The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a pastor as “… a spiritual overseer; especially: a clergyman serving a local church or parish.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia describes a pastor literally, as “ … a helper, or feeder of the sheep.”
For many centuries, people viewed the job description of a pastor as a servant caregiver who does the following:
- Teaching and preaching of the gospel;
- Caregiving, such as visitation, counselling, comforting, and taking care of the needs of people;
- Performing rites of transitions, such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals;
- Sometimes, administration (where there is no church administrator), such as arranging meetings, and developing programmes for the church and evangelism;
- Serving as ambassador of the church to the community
This old model of a servant caregiver pastor is criticised on the premise that it does not lend itself to growth but creates a culture of people dependent upon a shepherd, a role utterly inconsistent with the biblical principles of the priesthood of all believers. Another drawback of the job description is that it also encourages people to focus on their needs and it thus hinders the growth of the kingdom of God. God tore the temple veil, which symbolised the fact that humanity’s separation from God had been removed by Jesus’ supreme sacrifice at Calvary. Jesus was without blemish, without sin, and kept the Law perfectly for us; His death was the propitiation or satisfaction of the wrath of God against humanities sins.
With the rise of Pentecostalism in Africa, the role of the pastor began to metamorphose from that of a caregiver and teacher to that of a CEO of a corporation. The pews of Orthodox churches emptied into mega Pentecostal churches with celebrity televangelist pastors whose job description was to birth visions, motivate their members, the pursuit of fresh spiritual aspirations and appropriation of new spiritual birthrights. Many contemporary books on church growth and leadership have encouraged pastors to quit their traditional roles to ensure success, relevance and church growth. Greg Ogden, in his book, Unfinished Business (2003) proposes that a pastor should be a visionary leader who constantly builds other leaders, casts the vision, and changes the culture and structure of the church while doing all of this with an eye for mission, evangelism, and growth. In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren’s primary thesis is that “what is needed today are churches that are driven by purpose instead of by other forces” (page 80). Warren’s paradigm consists of a perspective that looks at everything through the five New Testament purposes of the church, and a process for fulfilling those goals (page 80). The five objectives are taken directly from the Great Commandment in Mathew 22:37-40, and the Great Commission in Mathew 28:18-20.
The downside of the CEO model pastor is few. Firstly, it may lead church followers to idolise a charismatic personality rather depend on biblical principles and developing an intimate relationship with God. Secondly, the CEO model also focuses on the needs of the local church to the exclusion of the church universal. The focus is usually on the building of a megachurch rather than building a healthy scattered church.
Regardless of which of the two categories a pastor belongs to, the church needs to appreciate that pastors, bishops, general overseers, and other church leaders are flesh and blood like themselves. They need love, understanding, and encouragement from the very flock they strive to serve. Beyond the glamour of the office, pastors have their secret fears, some of which are:
- Finishing Well: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20: 24 ESV). Like most of the apostles recorded in the Bible at the birth of the church, the average pastor is also concerned about finishing or retiring from his ministry without any scandal that will be affixed to his name forever here on earth. The Christian life is a marathon, not a 100-metre dash and finishing a marathon well is not easy. The world (and even the church) is unforgiving when men of God that have erred, regarding them as hypocrites and fakes. In many cases, ministries that are caught in scandals may never recover or attain their previous growth rates. Have you ever been part of a workplace where it seems that a sledgehammer is just waiting to fall on you at the slightest mistake? If you have been there, then you should pray more for your pastor, for that is how many of them feel, although they will never tell you.
- Loneliness: You will be amazed how many pastors and church leaders are lonely and lack real friends. The laity rarely understands what its leaders go through and often regard them as supermen. Pastors and church leaders are often drained by emotionally parasitic members who believe that the pastor’s life is perfect and it is their birthright to dump all their cares on the man of God, instead of Jesus. Pastors on their part are often wary of friendship unless they are confident of the spiritual maturity of the fellow, and even when a bond has been established, they are wary of confiding in a mentee for fear of being ridiculed in gossip by the laity.
- Self-Esteem Issues: Many Bible characters had self-esteem problems and doubted that God could ever use them because of their perceived worthlessness. At one time or the other, many Christians have harboured doubts about their faith and callings, including great men of God. While self-doubt and low esteem are not virtues to be celebrated, doubt is part of the fallen nature of man so much so, that the Bible contains many portraits of people who doubted themselves and the remarkable point is that some of them great heroes of the faith! Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection, Gideon tried to dodge God’s call with excuses of background, and Sarah laughed at God’s promise of motherhood. Today, the story is no different, as many church leaders have sometimes been faced with challenges which made them doubt that God ever called them to ministry. Secret soliloquies of men of God are, “Do I have what it takes to build and lead a great church? Can I measure up with servants of God before me?” That is one reason the church should consistently pray for and support its leaders. Self-Esteem and self-doubt issues are rarely advertised by pastors because they are worried about your perception of their ministries after unveiling their fears to you.
