Scott Postma

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10 Pastors I’m Concerned About: The Decline of Authentic Pastoral Care

It’s not a secret the church has been in decline for a number of years and for a variety of reasons. You can read some statistics and views on why, here and here and here. Everyone has their opinions.

Abuse, apostasy, and irrelevance are just a few of the words that keep coming up in the search for reasons for the decline. There are a variety of compelling opinions and I even have a few of my own.

But I suggest there is another area of decline more significant and perhaps much less obvious—and one that certainly contributes to the church’s decline in North America.

I think its likely a careful analysis would implicate modern church leadership for this more significant issue.

In other words, I’m concerned about the decline of authentic pastoral care and its effect on the decline of the church overall.

By saying so, I’m not suggesting this pastor has it all together. Nor am I trying to cultivate (or ratify) some dishonest skeptics’ contempt for the church. Rather, I’m hoping to raise these concerns to offer some biblical perspective on authentic pastoral care.

Before I begin, I’m not claiming to be the expert in all church issues, but I have served in various pastoral roles for more than twenty years and feel I can offer some measure of insight about the issue.

So in an effort to pursue this conversation in a healthy way, here are 10 pastors I’m concerned about.

  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who is better at managing church programs than he is at making disciples of Jesus. Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger addressed this topic somewhat in the book Simple Church, but I’m not sure how many pastors paid attention to the message. The church is not better because it has more programs. It’s quite possible for programs to hinder its real mission.
  2. I’m concerned about the pastor who attracts people with fancy self-help sermons instead of teaching people to be students of the Bible and theology. Sure topical sermons can be helpful teaching tools when used appropriately and in moderation. But to pique the interest of the unchurched, church-growth advocates have promoted episodic sermons ad nauseam and to no avail at effectively grounding deeply committed disciples of Jesus, as the statistics provided previously demonstrate.
  3. I’m concerned about the pastor who is a chief executive instead of a contemplative sage. The pastor is called to a contemplative life of prayer and study of the word (Acts 6:4 cf. Ephesians 4:11-16). From that life his ministry flows to the church. The pastor was never called to be a rock-star communicator or bench-mark business leader. He was called to model redemption and shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-4 cf. Acts 20:28). Perhaps those serious about pastoral care should consider putting away the John Maxwell and Nelson Searcy books and pick up the Bible and the church fathers again.
  4. I’m concerned about the pastor who uses the pulpit to milk members instead of minister to the saints. It was the angry atheist, Richard Dawkins, who asked Ted Haggard (back in the day) why he needed a multi-million dollar sound system that paralleled that of MTV to teach people about God. I think that’s a question that deserves an answer. Why do pastors need to build bigger and better on the backs of God’s people? I think the answer may be rooted in the human heart. Francis Chan seemed to have caught that vision when he was still pastor in Simi Valley. And if we think we need to build bigger barns, perhaps we should pray about church planting as a viable alternative.
  5. I’m concerned about the pastor who makes growing the church the goal instead of glorifying God the goal. There is no biblical mandate for growing the church. Sure there is one for propagating the gospel and making disciples. But the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. There is nothing in Scripture, except pride, that drives pastors to drive the flocks they are supposed to be tending. This is the very opposite of pastoral care.
  6. I’m concerned about the pastor who builds his ministry with people instead of building people by his ministry. It seems I’ve said this already, just differently. But here I’m speaking to a philosophy that often underlies many of the abuses in the church. For example, a well-known mega-church pastor once advised me to think of people in seven-year terms. He explained that people generally burn out after seven years. And if I wanted to build a big ministry for God, I would need to leverage those seven years. Funny, I don’t recall God asking pastors to leverage his people for the pastor’s dream of building a big church for God.
  7. I’m concerned about the pastor who cultivates a culture of dependency on himself instead of cultivating a culture of community within the church. Of course, I’m not denying spiritual dependency on Christ is biblical. But the pastor is not the people’s savior. He’s a just man who will burn out and fail himself given enough time and responsibility. Christians should be taught to depend on Jesus as our Savior, the church as our sanctifying community, the Bible as our word from God, and the Spirit as our parakletos.
  8. I’m concerned about the pastor who reads and teaches the Bible literally instead of literarily. This in no way suggests the Bible is any less God’s word. It is to say the Bible is literature, divine literature to be sure, but literature nonetheless. That means it needs to be read and understood as God’s word to us (or for us) in the context of its literary genre. Not all the Bible is prescriptive; and none of it was written to be used as a random list of verses cherry-picked capriciously to beat people up or defend our personal ideas and beliefs. The Bible is the holy canon which reveals God to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Pastors who mishandle God’s word are extremely dangerous and will not offer appropriate pastoral care.
  9. I’m concerned about the pastor who contributes to the culture of consumerism instead of combating idolatry. Pastors who pander to the consumerism in the church are no different than parents who give their kids everything they want to keep them from throwing a fit or to get them to reciprocate love. Christianity isn’t a smorgasbord where people get to pick and choose what they like or don’t. It’s a community of believers on a journey and mission of faith who live in communitas with others for the glory of God, the blessing of his people, and the advancement of his kingdom.
  10. I’m concerned about the pastor who sees the church as a stepping stone instead of seeing it as a custodian of Christ’s kingdom. Certainly, God moves people. And certainly pastors have a right to pursue other ventures as the Lord leads and gives liberty. But the church is the primary agent for the stewardship of the gospel and the redemption of the cosmos. It’s the integral institution for advancing Christ’s kingdom and for shaping culture and society. It’s not God’s second-hand agency. It’s not his “Plan B.” Jesus died for the church and it is significant.

