Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dear Pastor: Your Job Description (and church’s response) ~ Part 1

There is some really messed-up stuff going on in our world. It’s no surprise. Any man in pastoral ministry should know God’s descriptions of what evils will characterize the end times.[1] We have a job to do, and it must be done no matter the cycle of good and bad we are facing.

This morning, I began praying through one of the sections where Paul exhorted Timothy regarding the way he should handle his responsibilities towards the church. While the relational setup of the early church may be lost in our institutionalized denominational settings, every man who is living in the role of shepherding a congregation must look to the same qualities of life and ministry as the apostles handed down through men like Timothy. They expected these same things to continue through the lifetime of the church on earth, and so should we.

Here is the pastoral job description Paul presented in the first century. I have only begun considering what it should look like in our day, so I will present some thoughts on each distinctive component, along with what the church ought to do in response to the pastor’s efforts to follow this example.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (I Timothy 4)

Pastoral responsibilities:

1.  “Command”: In a day when so many people have been hurt by abusive leadership, and so many pastors and their families hurt by abusive boards and power-brokers, and so many church-goers have bought into the pluralism of the world that thinks everyone is free to do as they see fit, the thought that anyone in the church is called to command something of anyone else might seem a little strange, even out of place.

    However, since we are dealing with the church Jesus is building,[2] a brotherhood of people who live by the same realities of the kingdom through every age of history,[3] our marching orders, so to speak, still come from Jesus, and his word, and the apostolic teachings that make up the foundation of the church.[4] Paul was instructing Timothy to continue what Jesus began working into church life through the apostles.

    Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”,[5] and, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.”[6] He then added, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”[7] There are many more statements in this regard, assuring our generation of the church that Jesus’ commands still direct us. We are not saved through the keeping of commands, but entering into love relationship with Jesus by grace through faith turns us into God’s workmanship that is created in Christ Jesus to do the very good works God has planned for us.[8] Doing these good works revolves around obeying what Jesus commands, and pastors ought to command what is commanded. Or, perhaps it would be better to say, pastors must present the New Testament commands as the commands that they are.

    Church response: What should the church do when Jesus’ commands are taught as commands by their pastors? “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”[9] Obviously this is not endorsing the unthinking obedience to a pastor’s personal whims and wishes. This is not talking about agreeing to a building program or a budget, or tolerating immorality.

    Rather, this is the way the church is to respond to its pastors who are showing them from the Scriptures the things Jesus has commanded. As the pastors present the commands of the New Testament as commands, the church responds with the obedience of faith, not serving the pastors in place of Christ, but agreeing with the pastors to serve Christ as God’s own words instruct.

2. “teach”: a pastor’s teaching is to unpack whatever God has given us in his word. The textbook has been written, and the pastor’s role includes keeping the whole counsel of God before the people.[10] This does not limit the pastor’s role to a Sunday sermon, a Sunday school class, or a Bible study group. The point is that God has given us his teachings, and pastors are to teach those things to their generation of the church.

    Jesus set down the pattern of discipleship for the church by including the requirement of teaching all his disciples to obey, or observe, everything he commanded.[11] This requires pastors to teach all these things. The church is to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,[12] so the pastors teach every word God has breathed-out into the Scriptures.[13] The church is to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly,[14] so the pastors are to feed the word of God to the church in all its richness.

    Paul gives a model for teaching in the church that is aimed at caring for every generation of the church’s existence. He wrote to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). Paul envisioned men like Timothy commanding and teaching the very same things given to the church by the apostles. He also expected Timothy to find other faithful men who would be able to continue teaching others, all the way down through the generations of the church. This model, of men like Timothy taking the apostolic instructions as words breathed-out by God and entrusting these same things to faithful men who could teach others, would ensure that pastors were commanding and teaching the whole counsel of God until the return of Christ.

    Church response: Jesus said that the wise man was the one who heard Jesus’ words and put them into practice, while the foolish man was the one who heard Jesus’ words and did not put them into practice.[15] When the apostles taught the church, the church was expected to put these teachings of Christ into practice. When Paul taught the Timothies to teach the same things to the church, the church was expected to learn and put into practice whatever they were taught.

