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The Vanishing Pastor: A Plea to Disciple by Pastoring

I’ve spent entirely too much time as a church planter reading blogs. Seriously, ungodly amounts of time, which I’ve had to repent of. I discovered a strong subculture of church planters in the blogosphere. This subculture is comprised of a group of guys who have all planted churches in the last ten years, most of them within the last five years or so. Almost uniformly, they are young, white, have a penchant for un-tucked striped shirts, and an inexplicable obsession with pop culture. (I just described myself, unfortunately…)

Here are a few things I’ve learned from this subculture:

  • This subculture is active in talking to each other, referencing each other, congratulating each other, and copying each other. (If I see one more summer “church at the movies” sermon series, I’m going to grab my red Swingline and burn down the building.)
  • This subculture is actually pretty self-contained, as are all subcultures.
  • Reading these blogs is really, really bad for my soul.

The Vanishing Pastor
I’m beginning to believe that “pastor” is a vanishing role. Now, the title itself isn’t going anywhere. We still have pastors – Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor being the most common designation (depending which side of the age of 40 you happen to be on). A lot of the time, what you read about many pastors doing doesn’t seem to fit what we read in Scripture. I believe the church planting world is leading the way in the vanishing role of pastor. Here’s why.

Consider this statement from a well-known church planter in a recent an interview:

Don’t Pastor Too Soon – The biggest mistake I see planters make is they get about 50 people and instead of remaining innovative and creative in the getting the word out to NEW people, they start to pastor those 50 people, and those people get all their time and attention. You need to remain with the mind of a church planter forever, I think, but at least for the first 2 years. That first 50 can take all your time if you allow them and keep you from being effective at reaching others. Be the vision caster, leader to leaders, and lead teacher. Teach your people to care for each other so you can be freed up to lead (emphasis added).

I missed this in the Bible. Where does Jesus talk about the sheep tending each other in order to free up the shepherd to do more important tasks? (NOTE: I strongly believe in the priesthood of all believers, the need for Christians to do all of the “one another” commands with each other, etc. But that’s a topic for another article.) We have forgotten that our call is to make disciples, not build organizations. We have forgotten that making disciples always requires a relationship. We have forgotten what it means to have someone who does what the title says – pastor means shepherd. Caring for people. Knowing people. Being with people. Correcting people. Protecting people. And yes, to preach to people, though pasturing is much more than preaching.

The Appearing Church Planter
The quote above reveals how the church planting culture is erasing the role of pastor. Most people tell you that you shouldn’t try to pastor. Instead, you should act how you would if your church was much larger than it’s current size (in hopes that it will grow to that size). You should become the “leader of the organization.” A pastor is told that if he is going to plant a church he must:

  • Be an amazing communicator – which usually translates to spending 30 hours a week preparing a message for Sunday.
  • Learn to be an extraordinary marketer.
  • Be a leader of leaders – develop the leader within you, develop the leaders around you, and work in your leadership strengths.  By all means, pour your life into those people who can help you grow the organization.
  • Cast a compelling vision.
  • Guard your time.  You are important have lots of important things to do, and your executive-level time is too valuable to give to just anyone.
  • Become an event planner, so you can host great outreach events that attract lots of media attention.

If that’s what a church planter is supposed to do, how can he spend time with people? Not the leaders or potential leaders but ordinary, regular people? I know, I’m probably just bitter and jaded, but in my mind, if you don’t interface with people on a regular basis (and no, your blog does not count) you are not a pastor.

Seriously, can we actually imagine Peter sitting around having brainstorming meetings about how to improve the Jerusalem church’s brand identity?  (If you don’t think church planters have meetings like that, you haven’t hung around a church planting conference for longer than seven minutes).

Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve played that game. I’ve marketed very well. I’m very branding-savvy. I’ve done BIG events that attracted lots of people. I’ve led staff leaders who lead volunteer leaders who lead volunteer middle-management who oversee volunteer workers. I invested close to the first decade of my ministry in that kind of thing. But bottom line, it’s all a hoax. 99% of that time is more about the ego than it is about the Kingdom of God. I know because I did it.

Feed My Sheep to Make My Disciples
So what should a pastor do? What should they be about? Briefly consider Jesus’ commission to Peter:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 20:15-17)

Not, be the vision caster; be the pastor. Not, guard your time but feed my sheep. I want to feed his sheep, pastor his people, and love my Lord. I hope the vanishing pastor will reappear, in my church and many other churches across America.

Bill Streger serves as the Lead Pastor of Kaleo Church, an Acts 29 Network church in Houston, TX. Born and raised in Houston, he attended Houston Baptist University and is currently pursuing his M.Div. from Reformed Baptist Seminary. Bill is a husband to Shannon, daddy to Mirabelle and Levi, and a life-long Houston Rockets fan.