The last time I saw my grandfather alive he made fun of me for being a pastor. You’ve probably heard the jokes or even made them yourself. “What does a pastor do all week anyway? You only work like one hour.” I wanted to tell my grandpa we have two worship services on Sunday morning, and they go for three hours by themselves. But I didn’t think arguing would help.
That’s one extreme view, the view of a pastor who works little. The other extreme is a pastor who works all the time, like 80 hours a week, and no one else in the congregation does anything because “real ministry” only counts as such when done by professionals. Yet there is no way most churches, my own church included, could exist if only a handful of pastors did all the pastoring.
Every Christian a Pastor and Every Church His Parish
You may have heard the phrase, “A man’s home is his castle.” The saying, as I understand it, maintains that no matter the actual wealth of the owner, size of the home, or lineage to nobility, there is a dignity to the owner and his home. The home may not be a castle, but he’s still the king of the castle.
As Christians, we could tweak the phrase to something like, “A Christian’s church is their parish.” Of course, the word parish reminds us of priests and Roman Catholicism, but don’t get hung up on that. I simply mean to say every Christian has the responsibility and privilege of being pastoral.
God speaks of his people this way in both the Old and New Testaments. When God saved his people from the house of slavery in Egypt, he told them they would be “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Later, God set apart the specific tribe of Levi for the task of full-time, vocational ministry. But the principle was clear: whether you’re a Levite or not, the whole nation of Israel was to be priestly.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter picks up on this same language when he speaks of all Christians as “a royal priesthood” called to “proclaim the excellencies” of God (1 Peter 2:9). We most often associate proclaiming with preachers, but Peter encourages us that, though only some proclaim from a pulpit, every Christian preaches.
Two Ways for Every Christian to Serve Pastorally
You don’t need the office of pastor to be pastoral. In fact, your church would shrivel and die if the Christians within your church stopped pastoring. There’s way too much pastoring to go around for only the pastors to pastor.
Think about it like this. Doctors are great, but the medical community would become crippled if every kid who scraped his knee had to go to the ER.
Yet, just as with medical procedures, there are some things better left to those called to the office of pastor, as spoken of in passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1–7. In all things, Scripture should be our guide.
But as I think about the church I pastor, many ways come to mind that we could grow in “church-wide pastoral ministry,” but I wish we engaged two particular areas with more passion.
First, every Christian can pastor by seeking sheep who stray.
It doesn’t take a large church for people to fall through the cracks, though “falling through the cracks” has become a cliché that makes us callous to the reality. The actual experience can leave bruises that don’t heal quickly.
Christians have always found encouragement that Jesus is the kind of shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine secure sheep to find the one lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7), which is why pastoral ministry must involve this same thing, seeking those on the fringes and pulling them back.
When you notice a person miss a few weeks in a row, find ways to follow up. Sometimes it’s actually easier for the Christian in a pew to notice a person missing in action than a pastor who is up front.
And don’t fear you’ll be prying into people’s business. I know if I left a church, I’d want people to notice. Wouldn’t you?
Second, every Christian can pastor by discipling others.
I know that discipling, not unlike preaching, can sound like the sort of thing only done by professional Christians. But it’s not. A disciple just means a follower of Jesus, and part of being a follower of Jesus involves helping others follow him. It’s what we do. As a pastor, discipling is a part of my job, yet our church would be far more healthy if dozens of people were doing it too.
You might not feel ready or equipped to seek out someone to disciple on your own. I’d recommend you approach a pastor in your church and tell him you wanted to disciple others. I’m sure he would help you. Also, Open the Bible has also created Open the Bible Story, a new resource for you to use to share the whole story of the Bible with others. Use that as you disciple others.
Here’s one more way to pastor through discipleship. If you come to church with people, before the conversation slides to what’s for lunch, who’s mowing the lawn, and how much you’re ready for a nap, keep the conversation on the worship service—what confused, challenged, convicted, and comforted you.
I’m sure people at my church talk about my sermons on the way home when I preach a lousy or controversial one, but I wish the pastoral debriefing of the ways God spoke through his Word to our hearts became the norm.
A “Reverse” Game of Jenga
The membership book I wrote for our church is called Each Part Working Properly. The title comes from a verse in Ephesians 4:16 where Paul writes that when each part of the body of Christ works properly, the body “builds itself up in love.”
I often think of this as a beautiful reversal of the game of Jenga. When you play Jenga, as the wooden structure gets taller, the whole thing becomes less stable. But that’s not the way Paul says it should be in local churches. When each part engages in pastoral ministry, the church gets more stable, not less.
My grandpa never really attended church, hence his confusion about my role as a pastor and how much I work. But I wish he had attended, not only so he could have heard me preach the gospel but also so he could have experienced the love of Jesus Christ embodied by a church full of pastors.