How Would Jesus Pastor?
Over the last 30 years or so, America has witnessed the rise of the mega-church. Congregations of 2,000 are commonplace. Almost every state has at least one church with 20,000 members or more. These churches require leadership, to be sure. Without it, that many people could never remain together as a cohesive group. They need a leader at the top to inspire them, to organize them, to cast a vision for the future that everyone can get behind, and to establish a road map for getting where the leader wants to go.
But is that the purpose of a pastor?
In his opinion piece at the Christianity Today link above, Mark Galli has his doubts. He received a motivational email listing many different kinds of pastors. It praised those who act as “catalysts.” It offered little praise for those who seem to be merely “chaplains.” The implication is clear: real pastors focus on motivation and growth. Providing comfort to hurting people is the job of a mere chaplain.
In an article called “America’s Biggest Megachurches,” the financial magazine Forbes offered one perspective on how to measure pastoral success. Regarding Joel Osteen’s performance as pastor of America’s largest congregation, Lakewood Church of Houston, Forbes wrote:
“One sign of success: Despite the economic downturn, Lakewood says they are on par with last year’s collections.”
This is what one would expect from a magazine that focuses on the world of finance. Big numbers speak for themselves. If you have tens of thousands of people coming, and millions of dollars flowing in, something good must be happening. Right?
But how did Jesus pastor?
Speaking to a crowd that surely included people familiar with the care and feeding of a flock of sheep, (the original job description of a “pastor,” after all), Jesus explained how to do it properly: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”
Notice how he phrases his question. “Will he not . . . ?” Jesus assumes it’s common knowledge that a good pastor will value the individual above the flock.
We have many words for people who lead large groups of people. General. CEO. Mayor. Governor. The word “pastor” does not belong in that list. Jesus speaks of a kingdom where the first are last, the least are greatest, and leaders are servants. Jesus does indeed look to numbers as the proof of his success, but his economy is different. Jesus leads his sheep to greener pastors one heart at a time.