Between school plays, little league teams, and numerous other ways, we have all been given roles that we thought were below us. We wanted the leading role, but got curtain duty. We wanted to pitch, but got stuck in right field.
What was that role for you? (Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.)
Like a director of a play, pastors view all the parts of our church in terms of how they contribute to the whole. Pastors determine what is primary, what is secondary, and what is tertiary. You have to do this if you want to be a good leader.
The problem is when pastors do this to their church members and attenders, too. We have a tendency to cast them for roles based on our concept of our church’s narrative, rather than on the basis God’s grand unfolding narrative for his kingdom.
Three ways NOT to cast your church members and attenders
Extras don’t affect the storyline at all. They add motion to the scenery. They are props.
Is that how you view visitors? Is that how you view people who don’t serve or lead?
In the drama that God has written for human history, there are no extras. Everyone is wrapped in a narrative of their own. The fact that God wrote their story gives it dignity and purpose.
Your job as a pastor is to learn whether and how Jesus has become the main character of everyone in your church. If your church is too big for that, then you need to facilitate it through your elders, small groups, an assimilation process, etc. You are, after all, responsible for the care of their soul (Heb. 13:17).
2. Flat Characters
Flat characters play a bigger part than extras – they get lines! But they are only there for the main characters to play off of. Flat characters serve the development of the main characters, but don’t develop themselves. Their role is subservient to the role of the more important people.
Who do you view as flat characters? Your administrative staff? Your A/V team? Longtime members who have hung around but haven’t gotten very involved?
No church has flat characters. Everyone has pain and joy, hopes and dreams. Everyone is on some path of character development: they are either being hardened or softened to the things of God. Whatever direction they are heading, as pastors, we need to guide each of them with the gospel. To think of them as flat is to view your individual sheep as a mere means to your goals for your church.
Caricatures are main characters who are not well-rounded. They are either good or bad. They fit a given personality type and never divert from it. If you need an example, think of the entire cast of Downton Abbey.
Pastors are susceptible to viewing members of their church in such a black and white fashion. You might not be able to imagine it, but that member you have regular conflict with has a good side. He loves God. He desires things that bring him glory. On the other side of the coin, your strong leaders who have served so faithfully have the potential to stumble egregiously. Not temptation has seized us except what is common to man.
I’ve known pastors who have committed adultery and I’ve known hard-hearted people who have been changed by the power of the gospel. Sometimes even the worst curmudgeon stops complaining! We need to shepherd our church knowing that anything can happen at any time, while praying for the good surprises and praying against the bad.
The goal: view everyone as a character
The best stories are filled with characters. Characters play integral roles in the story. Characters develop and grow through the conflict they face. All characters have propensity for good and bad, though they certainly lean harder in one of those directions than the other.
But we all, as a default position, view ourselves as the main character of our story. This is why pastoral ministry exists! We need to point to the true main character, Jesus. Our job is to pray and preach toward the end that everyone who comes into our church receives him, no matter how central – or not – they may seem at first glance.