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Brothers, We Are Not Monks

Monday, May 21, 2012

by Travis Allen

Pastoral ministry is hard. Period.

So it makes sense to me that when pastors get a taste of difficulty, they want to run away, fast. Frankly, it’s not an overstatement to say that apart from a divine calling, pastoral ministry isn’t all that attractive on its own. Who wants the grief, the pain, the distress, the discomfort? As Charles Schulz quipped through the Peanuts character Linus, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.”

The difficulty of dealing with people and their problems makes it tempting to create some distance, to become aloof, to get occupied with other things. After experiencing the pain and frustration of dealing with people, it’s not uncommon to start looking for an escape hatch, a more remote location.

Like a monastery.

Any sane person would consider the monastic life to be something like a prison sentence. But busy pastors often straddle the line of sanity—to them, a monastery can sound like a five-star getaway. Quiet. Reading. Study. Contemplation. Meditation. Routine. Predictability. Compared to some of the inglorious and often thankless work of shepherding people, taking the monk’s cowl can seem pretty appealing.

The problem is, it’s just a bit unrealistic. More within reach is to find a better, more acceptable, even admirable way to “retreat into the monastery.” Some pastors want to follow a different “leading of the Lord”—take on more oversight, join a leadership think tank, teach courses at a college or seminary, write articles and books, ascend to a ministry of “wider influence”—almost anything is preferable to the nitty-gritty of pastoral work.

None of that is necessarily wrong. Some pastors are doing those things in addition to shepherding the flock of God. They work hard and ought to be honored for it. On the other hand, some men need to get out of pastoral ministry. They simply don’t belong there in the first place.

But it’s important to recognize that pastoral ministry, theology, and practical Christian growth must be connected to the local church. If it’s disconnected from the local church—divorced from shepherding the flock of God—then it’s not God’s design for the edification and growth of Christ’s church. Monasteries, in whatever form, are not part of the plan.

What is part of the plan is the regular, routine, mundane stuff of life lived, raw and honest, with other believers in the context of the local church. The plan has to do with the joys and sorrows, the pleasures and pains, of normal human relationships.

That’s why the Spirit of God provided parental pictures of pastoral leadership in Paul’s ministry. Notice what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us (1 Thess. 2:7-8).

You know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory (vv. 11-12).

You can’t get more tender, or more honest and personal, than a nursing mother; you can’t get more real or penetrating than a clarifying conversation with a concerned father. And you can’t pastor like that from a distance; you definitely can’t do it from a video screen. The parental aspects of pastoral ministry require proximity, intimacy, and the investment of time.

Christ doesn’t want pastors to remain aloof from people and their messy problems. He doesn’t want them to theologize from the safety of an ivory tower. He wants them involved, intimately familiar with pain and suffering. Why? Because it’s through pastoral empathy that God comforts His people.

[God] comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. …If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort … (2 Cor. 1:4, 6, emphasis added).

Our theology—our study of God—teaches us never to be remote or aloof; we are to be intimately connected to the day-to-day lives of other people. We are to bring our theology out of the neat, clean, sterile environment of a classroom, and into the gritty, messy, real work of shepherding sheep. No room for that in a monastic cell.

Just look at Jesus. John 1:14-18 says Jesus tabernacled among us in full humanity to make the Father known to us (i.e., to teach us theology proper). Though He is our “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14), He didn’t teach us about God from that lofty vantage. He came close enough “to sympathize with our weaknesses,” to be “tempted in all things as we are” (“yet without sin,” Heb. 4:15). That’s the stuff of pastoral ministry, taught by “the Chief Shepherd” Himself (1 Pet. 5:4).

We experience the most profound joys and sorrows in the context of intimate human relationships. It’s not by accident that God incubates our growth in the body of Christ. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). That’s how God, in His wisdom and grace, composed the body, “that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (v. 25).

For pastor and people alike, for shepherds and sheep, there is no other way to live.

Brothers, we are not monks.

Travis Allen

Managing Director


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#1  Posted by Denise Grimes  |  Monday, May 21, 2012at 8:24 AM

Well said Travis. Shepherding biblical requires being in a local church, the one "allotted to you" (1Peter. 5:2) and knowing the sheep of that assembly. Shepherds aren't to be distracted by trying to shepherd others' sheep because that isn't what 1Peter 5 states; its not the one allotted to them (its God's flock anyway), nor is it their given authority to do so. It takes a lot to truly, biblically shepherd a local flock. It takes physically being there (can't do that via video), time,commitment, fervency, and endurance among other things like agape love and all the biblical requirements. I believe those requirements are placed by God to sift out those who are not qualified for the position of elder; by definition its pretty narrow. An unqualified leader does a lot of damage to the flock. A qualified leader, on the other hand, is a great aide and blessing.

