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A Pastor’s Reflections: Lumberjacks or Surgeons?

August 2, 2016


To what might we liken the ministry of a pastor? All too often I think pastors see themselves as lumberjacks. They go into a church and look at the problems as trees that need to be chopped down. They fire up their massive chain saw and start cutting into the tree to bring it down. They grab their ax and start hacking away until the problematic tree lies on the ground. A lumberjack might be effective but I wonder if he ends up stripping a church of problems along with the people all with the same swing of his ax. You might deal with all of the problems that lie before you but wreak devastation in the wake of your pastoral counseling. There are, I believe, far too many lumberjacks in churches these days. They are too quick applying ax to root—their language is harsh, answers too quick, and counsel too unsympathetic. To say, for example, from the pulpit that anyone who does not attend every evening worship service might be unregenerate might satisfy your nagging conscience that you’ve addressed the problem of lagging evening worship but you may end up doing more damage than good.

A preferable way to look at your ministry is that you’re a surgeon, not a lumberjack. Ideally, a good surgeon takes a good patient history and reviews medical records before he treats someone. He talks to his patient, finds out if he’s got allergies, what his previous doctors have said, and looks over tests and scans to ensure he knows the precise nature of the problem. When he goes to operate, he employs a scalpel and carefully makes incisions so he minimizes bleeding, only excises the diseased flesh, and leaves vital organs and tissue intact. From time to time some surgical procedures require heavy-duty tools. I’ve seen videos where surgeons use mallets, saws, and power tools in the process of surgery—it makes me woozy just thinking about it—but the doctors are very precise in their use of these heavy-duty tools. They’re not hacking away at the person—they’re surgically removing a problem. The pastor-surgeon won’t aimlessly fire from the hip from the pulpit in an effort to deal with counseling problems but will instead talk to his sheep. Upon further discussion, the pastor can find out, for example, that a family is struggling to survive with three small children under the age of four and getting to church in the evening is very difficult. It’s not a matter of the parents being unregenerate but of needing help! Perhaps their attendance would be improved if you offered targeted childcare during the service so the parents can participate in worship more often. Or perhaps you can encourage one parent to attend evening worship while the other parent cares for the children at home. In other words, there are a number of other pastorally sensitive options and ways to encourage better evening service attendance than simply calling those not in attendance unregenerate.

As a pastor, seek to be a surgeon, or in biblical terms, a shepherd who seeks after the lost—who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep rather than simply yelling out its name and then giving up when it doesn’t respond.