The Pastor-Centered Church

September 27, 2009 — 10 Comments

I like to frequent church websites. It’s a good way for me to see how congregations other than mine do the things they do (services, membership, preaching, etc.).  I find it to be very informative and helpful as I discover many churches who do things much better than mine. But every once in a while, I run into sites which make me feel a little uncomfortable for a very specific reason – the gratuitous parading and promoting of the senior pastor.

Maybe you’ve seen those sites. The pastor’s face is anchored everywhere – blog, sermon series, Facebook, Twitter, men’s retreat, even women’s retreat – ad infinitum, ad nauseum. In addition to his omnipresent image, how he’s portrayed also raises an eyebrow or two. This is pastor as celebrity – highlighted hair well-streaked and coiffed, a mouth full of veneers so perfectly aligned and incredibly radiant that his smile can be seen from 40,000 feet, and decked out in the latest and greatest offering from Urban Outfitters. In other words he looks just like the people he shepherds, right? Now before someone reminds me of my glass house address,  let me say that I’m not suggesting pastors who really love Jesus are those who look like they stepped right out of a time warp, caring nothing about their appearance. I’m also not saying that churches shouldn’t ever leverage the personality of their pastor. Consumers have always better related to a person than a product (e.g., Bill Cosby’s Jello, George Foreman’s grill, etc.). It may be very well that churches use this cultural inclination advantageously for the gospel. I simply wonder if the advantage is really about the gospel or just the pastor. Is this for Jesus or simply to fulfill his desire for fame? After a few minutes on these types of websites, one gets the feeling that the senior pastor is the most important part of the church. Like the sun to the the solar system, he is the person (or should I say persona) about whom everything in the church revolves.

This, I’m afraid, is the pastor-centered church.

The problem though is that the center of the church isn’t the pastor, it’s Jesus. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The apostle Paul summarized his message to the church in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 saying,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

The message, and center, of the church is “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In other words, it’s the gospel. We don’t want to have pastor-centered churches. We want to have gospel-centered churches.

Now, let me shift gears here. I think in reading my over-generalized and  poorly parodied description of a pastor-centered church many readers who are lead pastors of blossoming new church plants have connected with what I’ve said and think, “Yup. Those kind of pastor-as-celebrity churches truly are pastor-centered congregations. My church isn’t like that at all.” Indeed, you may have felt led to plant a church because you wanted to offer something in direct contrast to those types of churches. Good! But can I add that yours can be a pastor-centered church too? And you don’t even have to buy veneers. In fact, you don’t have to do anything that fits the description I offered earlier. The reason is because there are other roads that lead to the pastor-centered church.

For example, take your leadership. Another way to have a pastor-centered church is to lead in such a way that you never really “pass the ball” of leadership to others. You make all the final calls, remind everyone the buck stops with you, and spend more time making decisions instead of developing decision-makers. You are a pastor-centered church when you spend more time working in the ministry than on the ministry. Now, it’s one thing to endure this type of pastor-centeredness when you are starting a church. Frankly, it’s likely necessary for more reasons than this post will allow. But if over time, you’re not willing to expand the circle of leadership responsibilities to include others (and yes, this includes preaching), then it doesn’t matter if you buy your clothes at Walmart and sport a $5 Pro-Cuts mullet, you lead a pastor-centered church. This goes for churches of 70 to 7,000. Think about it, if Pastor [fill in the blank] suddenly dies, will his church “die” with him? Will people leave in droves to saddle up with the next latest and greatest pastor? If so, maybe the reason is due to the fact that the church built its ministry around the wrong person?

So take heed when you see a church website that looks more like the pastor’s personal brochure, you may be doing the same thing by the way you lead.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
– 1 Corinthians 3:5-7

What kind of church do you lead? What kind of church do you attend? Is it gospel-centered or pastor-centered?

Yancey Arrington

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Lover of All Things Texas. Acts 29 Network Fan. Redemption Hound. Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in League City, Texas. Author of TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You. He is currently writing a book on preaching.