There you have it: 10 of my concerns about pastors. If you’re concerned about biblical pastoral care, I hope this helps raise good questions we can ask.

If you have concerns of your own, please share them in the comments. If you’d like to have my daily devotional readings delivered to your inbox free each morning, sign up for Crumbs from our Master’s Table (launches July 1st).

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About Scott Postma

Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He shares valuable tips on writing and teaching, rich insights into theology and literature, and meaningful perspective on living a life of significance. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus

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439 Replies

  1. Tom Kline

    Another is the pastor who refuses to rock the boat, who says, “Don’t try to fix it if it ain’t broke,” who is just maintaining the flock instead of actively making disciples.

  2. Benjamin,

    Made me do an introspection and I like learning from others I want to serve right in the house

  3. Paul H. Kirk

    Don’t forget Jesus is returning for a ‘glorious church’: Jacob had 2 brides because Jesus has 2 brides (the whole story is prophetic). The Body of Christ is already being divided into 2 groups of believers. This is why so much scrutiny is upon people in ministry right now (it’s coming from God), & so many people are getting offended so EASILY. You must decide which bride you’re going to be in, & recognize that there is leadership in each group (which means you can’t listen to everybody- since they’re not all going in the same direction). All believers are not going to be raptured, & there is preparation being made for each group’s future. As Jesus Himself warned,”Pray that you will be counted worthy to escape these things.” One note- #8 has been mentioned several times, & I think it confirms a problem I’ve tried to warn people about: we’re not supposed to take the Bible as a ‘rule book’, because it turns you into a Pharisee (they rejected Jesus specifically on the basis of scripture). You still have to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’- meaning you need to know what God had in mind when He inspired that verse (& sometimes you have to have fellowship to get that understanding).
    PS- the comments are as good as the message (mostly!)

  4. Arthur

    I’m so sorry to have to intervene but I believe that we should all be ashamed. If there is someone who doesn’t know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, what would they think after reading these comments bretheren? Should we speak only because we have mouths? Should we say what we like because we have opinions? What about Jesus’ opinion? May the Good Lord forgive us for mocking His anointed ones. Listen, it doesn’t matter how guilty a servant of God may be, “Touch not the anointed”. King David understood this when he spared King Saul, even though Saul had wronged Him. David was truly a man after God’s heart. We must ask ourselves, “are we after God’s heart?” Let’s pray for the servants of God and Love one another so that the world may see Christ though that Love. Everything else, God has prepared a day to punish that which needs to be punished. B e blessed

  5. Please don’t be concerned, just do your bit and others do theirs.

  6. Matthew 15:8 -9 “This people honor me with their lips but their heart is far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshipping me , for they teach commands of men as doctrine”
    This is the problem they want to keep the congregation happy, make money, stay up to date, well the bible does not have a date so what if it is 2015 the bible is the same. As far as money Matthew 10:8 says “You receive free give free”

  7. Tracy

    Ephesians 4:11 specifically mentions ‘pastor’, so I believe even in the New Testament times there was such a thing.

