The Need of Pastoral Presence…
Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31 NLT
I’m against the idea of putting the “big preachers” on tape and playing them back to the congregations that feel they are being starved by listening to “little preachers.” Fallacy, brethren—a thousand times, fallacy!
If we could have the Apostle Paul on tape recordings and let him stand here and preach, he could do no more for you than the Holy Ghost can do, with The Book and the human conscience.…
Oh, brethren, I would not detract from God’s great men, but I can safely say that that’s not what the church needs.
Yet what God joined together is often divided in contemporary practice. Pastors are increasingly pressured to make a choice. They can either be an evangelist or a shepherd, a missionary or a pastor. Likely you’ve faced some pressure on this yourself either overtly or subtly, asked to choose between two options that are actually false alternatives. It’s usually put this way: Would you rather be a missionary, actively gaining souls for Christ in an increasingly godless world or will you settle for just being a mere chaplain, quietly tending the faithful as a kind of soul custodian? Refuse to play that game. That’s an arbitrary distinction detrimental to the church’s life. It’s time to reject this false dichotomy and set aside the caricatures and exaggerations being lobbed from one camp to the other.
In Tozer’s day, the temptation was to play audio recordings of more famous pastors, instead of listening to less famous, and perhaps less skilled or less charismatic pastors in the community speak Christ into the lives of the people sitting before them. Today, it is livestreaming the sermon into a local facility, with a staff member or even a pastor acting as a site coordinator.
While I agree with Tozer’s position, I would perhaps phrase it differently, focusing more on what a local pastor, even in a small (30-75) or micro-church (10-30) brings to the people of God gathered together by God.
Senkbeil’s words confront a similar issue – which role does the pastor have in the life of his people or community? By redefining him as one of two choices, eliminating the definition of the role he has as pastor…
To pastor someone, you have to be present. A Pastor has to speak into their lives, therefore a pastor has to laugh and cry with them. A Pastor has to be there to tell them their sins are forgiven, andbe there as they commune – to point out this is the Lamb of God who takes away their sin.
You can learn from a book, or a video, and find some encouragement…but a pastor is needed for the real ministry. A pastor has to be present in the lives of the people he guides into the presence of God – so they realize God is present. If the pastor is just a disembodied voice, or a charachter on movie screen, the presence is lacking.
Similarly, the pastor is there, but he is there differs from person to person. To some he will be the evangelist, to some the chaplain, to a few he takes on the prophetic role…confronting them in their sin. All of those roles/techniques serve one purpose – as the pastor is used to guide people into the presence and the glory of God from where they are…
If you are are pastor – keep serving – keep speaking about Jesus being presnent in the places you are with your people – that He laughs and cries with them, even as you are laughing and crying with them. ANd that Jesus will sustain them, and the Spirit will help them know the unexplainable love and peace of God.
if you are one of God’s people, find the pastor who does this – no matter how awkward or unpolished he is… but listen to him, – and let him know you are there, investing in his improvement.
and then together – be the church.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 221.