10 responses to The Pastor-Centered Church

  1. The church I serve at is a pastor-centered church. Sometimes our pastor would use his time to preach as a soapbox and never go through the scriptures as he should. When I came to the church I am now, it never occured to me that the only reason I was there was to babysit the youth and never be a leader. Everything was through the pastor. Even the worship songs was through the pastor. If I had to discipline our youth, the pastor would make me the bad guy and never stood beside me. We even had one man from our church walk out of our church because the pastor treated me like garbage and the gentleman was defending me. For some reason, God has not allowed me to move from that church, which I am praying hard for a new church where I can be a leader and teacher and where the gospel is preached. Please pray for me as I find a new place of service. I follow you on twitter as jchrisland.

  2. Good thoughts. And it gets to the heart of the matter, which is that the heart is really what matters. If the pastor wants to be the source of the life of the church, then it’s already lost. That’s because we’re ALL messed up. Our only hope is to have the source of our (spriritual) lives to be the one who is NOT messed up, the one who is perfect. He who knew no sin.

    The only thing is, it’s REALLY difficult to spot a pastor like this. Especially in a young church plant. From the outside they’re always doing ‘good things’ and people get the impression they’re ‘good’ pastors. But they can bear good fruit for a short time, but eventually the sheep skin comes off and they’re seen for the wolves they are (sorry to mix metaphors there). Eventually the rottenness of the fruit they bear becomes apparent. Hopefully the damage is limited, or they become convicted and lay broken before the King and change the focus. But it’s tempting to build a ‘cult of personality’. Even though that song rocks, a church built like that can do a lot of harm.

    But this is a good warning. Because it can also be tempting for a group navigator to start building their own little ‘me-centered’ ministry.

  3. It is good to know I am not the only one frustrated by “pastoritis”. That is what I call the malady congregations are infected with where the symptom is thinking one or two men (or women) “lead” the community. It stinks! Ephesians mentions 5 servant positions placed in his body to prepare the God ordained ministers (the people). I believe most “pastors” are not pastors and that is why they suck at it. Most of them feel called and are able to secure credentials that intimidate other people into abdicating their authority and responsibility to them. When a person comes to Christ, he or she becomes a minister of the Gospel. A true pastor will seek to promote the welfare of that person’s ministry. The vocation in which the person is when he or she is saved is the ministry field in which that person is ordained by God to serve. Real pastors confirm this ministry and get to know what it entails so he or she may help the minister. I have never met a so-called pastor that was more interested in the ministries of the people of the congregation than his or her own agenda. They all try to get people on board with their vision and plans. They all consider what they do to be the “valid and true” ministry. So they spend time scheduling retreats, outreaches, short term missions and “training” meetings. Never have I ever even heard of a Pastor trying to find out about the ministry someone else is already doing and attempting to help them do it. Today’s “pastors” pretty much suck. They are egotistical administrators or self centered visionaries that, at the core, want everybody on board with what they are doing. Unfortunately, “pastoritis” is a community disease and nearly the whole church is infected with it. Let me say that ministry still continues. Sure. Souls are still saved. The Church is still growing and people are living and doing their ministries. Thank God! But to Pastors, I just want to say: In the list in Ephesians 4:10, you are number 4, second to last. You are not the center of the church. Most ministry of the church doesn’t need you in the way you “help” Most of you actually hinder the real ministry because you don’t even acknowledge what that ministry is! In fact, you are not a minister, you are an equipper. Start honoring what God is doing and free yourself from the curse of “pastoritis”! Find the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Teachers in your community and become part of a team of equippers. Humble yourself. Be a friend and partner. Read Matthew 11:28-31. Be like that. Stop laying heavy burdens on other people and start helping them live out their callings. Stop inventing official “ministry opportunities” which only imply that daily occupation is not ministry, and start helping people be ministers in the field God has already given them. Finally, why is it you don’t have a real job? Are you sure what you do is really needed? If so, fine. But I don’t think every community needs a paid person to make them efective. Maybe getting a real job will help you see how working and living in the world is a more valid ministry than all the plans you’ve made to burden your already tapped people with. Just some ideas to pray about.God to serve. Real pastors confirm this ministry and get to know what it intails so he or she may help the minister. I have never met a so-called pastor that was more interested in the ministries of the people of the congregtation more than his or her own agenda. They all try to get people on board with their vision and plans. they all consider what they are to be doing the “valid and true” ministry. So they spend time scheduling retreats, outreaches, short term missions and “training” meetings. Never have I ever even heard of a Pastor trying to find out about the ministry someone else is already doing and atempting to help them do it. Today’s “pastors” pretty much suck. They are egotistical administrators or self centered visionaries that at the core want everybody on board with what they are doing. Unfortunately, “pastoritis” is a community desease and nearly the whole church is infected with it. Let me say that ministry still continues. Sure. Souls are still saved. The Church is still growing and people are living and doing their ministries. Thank God! But to Pastors, I just want to say: In the list in Ephesians 4:10, you are number 4, second to last. You are not the center of the church. Most ministry of the church doesn’t need you. In fact, you are not a minister, you are an equipper. Start honoring what God is doing and free yourself from the curse of “pastoritis”! Find the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Teachers in your community and become part of a team of equippers. Humble yourself. Be a friend and partner. Read Matthew 11:28-31. Be like that. Stop laying heavy burdens on other people and start helping them live out thier callings. stop inventing official “ministry opportunities” which only imply that daily occupation is not ministry, and start helping people be ministers in the field God has already given them. Finally, why is it you don’t have a real job? Are you sure what you do is really needed? If so, fine. But I don’t think every community needs a paid person to make them a church. Maybe getting a real job will help you see how working and living in the world is a more valid ministry than all the plans you’ve made to burden your already tapped people with. Just some ideas to pray about.

