13 February 2009


As Red was driving to work the next morning, he began to think about the role of the pastor and both his contribution to the problems of the congregation and the solutions to those problems. He knew that the Pastor, while an elder of the church, had special responsibilities and functions within the congregation.

I remember my Dad saying that when the church became a business and the pastorate a profession, we really got off track, he recalled.

For centuries, the pastorate was viewed as a calling, and pastors were considered to be set aside by God. Then, in the 1960s and early 70s, the model changed. Church was a business, and it required “professional” management. Pastors were “hired” to act as the CEO and the elders became the directors who oversaw the management of the business. Many graduates of seminary aimed for service in the bureaucracy of denominations rather than taking a call to a parish. At least one seminary in a major, but declining, denomination actually created a joint degree program in which an individual could obtain a Master of Divinity degree and a Juris Doctorate.

Ugh! Talk about Pharisees. Folks who intentionally become lawyer ministers and then poison a denomination by emphasizing strict interpretation and observance of polity over Scripture.

Presbyteries, historically local and staffed by “volunteers,” became populated by professional bureaucrats. Job descriptions were crafted, staff were hired, and the top down corporate model of governance began to appear. In one major denomination, the principle function of the presbytery was to act as the collection agent for the national denomination, taxing congregations and passing the taxes along to the national bureaucracy.

And we let it happen, Red realized. But, if our pastor is not our CEO, then who is he?

When one is called by a congregation to be the shepherd of that flock, that person shall be called Pastor. As such, the duties of the Pastor shall be to preach and expound the Word, to be God’s prophet to the people and to be the people’s priest before God.

OK. The pastor’s first responsibility is to ensure that the Gospel is rightly preached.

That takes time and study. A prophet is not someone who works off the top of his head. It is the duty of the ruling elders to see that the pastor has the time necessary to carry out that responsibility and to ensure that the members of the congregation understand that.

The Pastor shall lead the people in worship, shall celebrate the Sacraments, shall oversee the education and nurture program of the congregation.” He or she is a spiritual leader, ensuring that the Sacraments are rightly administered. The Pastor oversees the education and nurture program of the congregation.

“Oversee,” Red thought. Now that is an important word.

The Pastor does not perform the programs, he oversees, he supervises, but others are to be designated to carry them out. “Supervise,” the 6th Troop Leading step. Just as important here as in a rifle squad or platoon!

The Pastor with the Ruling Elders shall minister to the sick, the dying, the grieving, the troubled, the poor, and to all those who have need of a Pastor’s care, love, and compassion. With the Ruling Elders, the Pastor shall exercise the joint power of government.”

There it is again. “With the ruling elders.” We are in the business of ministry together.

Of course the pastor, like any leader, must lead by example. So, he or she teaches an occasional Sunday School class. The pastor may lead a Bible study. He visits the sick at home and in hospital, but he does so along with the other elders, not instead of. The ruling elders must never forget that, with the pastor, they are co-equally responsible for the flock. They must covenant with one another to carry the burden of leadership equally, to exercise accountability and discipline, and to back up one another when necessary.

Once again, Red thought, it all comes back to the need for elders to do the job, to execute the office of elder. When we become managers, the flock is in danger.

Red has now pretty much analyzed the issues and problems facing Graying Pres. Can he figure out a way to fix them? Will the session step up and do their job? And why isn’t February 14 the “First Day of Spring?” Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on that day—not to “Late Winter Training.” If it is Spring training, it must be Spring!

Tune in next week when these and other burning questions will be debated in the further Adventures of Graying Pres.


Quotidian Grace said...

Thinking about your point about the "corporatification" of the ministry, I wonder if tent-making should be more encouraged among the teaching elders instead of full-time employment in the church? That's the situation for many PCUSA Commissioned Lay Pastors.

And about Feb. 14--It's already spring in southeast Texas! My azaleas are blooming (very early, too). There's never been a frost after Valentine's Day down here.

late for the show said...

Pondering a chicken or egg question

Did the pastor as CEO model take hold because elders were already abandoning their traditional roles?

Also wondering if it did not begin long before 1970. If we were to look at the 20 or 30 largest Presbyterian congregations circa 1910 or 1920 would we see them functioning with a Pastor as CEO and Session as Board of Directors?

Mac said...


Both good comments.

That is a very interesting question. Our congregation dates from 1735. The pastor probably spent as much time in the garden, the barn, the pig sty, and the chicken coop as he did in his study. (Many of our members still want to pay the pastor in eggs and meat!) It is hard to criticize performance when the pastor has the same time constraints as everyone else, plus, it would put the pastor in a good position to ask/demand/beg the other elders to carry their share of the load.


It is never too late!

You may be right, but I suspect that the elders of 1900-1920 had a better Biblical foundation and understanding that the ruling elder is primarily responsible for the spiritual care of the flock.

In the past couple of years, I have spent some time cooling my heels at the Presbyterian Historical Society waiting for documents to be copied. To kill time, I have read through minutes of many GA’s, especially those in the 20s and 30s. Elders knew their Bible and could carry on theological discourse with the best of them.

As Rev Kim noted elsewhere, many of today's elders are surprised that "valuable time" will be "wasted" at a session meeting on Bible study.

I think, too, the advent of bigger, air-conditioned churches with electronics, parking lots, etc. have allowed the concern for the physical plant and the budget to overtake the responsibility of concentrating on the spiritual health of the congregation. Most elders today are in or come from some sort of business background and they import the same point of view into the session meeting.