Various metaphors have been used to describe the role of God’s chosen leaders. Some have lodged permanently in our collective consciousness while others have not passed the test of time.
Perhaps the oldest metaphor used to describe the pastoral leader is that of shepherd. The second metaphor used in the New Testament for church leaders is overseer. Both metaphors are enduring and widely used today.

Another early metaphor that emerged was that of pastor as the “physician of souls.” Sin was viewed as a disease, and pastoral care was seen as the “cure of souls,” with the priest as the administrator of that cure.

As the church growth movement took root in the 1980s, the popular metaphor of pastor as CEO was drawn from the corporate world and proclaimed the most effective means toward church growth.

In retrospect, the metaphor of pastor as CEO and the church growth movement have both proven to be inadequate for the complex task of shaping and leading 21st-century congregations.

Of course, there are other pastoral metaphors in use as well.

The popular triad of pastor as prophet, priest and poet brings together several facets of pastoral ministry. While the idea of the pastor as coach plays off popular sports imagery, with the pastor as strategist and the church staff and members as players who execute the game plan.

To this wide-ranging mix of metaphors I would add one more – the pastor as artisan.

At their height in the Middle Ages, artisans were skilled master craftsmen and women who produced goods that were beautiful and functional. Master artisans took apprentices and trained them to become master craftsmen and women after apprenticeships lasting seven or more years.

There are six reasons I believe the artisan is an appropriate metaphor for pastors and their work.

1. Artisans focused on one product.

They learned one trade, which required them to learn how to select raw materials and how to craft those raw materials into a unique, finished product. Artisans lived in the vertical silo of their own trade.

2. Artisans trained apprentices to continue their craft.

Skills, insights and trade secrets were passed from master artisans to their apprentices. This approach assured the continuation of the traditions of each craft, but also allowed for advances and improvements as new tools and techniques were developed.

3. Artisans were successful when their workshops produced both quality products and skilled apprentices.

An artisan without an apprentice limited his future and the future of the trade in which he was engaged. Successful master artisans realized that their survival meant not only producing goods today, but also continuing the trade for generations through the lives of apprentices they trained.

4. Artisans maintained important traditions while incorporating best practices as they became available.

The purpose of the apprentice system was to pass on the skills and trade secrets developed over decades of skilled work techniques.

These traditions became marks of pride, honor and identification for each artisan guild, which guaranteed that standards were followed while also vetting newer practices.

5. Artisans depended on other artisans for products they did not produce.

The carriage maker, for instance, depended on the wheelwright for wheels. The wheelwright, in turn, depended on the blacksmith for the iron bands wrapped around the wooden wheel.

Because artisans specialized, they depended on and supported each other’s work and products.

6. Artisans were themselves master craftsmen.

They knew what it was like to be a novice, and then to progress to the more complex skills as their knowledge and craftsmanship developed. Artisans were trained to train others while producing their own quality products.

I believe the pastor as artisan is an apt comparison because, like artisans, pastors:

  1. Focus on one product – proclaiming and practicing the good news of Jesus Christ.
  2. Train others to do what they do, thereby ensuring continuity of Christian witness now and in the future.
  3. Are most successful when they not only produce effective ministry results, but when they also work closely with others to do the same.
  4. Value age-old traditions, such as doctrinal orthodoxy, while incorporating new expressions of the faith into their practice.
  5. Depend on others, as members of the body of Christ, to provide those gifts they do not possess in order to function faithfully as the church.
  6. Have learned important lessons from skilled leaders who have gone before them and have incorporated those lessons into their own mature practice of ministry.

Viewing pastors and other church leaders as artisans helps us to take a long-term approach to ministry.

Apprenticeships that lasted seven years required patience, consistency and perseverance from both master artisan and apprentice. However, by taking the long view, artisans created beautiful products and an enduring legacy.

Pastors could learn from their example.

Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va. A longer version of this column first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

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