  8. Jason

    If you take out the “I’m concerned with” it reads like a “How to do church manual” for some churches I’ve seen.
    I’m going to jump on the don’t judge bandwagon that is prevailing today and say I’m surprised at how many posts are judging The Poached Egg for their stance. Not quite sure what is wrong with saying these are characteristics to be concerned about.

  9. Rick D'Orazio

    I’m concerned about guys like you who judge other’s spirituality. Do you personally know, I mean really personally know, say 10 pastors who are what you described? If not, then your ‘concerns’ are a reach at the least and phariseeism at the most. There is a better way.

    1. David

      What did the writer do wrong? In a nutshell, all he said was that pastors need to return to the Gospel. They need to make disciples and preach the Gospel, which is that Jesus is Lord, that He died for your sins and for mine, He rose again, and He deserves our worship. The author is not being judgmental. He is giving his concerns about trends in church leadership. He never calls anyone out. How is this “Phariseeism??” He’s not telling anyone to do anything. I see more judgment in your post than in his, to be honest.

    2. JLE

      I absolutely do know pastors in our region who practice these methods in their churches. I have attended their churches long enough to see all of the above with my own eyes over the course of time. I am not sure these pastors realize what they are doing and the negative impact it is having in multiplying anemic infantile followers who are not necessarily even true believers.
      To my observation, using the parable of the seed and sower, they may be sowing just enough seed and watering just enough for thin weak belief to spring up– because the vast majority of these followers shrivel up under trial or persecution of any degree.
      It takes the investment of time teaching the whole counsel of God’s Word and meaningful relationship with the individual to cultivate the soil of the human heart that the seed of the gospel might take root and produce a harvest. The same pastor preaching the message at the time it all *clicks* for a new believer when a decision is made to respond to the gospel may not be the same person who has cultivated the soil over a period of time, building relationship, witnessing and praying.
      The litany of errors described in the article reflect much of what is being done to build big churches full of shallow belief in my region within the Bible Belt.
      I thank the author for his insight and courage in calling out error that is hurting people who are so busy doing church that they cannot see why they do not know how to pray fervent or effectual prayers that avail anything.

  10. Perhaps part of the problem is that the office of a “pastor” never existed in the New Testament. Church leadership was designed to be a plurality of Bishops (elders) working together with deacons to accomplish God’s plans. Where does this idea of a pastor at the top come from?

    1. T Dole

      Try reading Ephesians. Chapter 4 verse 11. It specifically mentions ‘pastor’.

  11. Do not judge critically is the message our culture gives, not God. Thanks for the posts. We’ve made being pastor into a CEO position w/in a tax-free corporation. That is not obedience, and it isn’t spiritually healthy. Let us recall we are all responsible to examine ourselves to see if we remain in the faith according to sound doctrine.

  12. Rev. Jeremy C. Wilson

    I am not a pastor, I am a minister. Two of the most important things that I have learned are: 1) We must be careful not to judge others, 2) being a pastor is probably the most difficult job there is.

    The reasons 1) We do not know where people will go or who they will become in their lives. A drug user today could be responsible for leading hundreds to Christ tomorrow. 2) A pastor must be fully committed to his/her job. This means emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Many jobs are difficult but usually do not require a full commitment like the job of pastor. Now pastors need to be held accountable, but they also need to have great support.