  4. Go Nancy! and go Fred!
    Let me share my experience from one particular church I went to. At the time I was working as a community youth worker in a refuge for teenagers aged 13 to 18. We had a lot of girls come through the house, some short-term, others on a long-term basis. Most of these young souls had had multiple placements in various institutions, had been abused in ways too sad to mention, were full of anger, into drugs, boys, you name it, and so needed stability and love. And it was a hectic work environment, some of the girls were bouncing off the walls there was so much going on inside of them, or through the walls (literally).
    At the same time the church I attended was a small church plant, just starting (it closed), and they dragged in a groovy young man to be the youth pastor of 5 well behaved church kids from stable homes. He was prayed for at the front of the church constantly. Great prophecies were pronounced over his head. Never once was any interest shown in my work role as a youth worker, or was I or the dear little souls I was working with prayed for. Gosh we needed prayer too. What a bizarre and insular reality churches can represent!
    Wouldn’t it have been great if they’d served me in my role, instead of demanding that I serve them in various menial ways (this was touted as real servanthood ministry – to stack chairs and meet the needs of the pastor). Where did I get my energy from to do my full-time job and ‘serve’ at church too? To be honest, all I wanted was a bit of prayer and support. But think of how we could have served such a community of girls if there’d been the awareness and a willingness to do more from the church.
    During that time I really wanted to become a pastor in a church, and the door seemed to be constantly closed to me. When I look back, I realise that I was a minister in reality – just not through the church. And probably doing a lot more. By the way, I’m not putting down genuine ministries which reach out to the poor and those needing salvation. But we all go into our workplace as ministers. That’s the point.

  5. Amazing! Its actually awesome article, I have got much clear idea
    regarding from this post.

  6. Slow down…. Take a breath… There are people God has called to lead. Than there are folks God called to preach. Than there are people God called to heal (doctors), than there are people God called to tell the good news, than there are people God called to be humble, than there are people God called to win a war, than there are folks… etc…etc…etc…etc…

    Yes, Clear Creek Church, has a leader, just as it should be. he is the leader God placed in front of us for His church, here in the bay area.

    And just so you do not mis- understand, I dont want his role, nor have I been called to it… and to be honest, most have not….

    I know many wont like this…. God said, he will hold those accountable that preach to His people in his name. And the book goes on to say…. well you know the rest…

    A leader, a church needs a leader….a Pastor….

  7. I read both “trackbacks”… Very hard to argue with… But on the same respect; you will find people that God has called to lead, preach, heal etc..etc.. at each campus.

    and there is no doubt in my mind; that as leaders change… people change…. Not saying its a bad nor good thing, just saying; its a real thing…

  8. Been saying this for years. Several of the pastors of pastor-centric churches in my denomination are getting ready to retire. It will be interesting to see how things pan out.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Following a Defining Pastorate — DashHouse.com - September 28, 2009

    […] need to prepare congregations for when they will be gone. We need to avoid becoming pastor-centered churches. The more the ministry is built around the pastor, the more the church will flounder when the […]

  2. Pastoral Sins - February 3, 2012

    […] Self-Righteousness: You’ve forgotten how broken you really are. You lead a pastor-centered church. […]

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