Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pastoring Like Jesus: Is This Possible Today?

Are pastors called to minister as Jesus ministered? When this question is raised the answer is not so obvious. We live in different times, in a different culture, with pressures and commitments that Jesus did not have. He never had to deal with committees, managing a building, organizing services, attending denominational meetings, or keeping the deacons or elders happy. It’s easy to preach about the need to follow Jesus in our personal lives, but then the realities of pastoring cause us to just “make the best of it” with the job they have inherited.
If Jesus were to become incarnate in twenty-first century North America, how would he minister? Of course, I can only speculate as others have done. For instance, one seminary professor who taught media classes stated that if Jesus were alive today he would use television. Would he? Would he use the written medium? What about the Internet? To tell you the truth, I don’t know what media he would use to share his message with the masses. There is one thing that I think is quite transferable from the first century to our day: how he developed the movement. If Jesus were alive today he would establish his movement the same way he did 2,000 years ago. He would work with 12 people and develop them by imparting his life into them. He would demonstrate and equip them in the way of life in his kingdom and teach them how to minister the way he ministers. He would not do this with the masses. He would concentrate his energy on a small group of future leaders, investing his life into a few with whom he would share refrigerator rights.

Robert Coleman wrote, “Jesus was not trying to impress the crowd, but to usher in a kingdom. This meant that he needed people who could lead the multitudes. What good would it have been for his ultimate objective to arouse the masses to follow him if these people had no subsequent supervision or instruction in the Way?” Few pastors will argue with Coleman’s observation, but most find his way difficult, if not impossible to do today. One pastor used business terms to explain what he does: pastors lead people who are his employees (but unpaid); his stockholders (who can vote him out if they so choose); and his customers (who can take their business down the road to another church vendor). When pastors have all of the concerns and duties to oversee, how can they afford the time to invest in a small group of people?

Research on the Synoptic Gospels has provided estimates that Jesus spent about 50 percent of his time with 12 key leaders during his three years of ministry. He did not ignore others outside of this group. In fact, there was a core group of about 70 who followed him. He also invested in these people, but with less of his time. And of course he ministered to the masses, as is illustrated in the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000, the Sermon on the Mount, and many healings. However, he prioritized his time, allowing him to give his best to the 12.

As I work with pastors in the church today, I ask them how they would break out the percentages among these three groups. Consistently, they share how 75 percent of their time is invested in ministering to the crowd through preaching, preparation for preaching, counseling, and organizing mass events. The other 25 percent is divided among key leaders and the core group of the church. The time spent with key leaders and core group members is typically spent in getting stuff done for the crowd.

The modern pattern of pastoral leadership often results in feelings of usury on the part of key leaders. Pastors only have a small amount of time to meet with leaders to accomplish a task so that they can better minister to the crowd. That crowd is comprised of individualists who often will leave as soon as something does not suit their personal desires or meet their felt- needs. The pastor then spends most of his time and energy investing in people who don’t have the ability or the desire to pass on to others what he has given them. His ministry stops with what he offers. He invests most of his ministry preaching to, counseling with, and organizing events for the crowd who cannot reproduce life in others.

At the same time, Jesus did not ignore the crowds. He ministered to them through miraculous signs and wonders that revealed the kingdom. While ministering to the masses, he was demonstrating the way of the kingdom to his key leaders. His investment in the 12 was not that of individualized discipleship. He equipped the 12 and taught them the way through his ministry to the core followers and the masses. Jesus had his eyes on developing a movement of people following the way, and he demonstrated this way, for all to see.

—Adapted from The Relational Way, pages 40-43

Photo Credit: Jesus and His Disciples - Peter Walks on Water by Roger Payne at the Illustration Art Gallery

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