What Should Pastors Give?

I’ve just started reading Harold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls. So far, I am very impressed. A Lutheran minister, Senkbeil had been pestered for years to write this book, since he has given a lot of advice to ministers. It was advice of the sort that saves ministries. The point I want to highlight here has to do with the substance of what pastors are supposed to give to the congregation and to those outside the congregation to whom he ministers.

Typically, seminary students are told that ministry means pouring out oneself for the benefit of the congregation. The better seminaries will emphasize the importance of your personal devotional life. However, Senkbeil points out the problem with the idea of pouring oneself out: this is what typically results in burnout. There is only so much in a man, after all. There is only so much emotional and spiritual capital that he can expend. If this is limited, then it actually doesn’t make sense to say that the pastor pours out himself. Not only is there the problem of the very limited resource, but an additional issue is the temptation to narcissism that this idea represents. If the pastor pours out himself, then the people will see that consciously or unconsciously. Some will react with acceptance, and thus make the pastor the focus of the congregation. Others will reject it and thereby throw out what there is of Christ in what the pastor offers.

Senkbeil offers another route, one which I think is well worth exploring. The pastor fills his soul with Jesus Christ, full to bursting, and then offers Jesus Christ, and not himself. He is then more of a conduit than a filter. Again, here, the better seminaries will say that the pastor is supposed to offer Christ. However, the implied corollary is often “filtered through you.” I would now say, in addition to being transparent to the text of Scripture (get out of the way and let the Scripture speak!), the pastor should also be transparent to Christ (he offers Jesus and not himself).

There are three things that I think will result from this game-changer. Firstly, the pastor will be far less likely to burnout if he is not offering himself. Incidentally, this would not mean “be impersonal and never be friendly or compassionate with the people in the congregation.” Instead, it means “the substance of what you offer is not you but Him.” Secondly, the importance of the devotional life becomes dramatically clearer, since the devotional life is one of the key places and times where the pastor becomes filled with Christ. Thirdly, he will be less tempted to narcissism. So also the congregation will be less tempted to make the ministry all about him, and instead will recognize that the ministry is all about Jesus Christ. The overall effect of this might very well be to lift a huge part of the burden of being a minister off the shoulders of the minister, to lay it on the infinitely more capable shoulders of our Lord.

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7 Comments

  1. DTK said,

    July 17, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Lane, in addition I recommend reading Martin Bucer’s Concerning the True Care of Souls.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    July 17, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Funny you should mention that. It is mentioned in Senkbeil’s book as well.

  3. roberty bob said,

    July 17, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    The congregation ought to elect elders who, along with the pastor, share in the care of souls; deacons also serve the needy to ensure that none are neglected. Let the pastor weave his visitations into the fabric of the ministry of the Word, to which he is called, which may be as substantial as preparing two worship services (2 sermons), catechism, etc. every week. Better to spend one’s energy on these vital basics than to take on multi-dimensional peripheral programs and the administration thereof.

    I am not impressed with American mega church model of ministry. In my estimation, the above mentioned basics suffer from erosion.

  4. rfwhite said,

    July 18, 2019 at 10:07 am

    Mr. Green Baggins: Thanks for sharing a refreshing alternative perspective. From your post, I gather that the author’s attention is on “the” pastor as an individual and that “the pastor” he has in mind is a teaching elder. For those who have served with a plurality of elders, most of whom are ruling elders and a few teaching elders, does he discuss his perspective as it might relate to ruling elders too, since they too are shepherds? No criticism implied if he doesn’t; it’s enough to apply his point to any shepherd of a flock.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    July 18, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Dr. White, I am not far enough into the book to know for sure, but my guess is that he would say that the principle would apply to any area of Christian service.

  6. Reed Here said,

    July 23, 2019 at 10:44 am

    Lane, I’ve kind of come to this a bit by the back door. I am never enough, even for the most basic needs. Jesus, alone, is always enough. The Spirit ministers him through me, as I live by faith myself.

    Excellent premise. Will check this books out.

  7. roberty bob said,

    July 23, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 2:16, while speaking of the glorious responsibility of Gospel proclamation, asks, “Who is sufficient (or fully equipped) for this task?” The implied answer is “No one!” This confirms what is being said here, namely, that since we don’t have it within us, Christ must work through us.


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