Introverted Pastors, Part 3

Jon Deming

            In this final post (see part 1 and part 2 of this series), I would like to raise three challenges to the dominance of the extrovert and entrepreneurial ideals for pastoral ministry in the American church.

            First, the present culture is at best ignorant of the history and tradition of pastoral ministry, and at worst it is purposefully departing from it. The reality is probably a combination of both. “Contemporary pastoral care,” writes Andrew Purves, “is, by and large, uniformed by historical practice. One consequence is that much pastoral work today is disaffiliated from the church’s theological heritage.”[1] This is certainly the case, just as Hiestand and Wilson also effectively contend.[2] To argue that this has happened for the sake of contextualization, that is, for the sake of ministering effectively to American culture, seems both shallow and naïve. The evolution runs deeper than mere methodology. The extrovert and entrepreneurial ideals are redefinitions of what personality in ministry must be; and not only personality, but also the nature and task of pastoral ministry. These observations should give us pause to evaluate where we have gone and how this has taken place.

            Second, the present culture has brought with it a new level of pastoral busyness. Eugene Peterson has a masterful chapter on the unbusy pastor where he writes, “The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”[3] Pastors have always been ‘busy’ people: the work is never done and forty hours per week is nearly never enough. This we know. But the assumptions of the present culture foster a weightier burden of busyness for pastors.

            Jay Adams notes one example of a congregation who was given a questionnaire asking how much time their pastor should put toward a list of tasks in a given week. The results were shocking. The average workweek totaled 82 hours. He writes, “One answer proposed a schedule of 200 hours—32 more than there are in a week.”[4] Perhaps these results are abnormal, but I would not place that bet. McHugh similarly writes, “I’m left to echo George Barna’s question, ‘Who could possibly meet such a wide range of disparate expectations?’ We set our leaders up for inevitable failure when we measure them by unreachable standards.”[5] In response to these standards I applaud Purves’ comments, “…pastoral work is reflective and prayerful. The work is not hurried, but is rather done by pastors who have time and take time. No doubt this notion calls into question approaches to ministry today that have become largely administrative and programmatic, leaving less time for the kind of attentive care that the classical tradition advises.”[6]

            Moreover, this busyness, while playing to the extrovert’s outgoing and energetic strengths, may in fact expose one of his weaknesses. Henri Nouwen recounts a conversation he had with a parish priest, concerning which he concludes, “Indeed, his incredible activities seemed in large part motivated by fear of what he would discover when he came to a standstill. He actually said: ‘I guess I am busy in order to avoid a painful self-concentration.’”[7] I wonder how many pastors mindlessly pursue busyness for the same reason. Nouwen, however, recounts this story to make a larger point, as he further explains, “Paradoxically, by withdrawing into ourselves, not out of self-pity but out of humility, we create the space for another to be himself and to come to us on his own terms.”[8] This sort of quietness of soul through a self-concentrated meditation is the discipline of silence that he admirably encourages pastors to learn from the Desert Fathers.[9]

            Third, the present culture values leadership, administration, and business savvy over spiritual maturity, theology, and shepherding; we might call these character, doctrine, and pastoral wisdom. David Wells so poignantly writes,

Across much of evangelicalism, but especially in the market-driven churches, one therefore sees a new kind of leadership among pastors now. Gone is the older model of the scholar-saint, one who was as comfortable with books and learning as with the aches of the soul. This was the shepherd who knew the flock, knew how to tend it, and Sunday by Sunday took that flock into the treasures of God’s Word. This has changed. In its place is the new “celebrity” style. What we typically see now, Nancy Pearcey suggests, is the leader who works by manipulating the feelings of the audience, enhancing his own image with personal anecdotes, modeling himself after the CEO, and adopting a domineering management style. He (usually) is completely results-oriented, pragmatic, happy to employ any technique from the secular world that will produce the desired results. And this leader has to be magnetic, entertaining, and light on the screen up front.[10]

Like others noted above, Wells also sees the evolution in pastoral leadership: from the older model of the scholar-saint, who knows both his books and the pains of the soul, to the celebrity CEO, who leads and manages via any technique necessary to achieve results.

            We must keep these things in perspective. Thomas Oden offers a wondeful label for the administrative aspects of ministry, “‘Administry,’ an old English word worthy of resurrection, referred to all those tasks that contribute to ministry or lead toward ministry.”[11] This word rightly conveys the nature of administrative and organizational tasks in ministry; though inseparable from ministry, they are the means to serve the ends of ministry.[12] The trouble today is we often make the means the ends, and in so doing get sidetracked from what we ought to be doing. In the analogy of Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, we give too much attention to the trellis and not enough to the vine.[13] And when these administrative endeavors take on a messianic character, as though they themselves will transform the church and save us from becoming stagnant, then we must truly beware.

            The ignorance of and departure from historic pastoral practice, the overwhelming burden of pastoral busyness, and the inordinate value placed on administration and business savvy are all significant weaknesses of the present church culture that need to be challenged. The extrovert and entrepreneurial ideals are far more a product of our modern age than reflective and prayerful application of biblical principles for ministry. As such, we should be wary of the ministry waters we are swimming in. In the same spirit that John Piper penned, “Brothers, we are not professionals,”[14] it needs to be said, “Brothers, we need not be extroverts.”

                [1] Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 5.

                [2] Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, The Pastor Theologian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 21-52.

                [3] Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 17.

                [4] Jay E. Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 39.

                [5] Adam S. McHugh, Introverts in the Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 118-119.

                [6] Purves, Pastoral Theology, 120.

                [7] Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972), 91-92.

                [8] Ibid., 92-93.

                [9] Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 41-66.

                [10] Wells, Courage, 40.

                [11] Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology (New York: HarperCollins, 1983), 153.

                [12] Oden makes this point about ends and means as well in Oden, Theology, 160.

                [13] Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2009).

                [14] John Piper, Brothers, We are Not Professionals (Nashville: B&H, 2002), xiii.


Jon Deming