Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
It isn’t so much the case in the Anglican church but theres a convention out there for the elders of a non-episcopal church community to refer to themselves sometimes as Pastor. Pastor can mean many different things practically but principally I always understood the word to be synonymous with the term that used in the passage above ‘shepherds of the church of God’. I was always warned against those who practiced ‘Sheperding’ when I was young. Yet I think the term addresses a distortion of what is meant when the term is used in the New Testament Letters.
A little while ago I was reading Charles Dickens’s ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’ and came across the account of his witnessing the aftermath of a horrific shipwreck (the Royal Charter) from the perspective of a tiny coastal village near Anglesey. The thing that stood out to me in the whole account was the actions of the clergyman in that village. He converted the church building into a morgue for the deceased, helped identify them, comforted the distressed in his own home and wrote to the families of the victims. Dickens himself wrote of the man..
It was the kind and wholesome face I have made mention of as being then beside me, that I had purposed to myself to see, when I left home for Wales. I had heard of that clergyman, as having buried many scores of the shipwrecked people; of his having opened his house and heart to their agonised friends; of his having used a most sweet and patient diligence for weeks and weeks, in the performance of the forlornest offices that Man can render to his kind; of his having most tenderly and thoroughly devoted himself to the dead, and to those who were sorrowing for the dead. I had said to myself, ‘In the Christmas season of the year, I should like to see that man!’ And he had swung the gate of his little garden in coming out to meet me, not half an hour ago.
So cheerful of spirit and guiltless of affectation, as true practical Christianity ever is! I read more of the New Testament in the fresh frank face going up the village beside me, in five minutes, than I have read in anathematising discourses (albeit put to press with enormous flourishing of trumpets), in all my life. I heard more of the Sacred Book in the cordial voice that had nothing to say about its owner, than in all the would-be celestial pairs of bellows that have ever blown conceit at me.
Charles Dickens – The Uncommercial Traveller, Chapter 2: The Shipwreck
The passage to me underscored the distinction between that of a mere leader or preacher and a minister or shepherd. This disaster had struck the parish and the priest took it upon himself to not just to care for the living, but also the dead. It wasn’t a concern for preaching and teaching but his attentiveness to his flock, whatever its condition. The flock itself was everyone, in whatever condition that he came across. He was a shepherd and a good samaritan. This man was genuinely a pastor in the traditional sense of the word which in turn transforms him into an icon of Christ himself.
I think we should all strive to display this love for those around us but I can’t help but be left feeling that many who call themselves Pastors today loosen the definitions of the term to something lesser. I know few ministers today who bother to visit their congregants anymore or even have the time for their congregants to visit them. I will be honest I do not know what takes up the vast majority of a Pastor’s time despite being married to the child of one and a peer to a number who aspire to become such eventually. The impression I have been left with, barring few notable exceptions, is that outside of their immediate circle many ministers have little interaction with their congregation throughout the week unless in the event of some pressing emergency. In many cases I think it far more honest for many non-‘episcopal’ ministers to be called lecturers or preachers as that is the extent of their interactions with most and occurs purely within the confines of the church building. We talk about ‘Churches without walls’ but this implies the sole intention of the church is missional, it is also incarnational and sacramental (which I think leads to mission) yet we rarely encounter this outside of the walls of our churches today. Dickens’s clergyman is a much more practical, down to earth expression of the Church truly without walls beyond any mere ‘mission’.
I do not mean to disparage, I appreciate the job is a tough one. I also think our churches have changed significantly to that which Dickens depicts, not least via the avenue of technology facilitating much higher capacity congregations which makes personal interactions with ministers difficult for the average congregant. Maybe thats an argument for smaller churches? Maybe its asinine of me to make such remarks when I have no idea of what its like to minister. The problem is I grew up in an Anglican church plant run purely by laypeople which was deeply involved in its community and shared the various responsibilities between its members. It was only later on when I moved away that I encountered elders and pastors who by comparison, to be blunt, most (not all) didn’t have any time for you. It was only later in returning to the Anglican church that I realised the fundamental difference between the Pastor as vocation and the Minister as profession. The parish model too taught me that we belong to a place, not just a people. We are always the Church in a place, not a Church in general.
If you Pastor doesn’t really know all that much about you or those around you, and isn’t interested or see any importance in addressing this – you can have access to preaching without necessarily the preacher today thanks to the internet. A seemingly increasing number of churches, particularly in the US, now take to broadcasting their teaching from somewhere else on a Sunday. I’ve known people who just opted out of attending a church in favour of watching these broadcasts and confess no deficiency in it compared to what they were experiencing prior to the change – the worst bit is the Pastor of the church they were attending never even knew they had left and the individuals actually had more time in their week as they didn’t have to support a buildings infrastructure with their time and effort any longer. Theres no accountability, no discipleship and a superficial level of community which the Pastor, as a role, increasingly plays an infrequent and distant part in.
These are just my thoughts, I have only anecdote to inform my opinion, this isn’t absolute. I haven’t seen any quantitative studies on how Elders use their time or the duties they carry out. Maybe its the demographic I find myself in, maybe young men (married or otherwise) aren’t seen as needing as much input by Elders as others. I don’t have a problem with Preachers or Teachers – I just think the word Pastor suggests more than what is often actually carried out in some cases. I don’t expect every Preacher to personally be involved in the life of those who attend the gatherings they preach at, but at the same time being called a Pastor is disingenuous then. Perhaps administrator is more appropriate. Perhaps we need to make more of a point of separating out and even delegating the role of Pastoring when required and cease to merely conflate it with the act of Preaching and Administration.