not doing that God requires of him. He gets accolades from the people, more than the first pastor, but before God he often feels he’s a failure—and that the size of his church only amplifies his failings.
What can be done?
Perhaps the problem here is not in the pastors themselves, but in the structure of the churches. They are designed for pastoral separation from the people, and all the more so as they grow. The solutions would have much to do with multiplying pastors, decentralizing, and dividing the church into pastoral units, not in a corporate business way, but into true manageable cells led by qualified men. The early church did this naturally, by multiplying house churches. But that solution may never come, if it is even envisioned by these men and their churches. Suppose the macro-solution then is not possible. What else could be done? Especially, what could be done by you, the person who needs a pastor for your own spiritual well-being and growth?
Here are some ways you can help overcome the pastor/member gap:
1. Work harder at knowing your pastor. If he is not able, due to time, to pour his life into you in a personal way, don’t just give up and remain distant. Men, invite him to your home, take him out to lunch, become his encourager. He will, in turn, carry on a certain level of mentorship just because it is in his spiritual genes to do so. Women, this first point will not work as well for you for obvious reasons if you are single or your husband does not attend, yet remaining as appropriately friendly as possible is always an improvement.
2. Build relationships with others who have potential to increase your faith and improve your walk with God. Perhaps there is a man and his wife in the church who would be on the pastoral team if such a team existed. Seek to draw out spiritual help and understanding of Scripture from them, and reciprocate by encouraging them and serving them in practical ways.
3. Take on a discipleship role yourself. Look around to see who could be helped by your ministry to them. Approach them on a friendship level. Then after getting together, depending on how well you work with each other, figure out a way to be together regularly for Bible study and prayer, even if all you can do is read the Bible, comment and pray.
4. Take on some of the difficult people of the church and seek to meet their needs. In churches, it is often the case that just one person demands almost all the pastor’s time that is available. And when he is not around, the pastor’s wife may have the privilege. Share that load with your pastor. Talk with him to see if he has suggestions as to how you can free him by helping out.
5. Finally, offer your services to your pastor personally. Both men and women may be helpful in appropriate ways. Ask him how you may serve him in extending his care for others. It might mean making hospital visits, checking on widows, phoning members, or making contact with guests who’ve come to visit the church.
If only a few church members live out some or all of the above suggestions—perhaps if even one does it—significant improvement will be made in the church you love.