I am not a pastor, and I’m probably not supposed to be one. (My wife is glad for this.) Even so, it’s hard to deny that there is a pastoral aspect to my ministry, both as a writer and speaker.
By speaker, I mean, I preach in churches on Sunday mornings when I’m invited to do so. When I preach, I am seeking to minister to others in a pastoral way. It is always my aim to feed, strengthen and challenge those who are hearing. So there is a connection to pastoral ministry that simply comes with the territory.
In the same way, when I write, I’m not doing it because I enjoy reading my own words. I write out of a desire to build up other believers (as we’re all to do according to 1 Thessalonians 5:11)—to encourage, challenge, inspire and hopefully point people to Jesus above all. So, when I write, my aim is to write pastorally.1
But I don’t write as a pastor. Though I care for those who hear me when I speak and those who find my writing helpful, I am not charged with giving watch over their souls (Hebrews 13:17). Their pastor, however, is.
(How’s that for an introduction?)
A good question without an easy answer
What does this have to do with what I’m writing about today? Some time ago, I was asked about whether or not blogs like mine run the risk of blurring the lines between roles and responsibilities. Or, to put it another way, is there a danger of authors and bloggers undermining the role of the reader’s pastor? I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time, since it’s actually not a simple question to answer.
But the answer, at least as far as I can see it now, is yes and no. Clear as mud, right?
See, few pastors are good writers. The humble ones know and admit it. And because they know it, they either don’t write books, or they have someone help them (and give proper credit). And this is a good thing, because they know how God has gifted them—they can preach, they can offer wise counsel, they can shepherd people. But they also know their pens fail them. It’s not how God’s wired them. And that’s okay.
Similarly, many writers would make lousy pastors. That is, they can write extremely well, have profound and worthwhile insights, and do a wonderful job of building up their fellow believers with their words (both in print and online). They write pastorally. But they know they’re not pastors. They’re not gifted for that ministry. And that’s okay, too.
I think there’s a sense in which we get this, at least theoretically. But I wonder if things get muddy at times because it’s difficult for us to separate pastoring (in the formal sense) from doing something pastorally, which has less to do with authority and more to do with responsibility before God.
Responsibility that comes from relationship
As I wrote earlier, as much as I care for the well-being of those to whom I write and speak, and God will hold me accountable for all I write and teach, the responsibility I have is different. Hebrews does not say, “Obey the writers and bloggers and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account”. It says obey your leaders—the pastors and elders of your local church. Their responsibility before God is to feed and care for you, to point you to Christ, to offer appropriate correction and discipline as situations demand. They keep watch over your souls because (at least in theory) they know who you are, where most writers and bloggers don’t (though usually we’re happy to get together for coffee if we’re in the same city).
So it’s wise to recognize they’ve got got a tougher gig than I do because they have a deeper relationship with the people they minister to. They’re the ones who are in the middle of the mess of ministry—helping parents work through the pain of having a prodigal child, visiting sick church members at the hospital, caring for those who are grieving, celebrating births and new births, and more besides. If someone in your family dies unexpectedly, you’re probably not going to ask me to preach the funeral. But you might ask your pastor. Why? Because they’re there. They’re the ones you have relationship with, not the writers and bloggers you read. And that makes all the difference in the world.