Church Growth guru C. Peter Wagner states in The Everychurch Guide to Growth: “As I frequently say, the first two axioms to church growth are: (1) the pastor must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price, and (2) the people must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price” (1998, p. 46). The price to be paid is how the congregation is to be structured, along with the responsibility of the pastor being distinctly shaped by one sole endeavor. He puts the role and function of a pastor, particularly in new church plants, in no uncertain terms:
Start the church as a rancher, not as a shepherd… It is hard for some to picture how they can start a brand new church and not shepherd all the people, but they can, as long as there is mutual agreement that this is the way it is done in our church. This mutual agreement requires three basic ingredients: (1) the pastor does not visit the hospital, (2) the pastor does not call on church members in their homes, and (3) the pastor does no personal counseling” (p.63).
This is no small irony when the word “pastor” is simply the translation of the Greek word for “shepherd.” Not to mention the resurrected Jesus’ call for Peter to tend his lambs and feed his sheep. Nonetheless, this is consistently the approach established by the Church Growth paradigm, and adopted by some in the missional movement. In fact, in the district that I serve in, I was with one group of 30+ fellow Lutheran pastors where we were told, “Don’t worry about the saved people of your congregation, you are there for the unsaved!” Part of the rational for making such a claim comes in insisting that the congregation must raise up laymen to do pastoral care, even citing Acts 6, as Wagner does: “The Apostolic twelve made a decision to turn over the ministry of waiting on the widows to seven laymen.”(Wagner, p. 107).
However, Norman Nagel is rather helpful in clarifying that these seven were no laymen, but rather certainly “apostled” or ordained. As Nagel says, “Luke’s emphasis on the Word of God as the primary doer in the Acts of the Apostles may help explain why the Seven are not outside the ministry of the Word by their designation ‘to serve tables,’ any more than the Twelve had been, as is confirmed by what we are later told of Stephen and Philip. Having a Twelve and a Seven is not the final solution. Polity may vary. Constant are the words of the Lord and their delivery as He has mandated. In Acts 6 the number of ministers is augmented with specific allocation of tasks.” “The Twelve and the Seven in Acts 6 and the Needy.” Concordia Journal, (April, 2005), 119.
Thus, there is simply a division of responsibility among those in the same office. Titles may vary, tasks may too, but the office is always the same. There is no new office or divvying up of the office into parts so that there is no arguing “which of us is the greatest.”
Kurt Marquart is also quick to object at the assertion that laity are to be raised up to do the work of pastoral care: “No! The Lord said not, ‘Organize My sheep into work-brigades, to do the real ministry themselves,’ but, ‘Feed My lambs, feed My sheep!’ The shepherds are there precisely to ‘do ministry for the sheep,’ that is, to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments to them. The church is not a self-service buffet. The shepherding Gospel ministry is there precisely to ‘reproduce’ and nourish the sheep.” (“Church Growth as Mission Paradigm” in Church and Ministry Today: Three Confessional Lutheran Essays, 2001, 84).
To be sure, the passion, the zeal, and the urgency to reach the lost are entirely desirable, needed, and exemplary. But, from a confessional Lutheran perspective, extreme caution is warranted when it means compromising the historic and biblical role of pastor and vocational priesthood (laity) in the greater mission of God.
As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.