Some occupations provide clear objectives. Automakers assemble automobiles. Builders build buildings. Chefs cook cuisine. But, what does a pastor produce? Random surveys would likely provide some of the following good but erroneous responses:
- Pastors produce sermons. Pastors carry the unique burden of providing fresh, winsome words to the congregation on a weekly basis. While the reality of this product cannot be debated, the primacy of this product should be reconsidered. Pastors do not produce sermons simply to fill the dead air in front of the pulpit. Pastors produce sermons to serve a higher calling, a more important objective. Sermons strengthen the product, but they are not the primary objective.
- Pastors produce programs. Churches churn out programs like Detroit produces automobiles. At times, the pastor seems to be the church’s primary program director. They oversee everything from Sunday School and small groups to choir and congregational benevolence ministry. Programs serve a vital role in the church, but like sermons they are the means and not the end. Pastors cannot make program maintenance their primary objective.
- Pastors produce churches. Pastors often measure their success by the growth and/or health of their church. Increased attendance implies increased pastoral effectiveness. Pastors build churches. Sermons and programs edify churches. Could this be the elusive answer to the question? No, building churches and planting churches, though undoubtedly important, must remain subservient to the larger objective of the pastor.
Sermons, programs, and churches provide the means to a greater end. These responses fail to capture the ultimate objective outlined in the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” According the Jesus, pastors should produce disciples. Note the relationship between disciples and the previous responses. Sermons should strengthen disciples. Programs should prepare disciples. Churches should cultivate disciples. Each of these elements serves the ultimate objective of developing disciples.
For a case study, consider the actions of Paul recorded in the book of Acts. Paul did not set out simply to preach sermons. He set out to fulfill his calling of introducing the Good News to the Gentiles. The sermons served the ultimate objective of calling disciples to Christ. Paul did not travel throughout the Roman Empire to serve as a program director. He likely started Bible studies in order to develop disciples, but the Bible studies were not his initial or ultimate objective. Similarly, Paul did not set out to create churches. After making disciples, churches formed. In a sense, churches were a byproduct of discipleship development. The ministry of Paul reveals a tunnel-vision focus on the ultimate objective of making disciples.
Kristopher Barnett is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages (2001) and a Ph.D. in theology with a concentration in preaching (2008). His dissertation was A Historical/Critical Analysis of Dialogical Preaching. His undergrad work was completed at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas with a B.A. in Communication (1997).
Prior to joining the Christian studies faculty at Anderson University, Dr. Barnett served as pastor to three different churches; Forestburg Baptist Church (TX), Ridglea West Baptist Church (TX) and most recently, East Pickens Baptist Church (SC). Prior to pastoral ministry, he served as youth minister at two churches and did a youth internship at another.
Kris Barnett is the author of What Now?, a companion guide to the Bible. He is a member of the Evangelical Homiletic Society and has twice presented papers at the EHS conference (Wake Forest, NC and Birmingham, AL). Dr. Barnett enjoys filling the pulpit for local churches and serving in an interim role for churches seeking a pastor.
Dr. Barnett is married to Kelly, who is a graduate of ASU with a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in psychology. They have four children, Kenzie, Karsen, Noah, and Kassie.