I’ve been wondering why I was troubled at the installation last Sunday of my new lead pastor at my home congregation. It was a joyful celebration yet it seemed to assume and create a reductionistic perspective on both pastor and congregation. Then I came upon this writing below and I found expression to my thoughts. The author is Alan J. Roxburgh, and this text is found in The Church Between Gospel And Culture, edited by George R Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder (pp 32-321).
The Pastoral Context
These are extremely anxious, confusing, and tenuous days for pastors and congregations. Major congregational decline continues and will only get worse in the decade ahead…the process of marginalization of the church is obvious and advanced. And congregations are blaming the malaise on their pastors. They are described an incompetent, not entrepreneurial enough, too intent on change, or failing to meet the expectations of renewing the congregation. Pastors in turn feel vulnerable, defensive, and confused…an increasing number of congregations are firing their pastors. Denominational executives are functioning as firemen dealing with one crisis after another. What this means is that few pastors are asking questions about their role in missionary congregations. For too many, ministry has changed so dramatically that they are simply trying to hold on and survive. The precariousness of these realities makes it difficult for pastors to discuss questions of missionary encounter models. Furthermore, the culture itself has become so confusing and threatening that pastors in many ways retreat into their congregations for security.
Nature of the Pastoral Function Today
The symbol “pastor” has become a generic container for all the functions of ordained, recognized leadership in the church. But certain overriding images have shaped our comprehension of the pastoral role in modernity. The pastor…is seen in terms of pedagogue and professional. As pedagogue, the pastor is primarily the teacher, unfolding the concepts of God’s Word to those who come faithfully to the church. The pedagogue role is based upon the cultural assumption of the church in the center of a society in which people present themselves and their public lives for spiritual instruction. As a professional, the pastor owns the expertise necessary to dispense religious care and functions to the people on behalf of God. Congregations are consumers of professional services. Seminaries are classified as professional schools like those of law, business, and medicine. The pastor is indeed a professional. Despite a half-century of discussion about the lay apostolate, clericalization remains entrenched in the churches.
Precisely these roles, however, have ceased to be meaningful…And yet, because we have functioned over a number of generations in this paradigm, practically the only model presented to each new generation of potential leaders is pastor as professional and teacher; the caretaker and chaplain of dwindling, aging congregations. As a result, pastors are unable to function outside the paradigm. Equally tragic, the most creative young leaders, with the passion and skills desperately needed in our churches, take one look at this model of pastoral leadership and turn elsewhere for vocational fulfillment.