    While all churches should be like the Bereans who checked out the Scriptures every day to discern whether what they were hearing was true,[16] we also need “to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”[17] The pastors teach to instruct in the life of the kingdom, and the church welcomes these words and puts them into practice in both our beliefs and activities.

    Again, even though there are so many scenarios of pastors abusing their place of preaching and teaching, and so many false teachers and churches everywhere we go, and so many church boards and power-brokers trying to restrict their pastors from preaching anything that would confront the core group with the will of God, God’s way of building his church is still through the commanding and teaching of the men he calls to serve his church as shepherds to the flock.

3. “these things”: this is the safeguard to both pastors and churches. Churches know that the things their pastors teach them are the “these things” given to the church through the apostles and prophets of the first century. On the other hand, pastors know that they can confidently teach whatever is in the breathed-out words of God to the church since God’s will is good, acceptable and perfect in all matters.[18]

    Now, Paul does allude to the fact that there will be times when the word is in season, and when it is out of season,[19] and there will be times when people in churches only want their ears tickled with some new fancy teaching.[20] However, those who seek to live by the whole counsel of God come back to what the apostles taught us, and seek to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”[21]

    I won’t elaborate further on the “these things” since the whole New Testament gives us the doctrines and commands we must teach. The point is that we need both the commanding and teaching to go together, as well as the “these things” to direct what is commanded and taught. We are also to guard against what Paul called “going beyond what is written”,[22] so that we are not puffed up as authorities on things God’s word does not say, and not leading the church astray with our own thoughts and interpretations of what we wish God meant. We can remain with what is written, and make sure all the things given to the church by Christ and his apostles is taught to the church until Jesus’ return.

    Church response: to treat everything given to us in the Scriptures as the “these things” our pastors must command and teach in the same way they are already commanded and taught in God’s breathed-out words. We are not to exaggerate nor deny anything clearly taught in the New Testament as God’s revealed will for the church. While we may like to hear these things taught in ways that relate to specific things we are going through, we must not show preference for one teaching of Scripture over another, but encourage our pastors to feed us every word that comes from the mouth of God. There may be times when churches are going through things that require a specific admonition from God’s word, but the aim of the church is to receive the whole counsel of God, and encourage our pastors to be faithful to give us everything God presents in his word.

While this has only processed the first sentence of the paragraph, we can see that pastors are to command and teach the same things that the apostles commanded and taught, and the church is to follow and obey the teachings of God’s word as faithfully presented by the faithful men who continue to teach us what God has spoken. I don’t have time or means to consider every possible way pastors and churches can mess this up. I simply want to begin by identifying the plumbline we are aiming for no matter what church issues need to be addressed along the way. I believe that a people who want to know the mind of Christ on all things will not fail to find it, but it will always include the pastors and teachers faithfully commanding and teaching what is written in God’s word, and the church faithfully putting everything into practice, knowing that it is Christ we are following in all things.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] The end times, or the last days, refers to the last great period of human history, the building of Jesus’ church between his first and second comings. God’s description of what will happen during this age includes the description of evils as listed in places such as Romans 1:18-32 and II Timothy 3:1-9.
[2] Matthew 16:18
[3] Note that Jesus spoke of the gospel of the kingdom that would be proclaimed until the very end (Matthew 24:14). There is one body of Christ that shines the light of Christ to the world until his return. Everything he gave the first century church about the realities of his kingdom still guides the church of our day.
[4] Ephesians 2:19-22
[5] John 14:15
[6] John 15:10
[7] John 15:14
[8] Ephesians 2:8-10
[9] Hebrews 13:17
[10] Acts 20:27, 31
[11] Matthew 28:18-20
[12] Matthew 4:4
[13] II Timothy 3:16-17
[14] Colossians 3:16
[15] Matthew 7:24-27
[16] Acts 17:11
[17] I Thessalonians 5:12-13
[18] Romans 12:2
[19] II Timothy 4:1-2
[20] II Timothy 4:3-5
[21] II Timothy 4:2
[22] I Corinthians 4:6

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