As our church works its way this Fall through the letter which the early church leader, Paul, wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, we’ve seen a church possessing much zeal coupled with considerable confusion. As a result the congregation in Corinth apparently struggled in a number of ways – everything from the nature of the resurrection, to the role of women in church leadership, to mishandling of the Lord’s Supper, and misunderstanding marriage, and even their sometimes haphazard application of Spiritual gifts.
As we see in 1 Corinthians 4, it also shaped their understanding of what a church leader, a pastor, or in the case of Paul, an Apostle, should look like. Ironically, underlying their competition over which pastor/teacher to align with – Paul, Apollos, Cephas, was on the one hand an elevation of human leadership beyond appropriate consideration, and on the other hand a neglect on the part of the people to actually heed and follow the sound things that any, and all, of those leaders might say.
As a pastor, it is a little awkward to talk about the role of the pastor. Yet even if it was not the next thing in our journey thru 1 Corinthians, it would be a good thing to consider, so members of the congregation can be mindful and prayerful to help our leadership stay on track as a church, and so us pastors can be mindful of what our task is and is not. As always, Paul seeks to correct their perspective by pointing them and us, to Jesus, and drawing a contrast between what we might call the Super Star and the Hired Hand pastor.
I’m grateful to Rev. Tom Cannon, for the seed of thought that I hope will bear fruit in today’s sermon, having heard him preach a message on this passage a number of years ago, where he drew this contrast.
I scarcely need to explain what I mean by Super Star pastor, and even in using the term I want to be careful not to be motivated by some jealousy I might have of other pastor’s skills. Indeed in some sense Martin Luther, George Whitfield, Charlie Spurgeon, and Billy Graham, could be called Super Star pastors in terms of their mass appeal. When I talk about the super star pastor, I’m referring more to the pastor who gains acclaim and following, not by force of the Holy Spirit in his ministry but by careful packaging of ministry strategies, skillful presentation of personal appearance and persona, that is not always rooted in readiness to boldly proclaim all the God’s Word has to say. The Super star has a lot of outward force to his ministry, but frequently lacks depth of character, sincere shepherding, and seems to have little place in his life or Gospel for sacrifice and suffering.
Likewise, when I speak of the Hired Hand pastor, I do not want to disparage the calling of other folks like me, who pastor small to medium sized congregations, and have little fame or notoriety. There is no shame in that. And in fact a pastor of a large church might operated as more of a hired hand. But instead I reference the Hired Hand as someone who might care deeply for the individual sheep in his congregation, and might genuinely desire to serve the Lord, but who lack’s backbone to actually lead. Indeed in its saddest form the Hired Hand pastor has an implied agreement with the congregation or at least the lay leaders of the congregation. We will make sure you are provided for, and can do the pastoral care and even the preaching you would like, but only as long as you don’t rock the boat too much, or attempt to lead too decisively. If the Super Star pastor misunderstands sacrifice, the Hired Hand does not lay hold of ministry power granted by the Holy Spirit.
Obviously the Apostle Paul did not use these terms but the ministry approaches are underlying what he says in 1 Corinthians 4, where he calls for pastors and ministry leaders, as well as their congregations, to embrace this truth – Since Jesus comes with power and sacrifice, we should desire pastors to be trustworthy stewards of the mysteries of God. What is your view of the pastor’s role? What is your pastor’s view of it?