- Personal Financial Stress: Pastors who do not “own” their ministries are usually salaried employees of the church they serve. In many instances, such pastors are poorly underpaid in spite of having degrees in Theology and other fields. These pastors (apart from Catholic priests who are celibate) have to cater for their families, and there is nothing like a pension plan arrangement for them when they retire from the church. This has led to the proliferation of churches under different names. On a lighter note, a friend of this writer who works with the Corporate Affairs Commission, Nigeria, (known in other climes as the Company Registry) told him that almost all Bible words and phrases have been exhausted by the Registry’s search engine because new churches and ministries are being registered in Nigeria on monthly basis. Financial stress is another reason the church needs to support its leaders, especially those at the lower level who are not privy to controlling offerings and tithes.
- The Loyalty of Church Leaders & Co-Pastors: This fear is often associated with mega pastors of rising Pentecostal churches. Ahithophel’s betrayal of David and subsequent suicide are seen as a foreshadow of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and the gospel’s account of Judas hanging himself (Matthew 27:5). Many Bible scholars have linked Psalm 41:9, which seems to refer to Ahithophel, is quoted in John 13:18 as being fulfilled in Judas. In today’s church, leaders worry about deputies who could betray them by starting a new ministry and leaving with a third of the church’s membership. Other deputies may remain in the church but consistently sow seeds of discord against the leadership of the church. Sometimes, a deputy may appear more gifted than the boss, who then resorts to eliminating the assistant, like Saul tried to kill David out of jealousy. To a large extent, the Orthodox church seemed to have perfected a succession plan which eliminates bickering over leadership of the church. We have not heard that the widespread Roman Catholic church is in a crisis over who the next pope of the church would be.
- Competition: Sadly, in many instances, churches and pastor react like business organisations when they believe that they are losing their members to another church down the road. Pastors worry whether the church pews would be filled up during the following Sunday service. This is a harrowing concern that the average pastor will not share on Facebook, and it is a reason that the church should support its leadership and pray for the increase. This writer once witnessed a scenario where two churches used the same primary school premises for Sunday services, and how members of the two churches acted more like market women who were selling the same products and were competing for the same customers.
- Family Loss: Many pastors are concerned about their families and rightly so. Real pastors are in the battle line of pulling down strongholds, attacking wolves that come to steal the sheep and engaging in regular intercessory battles on behalf of their members. Many times, the family of the pastor comes under direct retaliatory spiritual attacks. Apart from the perils of spiritual warfare that the pastors’ families are faced with, pastors in salaried employment (particularly those with missionary and apostolic callings) are prone to be transferred from one location to another. This implies that they have to move their families along, and the children may often have to change school. Apart from relocation issues, as a pastor’s children grow into adolescence, the pastor is genuinely concerned about their emotional stability and their welfare. If the pastor’s child misses the mark, it’s almost like the pastor has failed as a parent and has no moral justification to preach to anyone!
- The Pace & Sope of Church Work: Many church calendars and plans are saturated with goals and annual targets, like corporate organisations. The church calendar is filled out with series of activities, and sometimes the pastor is concerned about meeting up with the targets imposed on him by the church headquarters. Sometimes a pastor’s promotion in a church is tied to he successfully undertaking a project like church planting or church building. If the initiative fails, it could sometimes signal the end of the pastor’s relevance in that church. That is another fear the average pastor will hardly share with the laity.
- Loss of Major Financial Leaders: Sometimes pastors are intimidated by major financiers of church projects and are concerned that such financiers could eventually leave their churches (with their monies) at the slightest dissatisfaction. This may cause the pastor to overlook some things being done by such financiers, instead of correcting them. Many pastors have tried to keep such moneybags and paramount personalities within their churches by appointing them to positions of responsibility.
- Secret Sin Becoming Public Scorn: For pastors living in sins or struggling with ungodly habits, there is always the fear that they would one day be exposed. Of course, we know how the media has been awash with tales of pastors being involved in adulterous relationships or stealing church funds. Even when a pastor does not live in sin, his daily prayer is that he would not be found wanting some day. It goes back to the first fear of praying to finish strong.
Any pastor facing any of these challenges should know that he is not alone. Pastors are generals in the battlefield against the kingdom of darkness. God has charged pastors with the duty of feeding and protecting the homeland, while evangelist and apostles are the warriors who go out into the world to salvage the lost from Satan’s enslavement and theft. It is time for the church to stand by its commanders. Yes, we should rebuke them in private and maximally love them in public. Many of us would fare no better if we were in their shoes, for we are all nothing without the help of the Holy Spirit.