Your pastor doesn’t need to have experienced your special circumstance in order to pastor you

It is a firm reluctance to trust the word of God as authoritative when people assume they can only be “pastored” by a minister/church staff/gospel worker who has been through what they’ve been through.
The single person CAN do marriage prep with an engaged couple, leading them through it.
The always-employed person CAN minister to the unemployed person.
The heterosexual CAN minister to the one struggling with homosexual desires.
The never-held-a-real-job-other-than-ministry person CAN offer spiritual guidance to the 45 yr old business man.
You don’t need an older wiser person around… As if their life experience has made them wiser. You just need a wise person. And how do we become wise?

from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4 thoughts on “Your pastor doesn’t need to have experienced your special circumstance in order to pastor you

  1. Completely agree. Because Christian pastoral ministry is more about pointing people to the wisdom of God shown in Jesus than it is about the specifics of the situations in which people find themselves.

    And it’s a ridiculous argument, if you take it to its logical conclusion: that in order to minister to a person well, you have to have done, felt and wanted all the same things as them … you have to BE them. hmmmm.

  2. I think there may be a non sequitur here, Dave.

    You don’t need to have directly experienced something to have grown in wisdom. But you do need to have grown in wisdom.

    And while the Scriptures are an authoritative and indispensable tool in growing in wisdom, they’re not the only tool. Because there are all kinds of things that the Scriptures don’t address (including, I think, all the examples you list here). So it’s possible to have Bible knowledge without the wisdom needed to be equipped (and equip others) for every good work.

    To take some other very simple examples that are very common in churches, the Bible says very little directly about:
    *the way we manage our time, given all the new possibilities opened up by electricity, oil, and our incredible wealth.
    *most of the industries we work in (with their particular opportunities to do good or ill).
    *pretty much anything related to psychology, whether it’s a ‘normal’ experience (e.g. how to deal with grief) or a more pathological one (e.g. anxiety, depression, addiction) — conditions which are epidemic in Australian society.
    *the mechanics of preaching.

    For all these things, you need observation and reflection to grow in wisdom — observation and reflection that are framed and guided by the Scriptures, certainly, but observation and reflection nevertheless. (The Bible tells me I should care for my children. I need observation to know that feeding them a lot of McHappy Meals won’t count as caring for them.)

    The reason that direct experience can help is that it gives me a good reason to do the necessary observation (i.e. if I’ve suffered grief, I’ll probably have noticed some useful things about it; if I’ve worked as a defence lawyer for 20 years, that’s a good opportunity for me to think about how to follow Jesus in that field; if I’ve lived in a gay relationship, I’ll know something about the particular temptations to sin, and what makes it particularly hard to repent).

    Of course, we can all learn from others’ experience. But certainly no one person in a congregation can be wise in every area of life — that’s simply too many details for one person to get their head around. (Which is why part of the task of paid church workers is to equip others to grow in wisdom, rather than needing to be the font of all wisdom themselves.)

    Even if we restrict this discussion to paid Christian work, we can see that there’s a lot more to wisdom than Bible knowledge. We would say that paid pastors and Bible college lecturers have different abilities as preachers, counsellors, teachers, and so on. It’s not a question of their Bible knowledge. And it’s not (only) a question of innate gifting. It’s partly how much wisdom they’ve gained through observation and reflection (whether their own direct experience or learning from others’).

  3. Stuart, I think you describe the very reason why you don’t need that experience… They are all things the bible DOESN’T address directly. So… there might be heaps of practical tips that people who’ve lived through that experience could offer someone, but there’s no actual right or wrong… there’s only God and the person’s relationship with God.
    So, they way I talk to someone about how I manage their time isn’t based on how I’ve managed my time, or how great time management guru’s manage their time. I could give that advice, but that’s not my job as the one who has to give an account for them on the last day. I need to ask them to consider what the word of God says about the time God has given them. I need to challenge their idolatry, their selfishness, etc.
    And, regardless of what i think, the most important thing is that they stand before god with a clear conscience with the decisions they make.
    That’s why a godly 18yr old can “pastor” a 45 yr old struggling with alcoholism. They need to lovingly ask questions and understand how God’s word applies to everyone’s life.
    In fact, you referred to it when you said, “the task of paid church workers is to equip others to grow in wisdom, rather than needing to be the font of all wisdom themselves.”
    That! What you just said there! That’s what I’m talking about!!! That’s real pastoral ministry. That’s what we should be training other people to do – help others grow in biblical wisdom.

    • stuartheath says:

      I guess I (with the Calvinist tradition) think there’s more to wisdom than Bible knowledge. Are you saying wisdom is just Bible knowledge?

      Also, when you say, “there’s no actual right or wrong… there’s only God and the person’s relationship with God”, do you mean that the only things that are right or wrong are those things explicitly addressed in Scripture?

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