The “Super-Pastor” expectations that so often seem to go hand-in-hand with modern church leadership are a black mark on the church. The “Super-Pastor” is the pastor who is always on call, ready to serve; nights, weekends and vacations are no barrier, they never miss a hospital visit, they always preach with passion and with conviction, and so on. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? And like every other pastor, I’ve bad mouthed the whole concept, and bemoaned its existence, until I realized that its presence was, in large part, the fuel that kept my ministry (and even worse – my soul) going. Let me show you what I have learned.
I believe that we live in a culture that rests on the twin pillars of independence and consumerism; both of which strike at the heart of Christianity. Our cultural commitment to this end leads to a number of ramifications. For instance, we expect professionalism by those who serve us. I don’t mean that we expect professional behavior as much as I think we expect a certified professional to be the one doing the serving, or work. We don’t generally see shade-tree mechanics anymore, we would never visit an unlicensed doctor, and you can’t show up in court with a lawyer who doesn’t have a law degree. In fact, when I recently had a tree cut down in my yard, I made sure that the person doing the job was insured and bonded so that I wouldn’t be liable for any shoddy work. This desire for professionalism, when coupled with a consumer-driven view of the church makes for a bad combination.
I think most of us shop for churches the way I like to shop for blue jeans. When I look for blue jeans I look for the best store, offering the most comfortable product and asking the smallest price from me (mostly because I’m cheap). We do the same thing in the church. When we are looking for a church we even refer to it as, “church shopping.” Our means of determining a good church generally center on finding a great church “product” that fits us most comfortably, and asks the least of us. Once there, we expect a professional pastor to deliver to us goods and services, of the spiritual kind. We view church as a place, not as a people, and we go there on occasion to get our spiritual “fill-up” where the professional dispenses the goods and services while we sit in the chairs, watching (read: being entertained) and we put some money in the plate on occasion so that we’ve rightly paid for the goods and services we are receiving from the pastoral professional. We then go home, “filled up” and ready to make it though another week, as if church is a place where go to get our “spiritual pit-stop”. In this environment pastors, we aren’t creating disciples – we are crafting consumers, and we are very good at it.
In this context, we have developed a pattern for the pastor where they serve our spiritual needs in any and all ways we deem appropriate, and in doing so we have created the “Super-Pastor” complex. But, while many pastors decry this publicly, I’m convinced most of us never really want it to go away. See, it occurred to me, in my own life, that the churches I have served are full of people with emotional baggage. In fact, every person on the planet carries their own baggage. In the midst of this baggage, each of us tries to find ways to self-medicate, to help us handle the baggage. Some use food, some use alcohol, some use sex, but all of us use something. For the pastor, though, the emotional need is generally no different. We have our own various kinds of emotional baggage, and while we may occasionally self-medicate using the same means as everyone else, the truth is a fair number of us use ministry as a means of self-medicating. We suffer from identity issues, or morale issues, or affirmation issues, or even purpose, and each of these emotional needs are served every time a consumer-driven people calls on us to serve, and we do, and then they affirm us as the great pastor who does what no one else can do. Let’s be honest, when the sweet older lady grabs us by the arm and says to us at the end of the service, “Pastor, no one preaches to me like you do” it’s like nectar to our souls. It is sweet, indeed.
So what do we do about it? While there’s not enough room here to be comprehensive, I do think one of the solutions is found in Ephesians 4. Paul tells the church at Ephesus,
And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. – Ephesians 4:11-13 (HCSB)
God’s vocational design for church leaders is to equip the saints for works of ministry, not to do ministry for the saints. In other words, we enlist, equip and deploy the people in our churches so that, together, we serve the ministry needs of our church family. We kill the “Super-Pastor” when we hand off ministry, prepare others to do what we have historically done, and keep ourselves from always being front and center. In this paradigm pastors don’t stop doing ministry, no they do ministry but they do so along with the rest of the body, and not because they are the pastor, but because they are a member of the body, and every member of the body is equipped to serve together.
The great thing is that, when we embrace this model of leadership, Jesus is much more likely to get the credit. When we do everything, serving as the “Super-Pastor,” we too easily get the credit as the one spinning all the plates. In the midst of it we can even get more credit by appearing humble and overworked (all the while, actually loving the attention and affirmation it affords to us). Instead, what might the church look like if we pushed back, in a truly counter-cultural way, against the rampant independence and consumerism and killed the “Super-Pastor” by equipping the saints, doing ministry together, and the pastor fading into the background? I’m convinced that Jesus would be honored and pastor, you might just keep your ministry from killing you while you try to use it to feed your soul.
Micah Fries is the Vice President of Lifeway Research, and author of a commentary volume on Haggai and Zephaniah in the Christ-Centered Commentary Series.