Saturday, June 10, 2006

What's a Pastor to Do?

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)

The role of the pastor seems to be mired in great confusion. What exactly is a pastor to be, and to do? Here I am not addressing “being and doing” in terms of qualifications, but rather in terms of function.

Today, many have given the pastor a CEO kind of position, where he is first and foremost a manager, a motivator, an organizer, and administrator. These pastors study business to see how Fortune 500 CEOs run their companies and make decisions. They divide the church into veritable “divisions” from which they can assess profitability and contribution. They read from the ever-increasing number of books on leadership (and many of them are very good and much needed). They focus on being a good people person, able to meet and greet in the foyer before and after church, to light up a room with his presence, and draw people to himself. Now let’s be honest—all of those things are an important part of ministry and are neglected only at the risk of confusion, disorganization, discouragement, and stagnation.

I think there are things in business that the church should practice because they are good common sense principles of management that ultimately spring from truth—things like accountability, assessment, delegation, involvement, teamwork, and the like. Pastor do have to be able to organize and manage, make decisions with wisdom and insight. He should be reading and studying to increase his leadership capacity.

I think the pastor should be at least somewhat of a people person, at least able to give the appearance of comfort in meeting new people, even though it might not be his favorite thing to do.

Yet it is clear that God places the highest value on preaching and teaching. A man can be a great manager, a great administrator, a great organizer, fund raiser, and motivator, but if he cannot handle the word properly, with integrity and clarity, iin study and in delivery, he is not an “elder who rules well."

Good preaching does not come easy. In fact, it does not come at all for some, though it can certainly be developed over time, with much study and practice. It requires shutting oneself off from the distractions around him, gluing himself to his seat (metaphorically speaking for all you horselovers out there), and figuring out what the text says and how to repeat it in away that does justice to the Word, holds the attention of the hearers, makes them understand what it looks like for them to live by it, and then calls them to practice it.

Good preaching requires the study of other great preachers, both by reading them and listening to them. Ultimately, you will develop most of your delivery ability by listening to others who do it well. It is doubtful that reading a book on delivery will ever teach you much about opening your mouth and speaking better.

Good preaching includes the hard work of exegesis, starting with the original languages. (Yes, I said starting with the original languages.) It requires sorting through the various interpretive options (but don’t plan on preaching them). It requires knowing your culture, community, and people well enough to know how a particular passage relates to the lives that they lead. It requires meditating long enough to get from an exegetical lesson to a picture of real life obedience in the 21st century, complete with the ugly side of ignoring the passage and the beautiful side of living it. It requires figuring out how it ties back to the gospel and how to make the connection clear.

Pastors must color in the pictures of God’s revelation so that people can see in vibrant, living images what they will look like when they fully obey God.

So pastors, close your door, turn off the email, let the phone go to voicemail (except for your wife and kids), stop administrating and planning, and work hard at preaching and teaching. Your church depends on it.

That is what makes you worthy of the respect (and remuneration) of your church.


Patrick said...

Ok. I'll bite. A quickie response and I'll debate the wisdom of engaging further after some pizza.

First. Perhaps the reason Paul does not refer to the other elders that he istructs Timothy to address is the fact that he wrote the letter to . . . er . . Timothy. Hence the singular advice for a glass of Merlot for his stomach ailment in verse 23.

Second. The polity of the PCA, which I assume you're aware of, is a good model to study. It recognizes Teaching Elders (TE) as those whose primary labor are that of Word and prayer much as you describe in your post. It also recognizes Ruling Elders (RE) as men who are able to teach, and most do, but who share the work of Spiritual shepherding so that the TE can give himself moreso to his primary calling of Word and prayer.

In this arrangement, which I believe to be Biblical according to I Tim 5:17, the TE serves as the leader of the leaders (Moderator of the Session or Elder board) while keeping him from the pitfalls of autocracy, foolhearty belligerence, and personality cult temptation of being "the man" that many men of the solo presbyter with deacons fall into. It is the shared leadership aspect that is a protection to him as he has the greater judgement (Jas 3) to look forward to as a teacher of the Word.

3rd and last. Timothy is now being addressed by his mentor to lead his fellow elders in the way of Biblical truth as he is the one who has the priveledge of giving himself wholly to the work of ministry while his ruling elders work for their living just like churches today where the TE is full time in the ministry and RE's are in the work world but have the Spiritual gifting and calling to serve the Church as undershepherds of the flock. Hence the admonition to pay the TE what he is worth (I Tim 5:17, 18) to do exactly what He does as the lead elder. According to Paul's words, he is to lead by example as the TE, these men, his plurality of ruling elders, some of whom presumably laid hands on him at his ordination so that they will rule well as elders in the Church.

1 Tim. 4:14 (KJV)
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

(BTW, how do KJV'ers dance around the use of presbytery?)

Anyway those are some initial thoughts. Volumes have been written on this as I'm sure you're aware.

Pass the pepperoni!

Patrick said...

oops. will cut and paste my previous response to the correct post.