Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Jet-set pastors

I notice that many (most?) celebrity/megachurch pastors spend a lot of time jetting around the country or the globe to speak at various conferences. In fairness, this isn't new. Donald Barnhouse used to be absent from Tenth Pres. six months out of the year, due to his popularity on the speaker's circuit. 

But that's pastoral dereliction. These men are preachers rather than pastors. To be a pastor, you need to invest your time in your congregation. You need to know what's going on in the lives of your parishioners. 

You need serious time for sermon prep, prayer, counseling, visitation ministry, as well as serious time with your own family. Some of these "pastors" seem to treat their church as a motel to crash in-between speaking engagements. 

Of course, a megachurch pastor can't give each parishioner lots of individualized attention, due to the pastor-to-parishioner ratio. He has to delegate. He needs to have associate pastors who help with visitation ministry and other things. 

But he still needs to have a life shared in common with his congregation, as a fellow pilgrim. He needs to know them as persons and not just abstractions. Not all of them, but a percentage. A pastor can't do that if he plays hooky so often. 

In addition, a pastor's impact is incremental. One forty minute sermon at a conference is unlikely to be transformative. A faithful pastor has a cumulative influence by preaching week after week, month after month, and year after year, in addition to all he does behind the scenes, in terms of counseling, visitation, marriages, funerals, &c. Most folks aren't zapped into the kingdom by a single inspirational sermon. Even Jesus, with the peerless resources at his disposal, went back to some of the same places time and again. 

That doesn't mean his feet are nailed to the church. He can do local gigs. For instance, some pastors who have an athletic background volunteer as part-time coaches at the local junior high or high school. That's great community outreach. A way to practice friendship evangelism with the unchurched. A way to mentor the next generation of young men.  

There are some bilingual ethnic pastors who fly to the Third World every so often to do evangelism, because they have entree with people-groups that white anglo missionaries find harder to penetrate. But in that case it should be a church with rotating preachers. 


  1. Mega-churches can be troubling. I'm of the mind that popularity due to to excellent speaking is a deceptively poor substitute for pastors who preach to people they know and counsel personally.

    On the other hand, the benefit to large churches is the depth of the bench and the idea that the senior pastor is not the only spiritual chef in the house called and ordained to feed the people from the pulpit. Too many small churches have but one pastor who can't afford to be away from the pulpit any time the church doors are open.

    The balance has to be between a pastoral staff and elders who know their people and are intent on presenting a unified message of theological depth and intimate application no matter which of them happens to be in the pulpit. If one of them happens to be a gifted speaker and teacher who can turn the teaching mission of the church outward to a wide audience, then he has a healthy platform to do it from.

  2. This can be equally true for smaller churches as well. If a congregation is small (say, less than 30 members) but has a pastor who is well-known, perhaps, for overseas missions or books he has written, and is therefore called to speak frequently at conferences or to conduct overseas evangelism or to be involved in disaster relief efforts or any number of other activities, the church suffers even more than a megachurch, potentially, since there is less likely to be associate pastors, rotating pastors, or even a significant number of mature believers and other office bearers to assist with pastoral care, much less the actual preaching.

    And in a church tradition that demands a single pastor system (where even associate pastors are brought in only as eventual successors to the current pastor), the flock might frequently find itself listening to someone reading the pastor's notes on Sunday while he is away 25-50% of the year on "more important endeavors."

  3. Steve this is very very good. Good to read this on the eve of myself going overseas. Life is short. I think it is also important for pastors to weigh their travels by how much impact they can make. I see going is driven by the criteria of evangelism opportunities that open itself in which a church can be planted or training of pastors. But training of pastors means one should be experienced as a pastor in one's own church first before one can teach others. With all the risks and danger I also see that for a pastor making a short overseas training trip is also good for the church as a whole to learn to practice their spiritual gifts and other elders and lay elders step up. But all things must be done with the counsel and agreement of fellow elders. Again very very good posts Steve.

    1. A good church needs to be missionary-minded. Having a heart for the lost and the global church. So there's a balance to be struck.