When pastors become too parochial

  • Anonymous
  • 29 January 2018

parochial |pəˈrəʊkɪəl|
adjective 1 relating to a Church parish: the parochial church council.
2 having a limited or narrow outlook or scope: parochial attitudes | their interests are too parochial.

It’s hard for church pastors not to be parochial. After all, their denomination normally gives them a specific patch of land to be interested in: their parish. So their key goal is in fact to be parochial and care deeply about their patch.

But Jesus’ Great Commission lifts our eyes to the nations, not just our patch. So I want to suggest a little diagnostic question to help you assess whether your view has become too parochial. It’s not one of the obvious ones, like if you are praying for missionaries and supporting overseas mission. It’s a little more local and micro level. Here it is: Do you know about and care about the Christian ministries your congregation members are engaged in that are outside the programs of your church? 

Knowing about them probably means you’re going to have to intentionally ask about them. Of course, you may hear things incidentally in casual conversation, but far better to make the assumption that your people have understood the disciple-making imperative and ask: “Hey, Geoff, tell me about any ways you serve Christ outside of our church context. I have a pretty good idea of the ways you serve in our church, but I’d love to hear about other things you do—whether in your workplace or in other Christian ministries.”1

Caring about those other ministries must surely include occasionally asking about how they are going with that ministry and regularly praying for them—both personally and in shaping and leading prayers congregationally.

For some years now I have worked in a senior role in what I happen to believe is a strategically very important Christian ministry. In my current and previous churches, I think I can remember my organisation and my role within it being prayed for by the congregation perhaps twice—and that would cover a period of more than 15 years. Occasionally a pastor in my church would think to ask me how things were going at work. But it always came across more as a standard attempt to create conversation rather than as a question prompted by a genuine interest and desire to pray for my ministry.

Knowing and caring about the outside involvements of your congregation members I believe is also an absolute prerequisite before asking them to take up a ministry in your own church program. Not only does it give you valuable information about their suitability, but it allows you to assess whether they are already fully loaded up. Do you really want to ask them to take on an extra thing and perhaps drop something external to the church but beneficial to the kingdom of God? In particular, please try not to add much extra ministry load to those who are actively committing time and energy to evangelism out in the world. Evangelists are enough of an endangered species without us guilting them into spending more time at church—especially time on committees.

Caring might also mean supporting that ministry involvement in other practical ways—with your time, your spiritual gifts, your money or just your encouragement as their pastor.

For example, I have a friend who is just brilliant at initiating gospel conversations and getting non-Christians to agree to read the Bible with him. But he is time poor, and struggles to do the faithful work of follow-up with all of the people he gets into conversation with. There are probably people in your congregation who might be the same, but who also feel inadequate to answer questions fired at them by their non-Christian friends.

Now you may be time poor too, pastor, but you could probably help run a lunchtime Bible reading group with them—and you could do it with little to no preparation, whereas your Christian brother or sister needs to spend several hours and even then still lacks confidence. If you don’t have much contact with non-Christians in your ministry week, what a brilliant opportunity for you to support one of your sheep in the ministry they lead, instead of them always being asked to support the ministry you lead. Of course, their work colleagues are unlikely to be living in your patch, so it won’t necessarily look good on your church stats and professional CV. But the Lord will know about it, and he’s the one you want to please, right? 

There are benefits this side of heaven to knowing and caring about the way your congregation take the gospel into their worlds, of course. You will come to see how your ministry is shaping their ministries. You will find out how what you are teaching them is being applied. This could be a very encouraging experience that gives you an exciting boost; what you are doing in your patch is spreading! Even if you don’t find what you discover reassuring, at least you then have the chance to alter your own approach accordingly.

So encourage your people by supporting how they are growing others into branches of Christ. What you are doing in your patch matters; it matters so much that it would be wrong to get distracted by it from the big picture of what God is doing with it.

1. Worst case scenario is that the answer is a sheepish “I’m not doing anything”, but that’s actually quite useful information for a pastoral conversation too.