For one year, Kayla and I actively served on the Kids Team at a church in Baton Rouge, LA. We asked to be scheduled twice a month -- and in some cases three times. Although this commitment was more than expected, we loved it that much.
The more we were around and served, the more the leaders engaged with us. We knew the Kids Pastors and staff more than just a quick "hello" on a Sunday morning. We often talked about the church, the vision, and how we were challenged by the messages.
During our entire time serving and attending this church we never once had a conversation with the Lead Pastor. We never even shook his hand.
... and I thought this was normal!
I had no church background prior to attending this church. When I committed my life to Jesus, I started attending a church, reading my Bible, and eventually serving. Through my discovery of Christianity and my experience at that church, I never expected to know the pastor personally.
Fast forward six years -- a couple of new churches -- and many personal conversations later and I've realized my prior expectation is in the extreme minority. In fact, I've often heard this popular statement: "I just need to go to a church where I know the pastor."
Can I lovingly nudge your perspective for a few paragraphs? My suggestion is that despite what we may think, pastors were never intended to have a close relationship with every person in their church.
I think that this perspective correlates with the fact that 90 percent of churches stay less than 200 people in attendance. I don't fault people for desiring a close relationship with other people -- however our expectations that the person should be our pastor is misguided.
Let's think about it.
The first pastor in the Bible was Moses. It was physically impossible for him to be close with his people. Why? There were millions of them. In fact, so overwhelmed by the administration of leading millions, his father-in-law suggested he develop other leaders to meet the needs of the people.
When Jesus arrived on the scene, many instantly decided to follow Him after witnessing His teachings and signs. As His followers increased, He always stayed close to his 12 disciples.
When the Church exploded on the scene in Acts, we quickly see the apostles couldn't handle everything and everyone. They had to raise up team leaders (elders) to lead areas of ministry.
As Paul started planting churches, he would arrive to towns, preach the Gospel, develop leaders and leave. As the churches continued growing, they continued to develop leaders. It's why Paul spent most of his time writing letters to leaders and churches. There was no way Paul could personally know everyone -- even in churches he personally planted.
In fact, the roles God assimilates in the church -- apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers -- were designed for this one functionality.
Now, I get why some people desire to know their pastor on a deep personal level. As I mentioned earlier, this desire is birthed from our God-given need to crave relationship. But, the notion -- or expectation -- that the pastor needs to be the person we're relationally engaged with is off-based.
Let's throw out church size and zero-in on the Biblical definition of a pastor.
A pastor was never meant to attend every kids birthday in the church. A pastor was never meant to attend every graduation. A pastor was never meant to eat in every members house. A pastor was never meant to remember every big event in our lives. A pastor was meant to equip God's people to do His work and build up the church.
Does this mean a pastor should be disconnected from the church? Absolutely not. But, as church attendees, we can't expect a false reality and perception of the role God created.
If we do expect this type of engagement, a real tension begins to exist. Here's a few things I've noticed or experienced when our pastors are too involved in the lives of church attendees.
1. We can easily magnify their weaknesses over their strengths.
In the two churches we've served in where we didn't know the pastor personally we never said one bad thing about them. We never said one negative thing about the church. Honestly!
We didn't know them well enough to see their imperfections. There's a real struggle that exists when you know your pastor's weaknesses. I've seen members in a church and key leaders undermine the lead pastor because they were close. It appeared they magnified their few weaknesses over any strengths.
This builds to the next phase. When you know deep personal things about someone -- how open are you to receive from what they say? If my friend is having marriage problems, should I listen to him give me marriage advice? If my friend has financial problems, should I listen to his advice about my finances? Unlikely.
Pastors are people too. They have struggles more than we realize and often deeper than we can imagine. When I didn't know my pastors too well, I was open to hear what the Holy Spirit was communicating through them even though they may have been walking through something personally.
2. We can create margin to be offended.
When we put a false reality of relational expectations on our pastor, we can open the door to be easily offended.
- "I noticed pastor liked their photo, but not mine on Facebook."
- "I can't believe pastor went out to eat with them, but I never get an invite."
- "Why did pastor ask them to serve but not me."
- "Pastor never texted me on my birthday."
At one of our former churches our pastor wrote a card to everyone in our database on their birthday. One week he was out and I was in charge of doing it. Naturally, I forgot to send someone's second cousin a birthday card. Their entire family was offended and avoided talking to me for months.
I'm sure they received hundreds of Facebook posts about their birthday and countless gifts, but one card not signed by the pastor led to offense.
The closer you get to your pastor the more you will find yourself in situations to be offended. Why? Because pastors are people. Pastors aren't perfect. Pastors were never meant to personally know every individual and every life detail within the church.
3. We can lean on them more than others.
We've talked about how God created us to be relational. In churches, it's easy to be instantly connected to the person speaking in a microphone. They make us laugh, cry, and inspire us to be better. A good pastor/communicator can connect in a way where you feel you are their best friend just through one message.
It's why after a church service you'll notice droves of people approaching the pastor to talk. The connection is there.
When we know our pastors and their family personally, we can easily omit the need and importance of being in relationship with the Body (i.e. the church). This creates margin for us to be let down. Why? Because pastors are people. Pastors aren't perfect. Pastors were never meant to personally know every detail about our lives.
If we're just close to the pastor's family, what happens when they move to another church and there's a new pastor?
4. We stunt our church's effectiveness.
If one church body that Paul planted demanded his attention and close relationship, then God's mission would have been radically paused.
Instead, Paul preached, inspired, developed, and moved on. God gave Him a mission to accomplish. Think about the church you attend for a minute -- what's its mission?
Is your church accomplishing it? How is your pastor's time being spent? Are other people leading in various areas?
Your kid's birthday party is important. Their graduation is a big deal. A wedding is monumental. A funeral is touching and also difficult. The birth of a new child is wild. Hospital visits are unsettling. I understand!
Your pastor may have -- at some point -- engaged with your family in these moments. If he or she has, I can promise you they have for others. In doing so, their week has quickly filled up -- especially in a church over 25 attendees.
So, after they attended the children's soccer game you invited them for months to attend, they quickly cram in some God moments. They piece together a message and attempt to inspire. It's likely they're emotionally, physically, and spiritually empty after a busy week.
You hear a "good message" and feel great about starting your week off right. Yet Monday comes around, and your pastor starts all over again. Week in and week out you ask yourself why there isn't new people attending. Maybe you question why your church isn't more active in the community. You may even notice your pastor looks a little tired.
Why is that? Because -- despite the size of your church -- your pastor was never meant to be fully engaged in your life and the lives of everyone else in the church. He or she was uniquely designed to develop you (and I) into fully functional believers on mission to make a difference for Jesus.
"I just need to go to a church where I know the Pastor."
After reading these four observations -- just think for a second: Do you really want to know your pastor?