  13. Martin

    To suggest that problems within the Church are solely caused by these type of Pastors is a little misleading. Congregation members encourage these styles of ministry by attendance and financial support. Mega-churches and “Rock-star” Pastors need lots of money and lots of people for growth and all the extras which come with stardom and fame. …… and it appears they are successful because of the support. Today’s church is changing to accommodate the next generation of believers, who want the concert styled services. Imagine congregations from a century ago attending a service in the nineties , with women not wearing hats, and wearing jeans, short skirts and blouses; they would be outraged. Similarly, the modern church is simply embracing a culture different from a decade or so ago. The points you make are valid, but my point is, it’s not always the Pastors…..

    1. “The Church” was not intended to “Embrace the culture” as you stated, it is intended to embrace The Savior. This is where and how so get off track.

    2. Martin, you’re right in the sense that church problems are not all caused by these ‘types’ of pastors. Pastors and parishioners are both human, which will always lead to problems. Though Ephesians 6 makes it clear that our battle is not against people.

      Still, Trevor hit the nail on the head with his reply. It’s one thing to tweak how we ‘do’ church in order to connect more readily with those who are need of what the church is designed to provide, but it’s way too easy for a church to slide down the slippery slope and reverse the importance of the medium and the message.

      It’s interesting that I came across this in October, which we recognize as ‘minister/pastor appreciation month.’ As believers, it is important for us to lift up our pastors and support them. We can do that in a thousand ways, big and small. From attending to serving…church isn’t a cafeteria; we are not called to go there to get what we want – but to get what we need, and then share it with others. Our pastors’ sole responsibility should be to equip us to do so.

      I’m glad Scott didn’t ‘name names’, because it would’ve been easy to do so. What’s more important is being aware of how the enemy is attacking our churches and for us – and our pastors – to make sure we put on the full armor of God to defend ourselves.


  14. Jpanne

    I am concerned with the amount of people who are judging others…doesn’t the world do it enough. We should be loving and encouraging our pastors and making their jobs easier! Don’t get me wrong, we are to challenge and hold them accountable, but people bitch so much about how pastors do this wrong, pastors do that wrong…when was the last time YOU went down the street and led someone to Christ? When was the last time YOU went and fed the homeless? When was the last time YOU prayed for someone and saw them healed? When was the last time YOU got so little sleep because you had been weeping and praying for your city? When was the last time YOU decided to act instead of speak? To change what you don’t like, instead of judge? Jesus called the pharasies white washed stones…maybe we need to stop being like them and start loving…and accepting our pastors are not perfect but they are trying to do their best. We need unity, not for the hand to be breaking the other arm or for the foot to be stomping on one another…
    Just some food for thought.

    1. Michael Koronka

      Easy to see by your comments that you do not have much of a relationship with God, nor do you understand the Bible, God’s Holy words to us.
      To understand the bible one must read it passionately with prayer and meditation.
      We are called to discern the spirits and many pastors have a poor spiritual life.
      My own pastor fits many of those above comments and yet I love Him like my own Brother.
      He is currently doing things in the flesh to try and boost church attendance and it is difficult to watch. I have warned him about it so when He falls, I will be there to catch Him because I love Him.
      I see what a lot of so called new wave worship is like and most of it seems phoney to me. The reason I say that is because of the watered down Gospel message I hear coming from so many so called pastors today.
      The Bible must be read and divided word by word line by line and meditated upon to actually understand God’s heart.
      Topical messages based upon life happenings using selected words from the bible create sermonets that create christianets.
      Biblical illiteracy is a huge problem in America today and it affects the pastors as well. I hear so many pastors including the famous ones that have a poor theoligical understanding of God.
      God wants a relationship, not 5 thousand people waving their arms one TV.
      Pastor Postma got it right in his understanding of what is happening. The next great event will be the rapture, Are you ready?

      1. Asencio

        Spot on, Michael!

      2. Ellen

        Please be loving and humble in your exchanges with others. Because you disagree with them does not mean they don’t have a relationship with God. You don’t have all the answers – and maybe you understand this, but your post reads as if it is coming from someone who thinks he has all the answers and the corner on what God wants. Peace be with you.

      3. James

        Look how a good Christian used his mouth and words!

    2. It’s not judgment, it’s insight and teaching. The prophet Jeremiah delivered God’s word for fifty years without a single convert. There were those who thought he was “judging” too.