Is the solitary nature of pastoral ministry necessary?

As pastors we need to be self motivated. After all there is no one who is looking over our shoulders, is there? There is no bundy clock to keep track of our hours. There is no one instructing us on the things we should teach or preach about (unless it’s the book of Revelation). There is no one checking in on us making sure that everything is ok.

Sometimes pastoral ministry seems a rather solitary existence, where we are expected to do the majority of a church’s ministry, where we are expected to haver everything figured out, where we are expected to be strong in the middle of a hard world.

But together with this expectation of doing the ministry, it often also feels as if there are many people looking over our shoulders: 

  • People want to talk to the pastor when the call the church. 
  • People want the pastor to visit them. 
  • People want the pastor’s preaching to be good. 
  • People want their cars/motorcycles/houses/jeepneys/businesses/atbp to be blessed. 
  • People want you to attend their birthday parties. 
  • People want you to be available at any time, day or night.

Apart from this we need to make sure our families are well taken care of. 

It’s impossible really. No one can do all of this and survive. There are so many voices vying for our attention as pastors that it takes skill and ability to navigate all of this. 

One of the problems is the popular idea of the solitary pastor leading his flock closer to Jesus. Fortunately this idea has been challenged of late. Hal Puttick illustrated it somewhat like this, 

“Pastoring is like solo paddling. We train pastors to paddle their own canoe. We then load them up with a huge amount of cargo and expect them to be able to paddle it to the destination. From time to time they may get close to other pastors who are also paddling alone but what ends up happening is that one paddler tries to transfer some of his load to another paddler (who is already overloaded themself). What we need to do is to develop leadership teams.”

Hal Puttick

In the theological world, people like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost and their various co-authors have been advocating for a more APEST-type ministry model for several years. APEST comes from Ephesians 4:11 that speaks of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. I have seen a couple of restatements of the APEST idea that help us better understand what Ephesians 4 is saying. 

There is this tweet from @lukejohnson2191 that restates the 5-fold ministries as things each person would say:

Then there is the restatement from Frost & Hirsch themselves that restates the 5-fold ministries using terms that may have less theological baggage: 

But this APEST idea is not an excuse to just sit back and let things happen. Rather it is a call to both work hard at what your speciality is and to develop at team of people who can work together to meet the needs of the church as a whole.

But what if you are solo paddling? What can you do?

1. Make decisions on what you will prioritise and what you won’t. Not everyone will be happy with you but you might survive the journey. 

2. Help train others to join you in your canoe. After all, if we want things to change we need to start changing them.

3. Keep working hard. Be self motivated. Don’t forget your calling to serve God in whatever circumstances.

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.