Dave Workman is awesome. I haven’t personally met him, but I’ve greatly benefited from his book The Outward-Focused Life. If you are interested in learning about being a servant or “servant evangelism” or aspects of missional theology, this book is a great starting point. A number of people who are a part of the church I serve recently attended a conference he spoke at and were greatly blessed by his ministry.
Recently, Dave wrote a blog post on the top five things pastors should stop pretending to be (reposted here). One of my friends, Brian Fulthorp, informed me that it was the subject of a fair amount of discussion among a number of pastors and theologians in a certain denomination’s Facebook group. Since Brian wanted to know my thoughts, I figured I’d elaborate a bit on what I think. So in light of these comments, I’d encourage everyone to read Dave’s blog.
My first impression of Dave’s thoughts were mixed. I found a lot to applaud and some that I want to respond to with some nuances. Of course, Dave’s post is just a short blog and not exhaustive, so I realize that this is just furthering the discussion here and not a complete disagreement by any means! I doubt Dave would probably disagree with most of what I write here. Anyway, for those of you who are not going to actually take the time to read Dave’s insightful blog, he states that his top five things that pastors should stop pretending to be are as follows:
- Bible Scholar
- Professional Counselor
- The Smartest Guy in the Room
I want to start with drawing your attention to what I totally and completely agree with.
First, I believe Dave is correct when he states that pastors need to avoid trying to come across as the smartest guy (or girl!) in the room. In today’s world, it can be very frustrating working with a “know-it-all” (it probably always has been). Plus, no one actually knows everything. I need to keep this in mind because even though I may comprehend the fact that I don’t know everything, it’s easy to come across in a way that doesn’t reflect that. If we want to encourage the people we serve and lead to be teachable, we need to be teachable. Being teachable is an outgrowth of humility. So Kudos to Dave’s call for pastor’s to stop pretending to know everything. Pastor, you are most likely not a medical doctor or an engineer or a mechanic or a professional musician or an electrician or a plumber or a video editor… so stop trying to act like you are!
Second, I completely agree with his statement that typically, “prophets don’t make great pastors.” His advice is for pastors to stop pretending to be prophets. Perhaps this admonition is directed to a specific stream of the church (TBN anyone?), but it has implications for all pastors. As a personal aside, I’ve found that I don’t function with prophetic words for people that I am actually serving as a pastor to. After all, I’m their pastor and I often have a perspective that’s shaped by what they either tell me or what I observe. Sometimes I do have words for people, but it’s not my primary gifting. Plus, I think giving people prophetic words as a pastor can sometimes be a bit manipulative. So Dave’s warning is excellent.
Third, his advice concerning counseling is important for pastors to consider. Not only have I witnessed counseling suck the life out of many a pastor, I’ve personally experienced it! Pastor’s need to understand their limitations in assessing the emotional and psychological health of people they are meeting with. I say that with a very high view of the redemptive work of the local church, so I’m not suggesting that churches should keep their hands off of difficult people/situations. But many pastors are unable to determine whether someone needs to begin taking medication, so it’d be wise to recognize this limitation. And yes, “people seem to get better faster when they pay for it.”
So what do I want to nuance a bit? What do I feel the need to reflect on?
First, I think it would be important to acknowledge that there is a lot of diversity within the personality and gifting of pastors. When Dave suggests that pastors should pretend to be Bible scholars, theologians, and/or Christian counselors, I want to say, “Amen!” No one should pretend to be anything that they are not! But there are pastors who are one of these three. There are a number of pastors who also function as biblical scholars, theologians, and Christian counselors, so it would seem to be helpful to acknowledge that some pastors have received the necessary training to function in those roles.
So I’m all for calling pastors to avoid being deceptive (stop pretending!), but also want to remind us that pastors should function in the areas they are equipped (and gifted!) for! These assumes that there is great wisdom in knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses. We want to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses, right? Thus, if one is not trained in a certain field, they are probably going to be weaker at function in that role (i.e., counseling). But if someone has a fair amount of training, I think it’s legitimate to function in that role. And I actually think the church is greatly benefited by pastors who have a significant amount of training in the areas mentioned (biblical studies, theology, and counseling). Why? Because they can often take very complex ideas and methods and show why they are or are not relevant for the church.
Second, I want to comment on what Dave writes about Bible scholars (and theologians). He writes,
“While pastors must and should study the Bible, it’s not a full-time vocation for us. We should of course know doctrine, understand the canon and its origins, and be able to disciple people through scripture. But we don’t really have the luxury of spending most of our waking hours studying texts because, remember?—we’re pastors. So let’s stop pretending to be Bible scholars. We can read their work, we can quote them, we should know a few, but we’re not them because we can’t hole up in libraries for hours a day and because we have to be with our people in order to lead them.”
The common assumption is that Bible scholars are grumpy old men who have long lost connection with the world. They are so busy reading the Bible and about the Bible that they can no longer interact with the real world. They are part of the “ivory tower” academy. I’m sure that represents some scholars out there. My only problem is that most of the professors I had were not at all like this. Sure, biblical scholars spend a significant amount of time in study, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t pastoral or involved in the lives of people. After all, they are often very involved in the lives of their students (assuming they teach). Perhaps our understanding of “pastoral” ministry needs to expand a bit beyond those who are “ordained” and/or working for a church? I’m not sure. I’m just very thankful for the many hours that most of my professors set aside for me and many of my fellow classmates.
Third, as a big advocate for thicker ecclesiology and thicker pastoral ministry, I want to continue the conversation regarding the actual role of a pastor. Dave states that if you give a lot of your attention to counseling, you will “have less time mentoring and modeling for leaders.” That’s probably very true. But I wonder if this just means that the pastoral role needs to expand beyond the “Senior Pastor” model to a more robust model that builds upon the fabric of the NT.
As many acknowledge, the New Testament indicates that the local church was governed through the plurality of elders (cf. Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership). I think the issue of not having enough time to focus on pastoral care and leadership development largely evaporates if we focus our leadership development on replicating ourselves, not just people who report to us. Yes, it is a catch-22!
I’m compelled to see more pastors do more counseling. Many pastors seem a little hesitant to get involved in the more intimate details of people’s lives, which is why many churches aren’t considered “safe” or “helpful” for people. Pastors may not get involved for a variety of reasons (e.g., lack of training), but I’m afraid that many just don’t want to get their hands dirty. This concerns me. After all, the apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders that God the Holy Spirit had made them “overseers” of the church (Acts 20:28). We also read that church leaders are supposed to watch over the souls of the people in their care (Heb. 13:17). If there is anything we’ve learned from the various scholars advocating the importance of spiritual formation, we must look at people holistically. There is a connection between the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical aspects of a person. Thus, when the Bible indicates that pastors are to care for the souls of people, I think it means more than just “church” stuff. In fact, it’s because I care deeply about the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical aspects of people that I would go on to recommend a professional counselor… but that’s not my default view.
Anyway, I think Dave’s blog post has a lot of good discussion material and I’m very grateful for his ministry. I think Dave would probably agree with most of what I’m writing here. I’m mostly just thinking out loud here… I just know that I was very stimulated by Dave’s blog, and considering that I have been a lot less productive in my blogging, this was very fun to read and think through!
And yes, I’m a Vineyard guy who is into Bible scholarship, theology, and Christian counseling… ha ha!
What do you think?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.