Do Church Leaders Really Have to be Missionaries? Some Questions From an Anonymous Pastor
I know the deal. Every pastor needs to be a missionary, and if we’re not, our churches will gradually become reclusive, introspective bomb shelters that make no impact on our communities and dishonour Jesus. Our churches need to be on mission; there’s no way we can lead our people into mission if we’re not on mission ourselves; and that makes personal evangelism a vital, even central, component of our ministry and family lives. I’ve done that, and said that, for years. By all means, pastor the church. By all means, lead your family. But if you’re not sharing the gospel with ordinary people on a regular basis, the church will disconnect from mission. And – although people don’t often say this, it’s clearly implied – the church will slowly die, and you’ll have failed.
So I’m exhausted. I have a wife to serve, children to train, a church of several hundred to pastor, an eldership team to lead, sermons to prepare, meetings to run, young leaders to develop, pastoral crises to resolve, and a Saviour to worship, not to mention any community involvement, translocal responsibilities or other “extras” I might have. To be honest, I think I’m doing most of those things fairly well. But there’s this guilt that often crashes over me when I think about evangelism (or being missional, or whatever we call it). It just feels overwhelming to do all of those things, and to have unbelieving friends round the house on a regular basis, and to invest significant amounts of time developing friendships with people who don’t know Jesus (even if I don’t have much in common with them), and to actively cultivate hobbies or lifestyle patterns that make such friendships easier, and so on. It feels to me like Jesus – if that’s where the pressure is coming from – is demanding an awful lot of me. And that doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know.
So I wanted to ask a few questions, and see if you have any wisdom that might help me.
1. Is it wrong – as in, sinful – for a pastor not to be proactive in evangelism? Obviously I need to be ready with a reason when people ask me about the gospel (1 Pet 3:15), and to be wise, gracious in speech and able to answer each person (Col 4:5-6), and to preach the gospel within the context of my church (2 Tim 4:1-5), but am I sinning if I don’t actively seek out relationships with unbelievers, with a view to sharing the gospel with them? Is there a biblical passage that speaks to that?
2. If faced with the choice between spending available evenings (and it is usually evenings) developing friendships with unbelievers, and spending them helping people in the church through dark times in their lives, is there a biblical reason to say the former should take precedence over the latter? Put differently, is there anything to say that pastors shouldn’t mainly spend their time – well – pastoring people?
3. How far should we take the apostle Paul as a model for pastoral ministry? He was an astonishing individual – a pastor, teacher, apostle, evangelist – whose place in God’s plan for the world was unique. So do I need to take the things he said about gospel preaching (like “woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel”, and “I’m indebted [in the gospel] to Jews and Greeks”) and apply them to myself? Or are they more expressions of his unique apostolic role?
4. Does the Great Commission, which most would take as the classic summons to Christian evangelism, actually apply to all Christians, or indeed require what we now call “evangelism” (as opposed to “frontier mission” or even “discipleship”)? We assume that many of Jesus’ instructions to the twelve are specifically for the twelve: what about this one? And what does it actually mean?
5. Why does Paul talk so little about ordinary churches and individuals preaching the gospel, and talk so much about gospel preaching as something he himself did? The only text I can think of where he might be referring to ordinary Christians preaching the gospel is 1 Thessalonians 1:8, and even that is unclear. Why?
6. Is it wrong to find people who aren’t Christians a bit frustrating and exhausting, on the basis that I have much less in common with them than with Christians (not to mention the fact that, whether consciously or not, they actually oppose the gospel)?
7. Are there other ways of measuring the health or success of a church – that is, other than the number of conversions? If so, what?
8. Is it true that all churches, if they are healthy, will keep growing in numbers? Or can a church hold steady in numerical terms but still be flourishing?
I’m asking all these as someone who is genuinely committed to building churches that preach the gospel, but has several questions about the way we read scripture and talk about these things as leaders (helped, I’m sure, by the cover of anonymity). So: any ideas?