Can a Pioneer Survive as a Pastor?



I realize that’s a short abrupt answer, but I don’t think we would struggle to hear it as much if it were framed the other way.

Try it.

Can a pastor survive as a pioneer?

No. Of course not. That’d be a silly thing to expect of a pastor!

Ok, maybe ‘survive’ is a little strong… but only a little. Certainly neither will thrive in roles that direct their best energies into tasks for which they are neither gifted nor inspired and eventually both will reach a point of either frustration or incompetence that may well see them walk away in disillusionment and /or despair.

Let’s not try and make pioneers into pastors and pastors into pioneers. The kingdom needs both to do their job and do it well, but we also need to accept that they are very different animals.

While I’m making bald statements I’ll make another, a personal one. I am a pioneer, but I am not a pastor. My friends will attest to this. I can dream up new ideas, I can inspire people to give them a go, I can even work with people to make stuff happen, but I am not very good at the ongoing nurturing and caring work that is integral to classical pastoring.

I used to be ashamed of this and felt my deficiencies regularly (and deeply) as people in the church community would tell me I was ‘unrelational’ or ‘task oriented’ always with a deprecatory tone about it. I guess telling them to ‘piss off because I am busy’ didn’t help (only joking…) but it was true. I am naturally task oriented and while I do enjoy people, I don’t get energy and joy from some of those specific pastoral activities that are required to make any community healthy. I am definitely not a ‘cups of tea’ person…

If your church is unhealthy and in a mess then I am not the bloke you want to come and help you heal thru the pain. I recognize that there are gifted godly people with these skills and passions and I am grateful for them, but I am not wired that way. However if your church is keen to explore new initiatives and wants to enter some fresh territory then I reckon I have some skills to offer you and the energy to make it work.

An obvious issue is that we call paid church leaders ‘pastors’ and naturally we then expect them to function in that way – as a caring shepherd. When a person is task oriented, fast moving and outward focused they don’t seem to fit the typical pastoral profile, but speaking as one of those people, I need to say that in my 20 years of leadership there has always been a great sense of care, love and responsibility for the people in my community. I hear Paul say that every day he feels deep concern for the churches under his care and I resonate with that, but it is less care for the specific needs of individuals and more care for the overall health and well being of the community. A pioneer/apostle will guard and protect a community theologically and they will seek ways to help the body maintain health – all big picture stuff, but they may be less involved in the minutae of people’s every day lives.

One problem, that has been discussed around the web in various places (see my previous post) over the last week is that our tendency is to expect pioneers to morph into pastors once a project is established or once a church is planted. But this is a sure way to kill both pioneer and church!

I think most pioneers can make the shift incrementally to a point, but it is not a sustainable arrangement. These days if I were leading a community I would be seeking to identify the ‘pastors’ in the community and helping them to get on with that job amongst the rest of us. Equally I’d be seeking out the other pioneers /entrepenuers to so that we should share ideas and energy.

I was just chatting this around with Mrs Backyardmissionary (who is very pastoral and nurturing) and she suggested that part of the reason we seek to convert pioneers into pastors is that we aren’t sure the project/church they have initiated will survive in their absence. A church can become unhealthily dependent on the founding leader, but ultimately that co-dependence is a failure of the leader to empower and hand over and the community to take up the responsibility.

This ‘start up’ focus of pioneers can also present problems if we see mission as long term and relational, because many pioneers do get bored easily and feel the need to move on to new ventures. I know I feel this regularly and need to ‘tame’ the wandering spirit. (I’m sure this is partly why I got married!) My own solution to this has been to make sure I am free to create and develop new ideas within the longer term setting. If I am able to have an outlet for creative ideas where I am then I am less likely to seek a whole new experience. However if I am asked to simply ‘grease the wheels’ then I will get bored in days and start vomiting soon after.

When Ephesians 4 speaks of prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers it is a picture of the diversity of gifts required for a body to be healthy. Simply pioneers and pastors are not enough either – we need the whole lot.

Sadly the giftings of one skill set can highlight the inadequacies of the other and unless we are secure enough in ourselves then we can find ourselves trying to be omnicompetent and doing everything. A bad place to be…

So can we let pioneers be pioneers and pastors be pastors?

I think we’ll find it hard but why don’t we give it a shot?

If you would like to read a different perspective then head over to Steve’s blog where he explores .

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5 thoughts on “Can a Pioneer Survive as a Pastor?

  1. yeah – i agree hamo. my dad says the same…he reckons he loved preaching and being creative but never really felt like he was a good “pastor”.

    as an aside – that must’ve taken you ages to write on your iPhone!!

  2. Hamo, I agree, you are spot on. I do believe that God has gifted us in particular ways – you refer to Ephesians 4 – that some are about pioneering new things and some are about settling the newly-won frontier so that it isn’t simply lost again when the pioneer moves on.

    I would want to say that I believe God does from time to time call each of us out of what is our natural gifting and comfort zone for a season – pioneers to a season of settling and settlers to a season of pioneering. That causes us to recognise our dependence on God, and to become more fully Christlike, and can be times of real growth. But where such times are extended, or forced upon us by institutions that believe pioneers grow into settlers, it is death to the individual and the community they serve.

  3. Very accurate insight, Hamo. I wish more church leaders would grasp this idea. There are other leadership gifts, too, that are valuable to the church, but not pastoral at all, so therefore not something embraced by most churches. The church needs all the different leadership styles and gifts – that’s why God created them. It may not need them all the time (and I like Andrew’s comment about God leading us to lead a different way for a season of growth), but the church definitely needs them. I look forward to hearing how God uses your gifts at Quinn’s Baptist.

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