There’s a lot of confusion out there about what it means to be a pastor. Pile up two thousand years of church history and add our distinctively American love for religious experimentation, and you will wind up with a vast array of different models, theories, and paradigms for pastoral ministry.
Because I’ve only been a pastor for a couple of months, I’m really just in the beginning stages of learning how to go about pastoral ministry. So my first two posts as a pastor aren’t an attempt to tell other pastors how to do their jobs. Instead, I want to explain what this role of pastor is – and is not. This is something all Christians should care about, because while not every Christian is called to pastor a church, we are all called to participate in the life of the church under the guidance of gifted and qualified pastors. The Bible teaches that ministers of the word are given by Christ to equip and enable the growth and activity of his entire body (Ephesians 4:11-12). This is a crucial role; how a pastor serves the church and how each believer responds to pastoral ministry has a massive impact on the health of the body. So it is vitally important that every believer understand what the Bible says about pastoral ministry.
Preparing for full-time ministry has given me lots of opportunity to reflect on the biblical teaching about the calling and function of a pastor. I’ve written previously about my philosophy of ministry and some important principles of pastoral ministry, in which I’ve tried to do justice to the biblical teaching about what a pastor is. This week and next, I want to talk a little about what a pastor is not.
One recently popular way of explaining the various facets of pastoral ministry has been through the Old Testament offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. Since the reformation, these three offices have been held to foreshadow and depict the saving work of Christ, who perfectly reveals God, intercedes with God on the basis of his finished sacrifice, and rules over God’s kingdom. Recently, however, these offices have also been held to reflect the pastor’s three-fold call to speak God’s word, care for his people, and lead his church. Different pastors will, of course, feel more or less gifted or inclined to each of these aspects, so that a particular pastor who ascribes to this model might describe himself as primarily a prophet, with a good dose of king and a smaller gifting as priest.
This paradigm has its merits. Pastors certainly are called to teach, care for, and lead God’s people. But while I greatly respect a number of pastors who use this terminology, I have serious reservations about applying it to myself or any other pastor, because at the end of the day I find it profoundly misleading. I want my people to understand that I am not a Prophet, Priest, or King. This week, I’ll explore the first of those titles.
A pastor is not a prophet. There are various kinds of prophetic ministry in the Old and New Testaments, but all have the common element of being given a message directly from God. The foundational revelation of Scripture is a prophetic and apostolic witness to the church (Ephesians 2:20). And while the group of apostolic witnesses to the resurrection is now closed (1 Corinthians 15:8), and with it the canon of Scripture, I believe there is a place for ongoing direct prophetic revelation in the church as God continues to speak to his people through the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:20). Nevertheless, it is important to note that the pastoral leaders of the church are not required to be gifted as prophets, but as teachers (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9; Eph 4:11). That is, leadership within the church does not belong with those who claim to have a direct word from the Lord, but with those who faithfully pass on the word already delivered to the saints. In this way prophetic messages can be tested by their conformity to the apostolic gospel (1 John 4:1-6).
I would love to have God speak to me more clearly and directly than I have yet experienced, and in obedience to the Bible I do pray for an increase of my gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). But I am not a prophet, nor do I need to be to be a pastor. My authority as a pastor does not come from a special, direct revelation, but from faithful teaching and application of the Scriptures, which are what enable me to equip the people of God for every good work (Ephesians 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). This is why I practice expository preaching – it helps ensure that I am feeding God’s flock with real spiritual food. If I tell my people “thus says the Lord,” I expect them not just to believe it because I say so, but to examine the Scriptures to see if my teaching is true to what God has already said (Acts 17:11).
Check back next week for an exploration of the difference between pastoral ministry and the biblical offices of Priest and King.
Image Credit: By William Grommé (1836–1900) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons