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Should the pastor know everyone in church?

thoughts on churchDoes a good pastor know everyone in his/her congregation?

In short, my answer is yes AND no. As always, I am sharing my thoughts in order to facilitate conversation, because I believe we are all richer when we can understand each other, so feel free to comment.

First, why a pastor doesn’t need to know everyone who comes to church:

Ephesians 4:11-16 is crucial:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature,attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Pastors are among those who are appointed to equip the people for works of service. Their service is, as that of a body, to each other and to those they come in contact with in daily life. As equippers, pastors are responsible to have systems in place for the training and building up of the body. Part of this system is training those skilled at small group facilitation, hospital visitation, greeting and neighborhood care.

The reason this conversation is important is two-fold. The bible doesn’t actually tell us how big the early church was – we know they met in houses, but also we could make an argument that they met in larger places. What did they do with the three thousand that were added on the day of Pentecost? We don’t know. However, church growth and leadership study tells us that pastors need different skill sets for different size congregation, and that a congregation will grow to the size of the skill set, and no larger. If we believe that house churches are the only good model for a church, we eliminate the skill sets for larger-size congregations. We also (in my opinion) limit the possibilities for reaching a city – house churches by nature would tend to stay in one demographic, not easily crossing socio-economic lines (and in some places, racial lines).

Yet, there are those, even in large churches that feel the pastor is the only truly appointed pray-er for the sick, counselor for the devastated, kisser of babies, etc. This is an unrealistic expectation because we are each gifted in some areas and not in others. Any one pastor only has one personality. Good stewardship of self and the Body says that the pastor is not the right person for every circumstance. There are those in the body who lean toward mercy, toward administration, toward connective ministries – and each needs to take their place. The idea of a shepherd is to provide food for the flock, but a shepherd of people also provides opportunity for each person to explore and grow in his/her giftings. Thus, we end up with systems and structures of multiplication.

Now for why the pastor should know everyone:

I am an advocate for the front door/back door pastor. I am not convinced this needs to be the lead pastor, but someone on staff needs to know who is coming in the front door and who is going out the back. (If you are unaware of the terminology, we primarily see people come in the front door of church, but slip out the back – they can be gone for several weeks/months before anyone notices if we aren’t careful.) As a staff pastor, one of my goals was to meet with everyone who came in the front door and hear their story. True, we didn’t see 40 people a week come in, so this was doable. Once I heard their story, I was able to really know them enough to help them connect with people they would relate to – I was able to help them find a safe group to get to know. They then knew me enough to reach out if they needed to. I also kept a roster of who attended church and went through it regularly – who hadn’t I seen recently? Did I know why? (Snowbirds disappear for several months at a time.) If not, I wanted to know if they were okay.

Yet, while attending a mid-sized urban church, I had my third child and the pastor apologized to me for not knowing I’d had my baby and visiting the hospital. I was SO glad he didn’t visit! The nursery coordinator and her husband visited, and I felt really connected to the body. I was shocked the pastor thought it was his job (although I appreciated his thought, and was honored, I am an introvert and actually felt like I’d dodged a bullet by not having that visit while draped in the hospital’s finest.)

So now it’s your turn. Should the pastor know everyone in church?

For further conversation on this topic, you’ll find the previous posts here:

4 Comments

  1. I remain concerned, from 53 years of church experience from mother and grand mother’s knee, that the Pastoral Gift overshadows the prophets, evangelists, teachers and other fruit bearing and edifying functions within and from within a congregation. My question, as a member called for mobilization and outreach, from the Body of Christ in the pews, is: Does society and the ends of the earth know the Pastor/ Congregation members?

    • Kim

      22/03 at

      Abraham, you are sooo right, and this is the reason I’m asking these questions. I feel in my heart that we can do more to empower those who spend the majority of their time with people who don’t know Jesus.

  2. First, the comment about the 3,000 going to same building and joining a local body is insane. They were all travelers and they all left to their countries. Also, recall the political situation. Until around 328, Christianity was becoming more and more outlawed. They could not meet in larger places other than homes because the government would kill them. When Constantine became emperor, he built Nea, a large church complex on the north side of Jerusalem (I believe this was the location, archeology is not clear)

    So, from a size position they met in houses and only small stone houses until Constantine.

    When a letter was written to Galatia, for example, it was written to all the house churches in that city. There would be a pastor or overseer in each house along with deacons. There was most likely an overseer or bishop over the city or over a region.

    The biblical model of a pastor is that he is a shepherd. That is why they picked the title pastor, because it means shepherd. When the Bible speaks of shepherds it says things like the shepherd know the sheep and the sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice. So, the New Testament model is that the pastor knew everyone, for both equipping and safety (Roman spies). When a new person came in, early church documents indicate that they had to sing a hymn, solo, to prove they knew stuff about Jesus Christ. If they could not, they were kicked out.

    Second, how can a pastor equip someone they do not know. Granted a pastor cannot be everything to everyone and others must help, but if the pastor is to equip someone, they have to know the gifts, talents and calling, if any. This is farmed out to others in a large church (300+) and the pastor becomes a manager or CEO. At that point I think it is only ethical they they change their title.

    • Kim

      20/03 at

      That’s a curious thought. What title would you suggest best identifies one who oversees a larger congregation?
      Also, a lead pastor of a larger church still pastors a certain number of people, but then teaches those people to pastor others.

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