Thursday, December 14, 2006

What A Good Pastor Is To Do, 7

If you had to boil pastoral ministry down to one thing, what would it be? I know... I know.... You can't easily boil it down to one thing, even the things we've looked at so far from 1 Timothy defy such a question. But if you could, what would it be?

A case could be made for "set the believers an example" in all of life. Jesus tells His disciples that He has set them an example that they should follow what he has done (John 13:15). Elsewhere, the apostle Paul makes that famous statement in 1 Corinthians 11:1 -- "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." He tells the Philippians the same thing (Phil. 3:17). And in verse 12 of 1 Timothy 4, Paul says to Timothy be an example in speech and conduct. Perhaps being an example is one way of describing a good pastor. What does a good pastor do? He lives as an example.

Another way of bottom-lining what a good pastor is to do, though, is to consider what function the example plays. In being an example, at the root, a good pastor is teaching. A good pastor is to teach. "Command and teach these things" (v. 11). And that's what Paul comes to again in 1 Tim. 4:13 - "Until I come, devote yourself to the pubic reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching."

A good pastor is devoted to teaching. And here, Paul identifies three ways of teaching.

1. Public reading of Scripture.

In far too many places this is a dead art or practice. Most churches I've ever attended seem to show an impatience with hearing God's Word read publicly. Now some folks have been poor readers, but more generally, I suspect that people have grown accustomed to not hearing God's Word read publicly except in the briefest of snippets. So, the appetites for hearing God's Word read in the public setting is really quite small. Some find it boring. Others think it's in the way of the "real worship," the singing. Some don't understand it or have difficulty following along. I've heard these and a lot of other "reasons" for the neglect of public reading of Scripture, but I don't think the Father or Jesus will be impressed with any of them. The Father reveals himself in and through His Word, the Word points to Jesus, and the Spirit moved men to write it... so given all this Trinitarian effort, what good reason could we have for neglecting it?

Paul tells Timothy to be devoted to public reading of Scripture. And with good reason... the Word brings life. Every revival I can think of in Scripture came with the recovery of the public reading of God's Word . Moses read the Book of the Covenants with the people in Exodus 24:7. Joshua read the entire Law at the renewal of the covenant following the fiasco at Ai in Joshua 8. The great scene in Nehemiah 8 featured the reading of the Word and expounding upon it all day long (see chapters 9 and 13 as well). Repentance was Jeremiah's hope when he urged Baruch to go and read the Word before the people (Jer. 36). And how many times in the gospels does the Lord begin some great statement with, "Haven't you read...?" A good pastor devotes himself to making sure the Word of God is central in the public gathering of the people, in part, through the public reading of God's word.This reading shapes God's people and is both an act of teaching and the basis for other teaching or exposition.

2. Exhortation.

A good pastor also exhorts from God's Word. He challenges his people to not only hear the word but heed the word, to put it into effect in their lives. He exhorts by encouraging, rebuking, correcting, warning, and comforting. He moves his people to feel and to act based upon God's word. Mere reading is not enough. There must be application to the several cases of spiritual needs or conditions gathered in the assembly. Some need nursing, others a rod, still others a precision cut. A good pastor endeavors to do that with the Word, or rather... to let the Word do that by not neglecting its free and unfettered reading and application.

3. Teaching.

The reading and the exhorting are both teaching. But there is also the systematic instruction that I think is in view here. Timothy is to devote himself to doctrine. Paul will have none of that high-sounding sophistry about "doctrine divides" or "it's about a relationship not doctrine." There can be no relationship with knowing Who it is you're relating to, and doctrine is supposed to divide, to discern, to distinguish. Timothy's habit must be to build doctrine, teaching, by amassing the truths of Scripture into a whole for his people. He is to teach. And apart from teaching, he cannot be a good pastor.

So what's a good pastor to do? He is to devote himself to these three pursuits: public reading of Scripture, exhortation and teaching. The word translated "devote" implies private preparation before hand. The public ministry of a good pastor is fueled by the private candle-burning of personal study. And this study must be sanctified as well.
The tree of knowledge may thrive, while the tree of life is languishing. Every enlargement of intellectual knowledge has a natural tendency to self-exaltation. The habit of study must be guarded, lest it should become an unsanctified indulgence; craving to be fed at the expense of conscience or propriety; employed in speculative enquiries, rather than in holy and practical knowledge; preoccupying the time that belongs to immediate duties; or interfering with other avocations of equal or greater moment. A sound judgment ans a spiritual mind must be exercised, in directing these studies to the main end of the Ministry. Let none of them intrench upon those hours, that should be devoted to our study of the Bible, or our preparation for the pulpit. (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, p. 49).

Practically, several things come to mind:
1. I must guard the hours I need for reading and study so I might teach effectively.

2. I should read widely on some level, but deeply when it comes to Scripture and theology.

3. I should regularly read systematic, biblical, and historical theolgy so I might know the Bible's whole teaching on a subject, understand the themes and narrative of Scripture, and know how other faithful saints have dealt with these issues... avoiding the pride that refuses to learn from others.

4. Personally, I need the discipline of writing manuscripts. Bridges recommends a young preacher spend the firs ten years preaching from a manuscript to give attention to precision and ordering of thought. I may be a better preacher extemporaneously, but I currently am convicted that I need to prepare manuscripts.

5. I need to gather around me people who give honest, constructive feedback on the sermons. That could be meeting with other pastors, listening to one another's sermons, or that could be staff meetings where each week co-laborers encourage, correct, etc.

6. I need to think through the range of teaching options in the church. A good pastor, I suspect, has an overall approach to what he does in the pulpit and how that fits together with mid-week Bible study, Sunday school, small groups, etc. Everything can't be done from the pulpit so we need to think strategically about the various teaching opportunities.

7. I don't need to do all the teaching. hallelujah! I love teaching. Can't think of anything I'd rather do. Live for it on some level. But... I need help and should actively enlisted gifted men in the congregation and the leadership to help carry the load.

Let us sanctify our study and preparation that we may fully and skillfully feed God's sheep from the manna of His Word. It's God's Word that gives life. A good pastor believes this, trusts this, and centers his ministry on this fact. He teaches God's Word because it gives life to God's people. What's a good pastor to do? In a word... teach. Whether by example or by public ministry, he is to teach.

1 comment:

Vitamin Z said...

I thought you might appreciate this post for your series on what a good pastor does:

Thanks for great blog!