#2  Posted by Virgil McGriff  |  Monday, May 21, 2012at 9:18 AM

Amen, my brother, Travis Allen!

Do you think, however, that we should balance the ministry of the apostle Paul with the fact that he was not at any one church longer than about 3 years, and that one of the churches (Colossae) never saw Paul in person (MacArthur Commentary, Colossians & Philipians, pp. 5-6), and that he was in and out of the Corinthian church on several occasions? I do not mean to minimize the pastoring effect of our dear brother Paul, but it seems that he may not be the best example of a pastor that was with any one flock for the lifetime of service in the mud and muck of everyday living such as some pastors throughout history (MacArthur as one example). For sure, however, the apostle Paul has taught all new testament churches concerning the mystery of the gospel through the letters God wrote through him while he was in, not a monastic cell, but in a prison cell.

Thank you, sir.

#3  Posted by Jean Selden  |  Monday, May 21, 2012at 12:33 PM

My eternal gratefulness to all who pastor and pastor well.

#4  Posted by Eli Jackson  |  Monday, May 21, 2012at 10:21 PM

I thought Paul was a great example because he lived as an example of a man following the example of Christ. (1 Cor: 1:11, Phil. 3:17.) He also built a disciple cycle with Timothy (2 Tim. 1:13, 2:2, 3:10,14). Paul lived the Christ-like, cross-carrying life before God in the eyes of men and passed the baton of faith. That ought to be (borrowing one of Phil Johnson's favorite word) tantamount to teaching and preaching. (1 Tim. 4:16). I imagine that the pressure of shepherding is a daunting one, but us sheep need you guys! Double honor to you all who labor over teaching us the word, and showing us how to walk by your love and obedience to Christ.

#5  Posted by Patrick Driscoll  |  Tuesday, May 22, 2012at 6:43 PM

Thanks Travis,

This is helpful to pastors, I'm sure --- but also to those of us in the pew. As I try to serve in the local church, it's puzzling at times to see some Christians growing, maturing and bearing good fruit while others seem to not be growing at all. I would imagine that might be frustrating to a pastor. J.C. Ryle, --- a pastor himself had some wise and helpful words on this topic. I'll quote him here:

"We must not expect all believers in Christ to be exactly like one another. We must not set down others as having no grace, because their experience does not entirely tally with our own. The sheep in the Lords flock have each their own peculiarities. The trees in the Lords garden are not all precisely alike. All true servants of God agree in the principal things of religion. All are led by one Spirit. All feel their sins, and all trust in Christ. All repent, all believe, and all are holy. But in minor matters they often differ widely. Let not one despise another on this account. There will be Martha's and there will be Mary's in the Church until the Lord comes again".

#6  Posted by William Stinson  |  Wednesday, May 23, 2012at 7:14 AM

I pray that everyone who reads this blog with a desire to grow or to be recharged; go back to 1982 and listen to John's 8 part series

True Worship, Part 1

January 03, 1982 John 4:20-24 2004

I know you will be blessed and maybe convicted . I have spent years studying Chuck Smith and John but have been woefully short to go out and share the blessings I have recieved through the power of the Holy Spirit in wisdom and discernment living a life of peace, and thankfulness. I want to LOVE the Father with a passion He deserves.

#7  Posted by William Stinson  |  Wednesday, May 23, 2012at 8:57 AM

I am back, just one thing of many I learned from listening to "True Worship" is we are to worship everywhere, we are not monks but empowered vessels overflowing,,, with a purpose not for ourselves.

#8  Posted by Benjamin Mcmillan  |  Wednesday, May 23, 2012at 8:59 AM

I think a distinction could be made between the apostolic calling and authority of Paul's ministry and his heart as an Elder/Pastor. Paul's commission to the gentiles adds an even furthur depth to his multi-tasked gifting. Too many modern evangelical pastors hit the road right about the time the rubber meets it and that is both unfortunate and inconsistent. The modern evangelism paradigm often limits real spiritual growth in the lives of both members and pastors by shortcutting through pretty fields to avoid the morass of real-life struggles with really struggling believers who need hands-on companionship and direction. In my mind and from my experience the American "church" is a very real mission field and needs pastors that are there for the long-haul with as much zeal and committment as missionaries in the dark continents.

#9  Posted by William Stinson  |  Wednesday, May 23, 2012at 10:57 AM

#5 Patrick Driscoll I like 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 ;

One Body with Many Parts

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles,[e] some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.[f]