NO LONE RANGERS
The Original Lone Ranger
A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-yo, Silver’ – it’s the Lone Ranger! So began the intro to the TV series about the fictional hero of the American Old West. The Lone Ranger was infamous for appearing and disappearing quickly, for firing silver bullets at his enemies (were they secretly werewolves?), and for, well, his name says it all: the Lone Ranger. At least, he was the Lone Ranger, until the producers gave him a trusty sidekick in the eleventh episode of the series. After that, he wasn’t so a-lone anymore.
And yet, we mostly remember him as the Lone Ranger for more reasons than just his name. The image of a self-made maverick/hero seems to resonate deeply in the collective American imagination. After all, we’re mostly descended from the kind of people who had a “do-it-yourself” approach to life. (Just think of all those pilgrims, settlers, and pioneers.) But when it comes to living as one of God’s rescued people—in little communities we call “churches”—things are quite different from how we might imagine them.
Christians in Community
To put it bluntly, there’s really no such thing as a “lone ranger Christian.” Of course, there are many who may try to object to this: “But it’s just me and Jesus, and that’s all I need.” Yes, well, Jesus taught differently. His commands were almost always given in the plural (to groups of people), and their fulfillment was often something that happened in the context of relationships (which necessarily involve others to exist). On top of all this, Paul had some pretty clear things to say about the death of Jesus: “He gave himself for us to redeem us … and to purify for himself a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). Notice he didn’t say that Jesus died to rescue individuals. He said that he came to redeem/create a group of people. And what kind of people were they? The kind who would “do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Over and again, people who have been rescued by God are said to be part of the “household of God,” members of the “body of Christ,” and stones in the “temple of the Lord” built on the cornerstone of Jesus himself (Eph. 2:19-21). But how could you be part of Jesus’ body if you’re disconnected from the rest of his people? How can you be part of his temple if you’re just a stone lying in the rock quarry? Jesus’ goal was to rescue a people for himself, which is precisely why his true followers have always found ways of joining together to live as a family in local communities shaped by the gospel. That’s what the word translated as “church” actually means: assembly. It’s not an assembly when it’s just one person.
Pastors in Community
In a similar way, there’s not a shred of evidence for a “lone ranger pastor” found anywhere in the Scriptures. Why should there be? If God is concerned for the leadership of his people, why in the world would he call a man to shepherd a church by himself? Such a scenario is both unwise and dangerous, and it is rightly avoided at all costs. (Heck, even the real Lone Ranger had a sidekick.) In contrast to the foolhardy attempt at being a solo-pastor, God’s wise design for his people places a “team” of elders/pastors at the heart of the church. That’s why Paul’s church planting strategy included organizing new disciples under the shared leadership of qualified elders (Acts 14:21-23; Titus 1:5-9). (In fact, close-knit cooperation was so essential to Paul’s own work that he relied on the help of men like Timothy and Sylvanus to co-author all but four of his epistles.) In the face of all this, pastors should think hard about how they can share the authority and responsibility that they have been given (Heb. 13:17). Such a course of action will always turn out better for themselves, for their families, and for the churches where they serve.
Community as a Picture of Grace
Christians must realize that God has called us to join together with other believers in local churches for a reason. In addition to this, pastors must realize that they are not exempt from God’s call to live in community with others, especially other pastors who can help them share the load of their work. In doing both of these, the church today will better communicate what Jesus’ death and resurrection are all about: rescuing a group of people who learn to pray for each other, serve each other, and forgive each other, all because of the grace they have been shown in Jesus.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.