Here are two things that all Christians know. One, we were made in the image of God, for the purposes of relationship. When God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image’ (Gen. 1:26), he was first making a statement about himself (‘us’, ‘our’); those plurals only really make sense once we see God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we can see God as enjoying loving relationships from eternity. So, when we are made in his image, it’s a natural first conclusion that we too are formed for relationships, with him and therefore with one another. Life with God but without another human is ‘not good’ (Gen. 2:18); life with another human but without God is to be ‘banished’ (Gen. 3:23).
And, Two, we were saved into a matrix of relationships: adopted into the loving relationships of the Trinity ‘in Christ’, and into the loving relationships of a ‘body’ or ‘family’ we call ‘the church.’
So why do pastors, who know and teach this, seem to have such problems living it out? Why is it such a common issue to wonder whether pastors are allowed ‘friends’ in church? Are the demands and duties of being a pastor so great, that we are exempt from the normal patterns of friendship?
Let’s review why Christians need one another:
To grow. The Bible tells us to teach one another (Col. 3:16), and I take it that that means there are occasions where I, as a bible teacher, have to shut up, listen, and learn. And not just from professional theologians and commentary writers, either: I am expected to learn from other people within the church where I am the pastor. People who have been Christians for a shorter time than me, and who have read fewer books.
To comfort. When we go through a tough time, we need others around us who can empathise, sympathise, pray and support. Paul’s understanding was that comfort flows from one Christian to another (2 Cor. 1:3-5), which means that there is a cascade of comfort. Is there anything there to indicate that pastors are not included in that waterfall of love? Or that they, and they alone, are the source of encouragement, from within themselves? More broadly, Christian leaders have sickness, bereavement, hard times, just like anyone else, and it would be weird to think that they couldn’t access the relational support which God has put in place for everyone else.
To encourage. At the end of 1 Thessalonians, after laying out the promise of Jesus’ return, Paul writes: ‘Encourage one another with these words’ (1 Thess. 4:18). Not, ‘Pastors, encourage your people’, or ‘Pastors, be encouraged,’ but ‘Encourage one another.’ I need to be on the receiving end of encouragement.
To challenge. And I need to be on the receiving end of some tough stuff too. Hebrews tells us, ‘See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.’ (Heb. 3:12); and ‘See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many’ (Heb. 12:15). Are pastors except from that? In that second verse from Hebrews, ‘see to it’ translates the Greek word ‘episkopeō’, a word which sometimes means ‘a supervising, overseeing Christian leader’ (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7). But in Hebrews there is no reference to this being a task for a particular group to do as leaders, or that everyone outside a leadership team does this; this is saying, effectively, oversee one another, without exemptions.
To work. Paul calls our shared gospel work a ‘partnership in the gospel (Phil.1:5; Philem. 1:6), which is a deliberate picture of a team. He has his own group of almost 100 workers, of course, who criss-crossed the Mediterranean to plant and water churches (see Romans 16); but in Philippians and Philemon he was writing to a church and a Christian who do not fall into that century. But they were still ‘partners’. So,today, we need everyone in a church to ‘partner’ for the gospel.
To achieve unity. As Christians, our unity is something we build on, but also work towards – we assume that we must ‘keep the unity of the Spirit’ (Eph. 4:3), but also work to ‘reach unity in the faith’ (Eph 4:13). Now, pastas do have a special role in this process, because they reach the truth that produces healthy diversity (Eph. 4:11-13), and also confronts the false teaching which produces unhealthy disunity (Eph 4:16). But we don’t produce it for everyone else, and stand aloof – we are supposed to be part of that united new people of God.
To achieve maturity. In Ephesians 4, unity and maturity are threaded together: ‘Then we will no longer be infants (that’s immaturity), tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (that’s disunity) and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, (unity) we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (maturity)’ (Eph. 4:14-15). That’s a critical insight, because Western Christians often see maturity as an individual virtue: she is ‘a mature Christian’. That is a biblical truth (Col. 1:28), but it is not this truth: here, maturity is something we get at together.
It is not good to be alone.
How well does your church do at forging relationships which actively involve the pastor and senior leaders as ordinary members?
I wrote a load about pastors being members of their churches, in ‘The Message of the Church’
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