The Pastor as Rabbi
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
When we read this particular passage of the Scripture, often called “The Great Commission,” we often focus on the GO. But the intent of Jesus’ words is to instruct His followers to MAKE DISCIPLES. It also helps us to understand the context of His words and the audience to which He speaks. This is one of the last instructions to His remaining eleven Apostles before His ascension. This event is the commissioning of His followers as rabbis who would continue the work of the Kingdom through the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel message. The outcome of their work would be more people of all nations coming to know Christ and entering into a relationship of allegiance to Him as God, King, and Savior. The “going,” the “teaching,” and the “baptizing” are all the processes by which they would bring to obedience – “observing” (or doing) all that Jesus had commanded them. These new young rabbis would “spread the yoke” of Jesus – His understanding of the Scriptures, and continue to extend the invitation of the Master to all who would receive Him and His way of life:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
“The invitation to take on the Kingdom yoke of Jesus, coming under His authority and adopting His way of life was, and is, central to the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom” (The Way of the Master, p.91). His disciples as these newly minted rabbis were to follow in His footsteps, no longer apprentices, but now rabbis in their own right. We know the story, don’t we? We know that they did this – and we are who we are and where we are because they did! They obeyed the command of the Master and made more disciples for Him everywhere they went, with some paying for it with their very lives. We are their inheritors in Christ, the fruit of many generations downstream from their personal obedience.
Yet, in our day, something has gone terribly wrong. For at least a generation in the United States, perhaps three generations in Europe, the Church has not advanced the Gospel of the Kingdom but has indeed declined as a percentage of the population. Why is this? My perspective is that we are realizing the culmination of many generations of a professional pastoral ministry that has not been focused on making disciples. The role of the pastor has become rather distantly related to the rabbinic role with which Jesus charged the Apostles. We are more chaplains than rabbis – focused on the functional “hatch, match and dispatch” role culturally imposed upon us. While none of these things are wrong in and of themselves, this is not what the calling to pastoral ministry is in its essence. We have also inherited the role of “spiritual manager” rather than serving as a local Kingdom community's spiritual leader. We are expected to plan worship services, church events, administrate the finances, visit the sick, care for the poor, counsel the troubled, preach sermons, evangelize our neighborhoods, towns, and cities. All good things, but mostly the purview of the Body in general, and the diaconate more specifically (reference Acts 6:1-7). In accepting these cultural expectations, we perpetuate an endemic dysfunction in the Body – we keep it weak, immature, and passive. We also fail to engage our mandate as rabbi/pastors – we don’t make disciples.
If we are to overcome this, we must return to the simplicity of the way of the Master, and embrace the disciple-making mandate. We must be willing to redefine our role as pastors, embracing cultural application but rejecting cultural encrustation. We must shed everything but the expectations of our King, not allowing ourselves to be saddled with those things other may place upon us. The investment of our time and energy must be in those things which will actually produce fruit. We must invest ourselves in those willing to follow the way of the Master Jesus. Many are called, few are chosen – even fewer are faithful (Matthew 22:14, Revelations 17:14). We must start with a few who are willing to embrace the yoke we teach, the understanding we have of the way of Jesus and the present-day real-world application to life. As it were, we need our own 3, 12 and 72, though the numbers may be smaller in our own context. As my friend Mike Perkinson and I have said in our book The Organic Reformation: New Hope for the Church in the West:
“The rabbinical process of Jesus teaches us that if you want to start an organization, make your focus large, on the crowd. If you want to start a movement, make your focus small, on the disciples or leadership community. The optimum word here is, focus” (p.68).
This is the starting place for each pastor in embracing the Jesus way and leading their local church. This is one of the role transitions that will bring the need change.
We also must divest ourselves of our “clergy” status, as the distinction allows the Body to view us as the professional “doer” of ministry, as opposed to the disciple-making “equipper” of the saints. The goal is for the whole Body to engage in the Kingdom's mission. Rather, taking on the rabbinic task of disciple-making, we put on the mantle of the honored spiritual fathers and mothers of a community of believers.
So, how do we do this? How do we make this shift? There are so many things in the contemporary Church that need to be done; who will do it? Here are some thoughts on the first steps more fully into the Jesus way:
First, before you do anything – PRAY. Invest a season of personal prayer that you might have the mind of Christ and the wisdom of the Spirit. Then begin to pray for the people of your congregation, for the Lord to direct their hearts into His way.
Second, redefine your role as the pastor from the Scripture perspective. This is an essential key to bringing the needed change. You must realign the expectation of others with those of Jesus.
Third, invest most of your time into the leaders and potential leaders who are teachable and willing to join you in the authentic Christianity of the Jesus way – those who can multiply themselves spiritually. Invite these people into your prayer for the congregation.
Fourth, find ways to delegate non-pastoral tasks to the willing to free up your time and energy and as a means of engaging the larger Body in ministry and mission.
Fifth, in relation to the current ministry of the church - simplify everything. If it doesn’t truly bring lasting transformation into Christ-likeness, don’t do it. If it doesn’t help others truly love God and love others, don’t do it. If it doesn’t make real, authentic disciples, don’t do it. If it doesn’t have any visible positive spiritual outcomes, don’t do it. A thorough, critical spiritual review is essential at the outset of this journey.
Sixth, invest in the practice of spiritual disciplines with those who are willing to embrace the direction the Lord is leading you. Teach and transfer these skills, adding the congregation as a whole as the Lord directs.
Seventh, and finally, form a Leadership Community from those who have embraced the yoke Jesus has laid upon you.
All of this is a process and will take time. How much time this all takes depends on several factors. The size of the group you are working with and those within the church's readiness to respond to your teaching are significant elements. Don’t rush it; take the time to prayerful reflect and assess before you begin and continue to do so through the journey. It may be a long journey, and may be difficult at times, but it will produce more and better disciples for Jesus!
If you are serious about making this shift, allow me to recommend to you my new book, The Way of the Master: The Leader Development Methodology of Jesus. This is the compendium of all of my research into the subject and may be valuable to you in your journey. It is a deep-dive into the rabbinical process of Jesus. It examines how He did what He did to make disciples and release leaders to His Kingdom movement. It has just been release in Kindle format on Amazon.com.