Not a Prophet, Priest, or King (Part 2)

Holman_Furniture_of_the_TabernacleIn my last post, I cautioned against using the biblical titles of Prophet, Priest, and King to describe the role of a pastor. My goal is not to quibble over terminology; I know most pastors who use those terms intend them to express the genuine pastoral tasks of teaching, caring, and leading. But I am convinced that such a use is confusing, both because it departs from the biblical meaning of those titles in some significant ways, and because it can reinforce some common misconceptions of what a pastor is.

I have already explained how it’s inappropriate to confuse pastoral ministry with the biblical office of Prophet. This post continues with an exploration of the differences between pastors and the offices of Priest and King.

A pastor is not a priest. A pastor certainly is called to attend to and care for the spiritual needs of his flock. But calling this “priestly” ministry is confusing on two counts. First, this work of caring for others was not the role of priests in the Old Testament. In biblical categories, a priest “is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5:1). A priest was an official mediator, representing and interceding for the people in the worship of the temple. The entire book of Hebrews is an explanation of how Jesus fulfills and surpasses the priesthood of the old covenant in this sense. This priestly role is then extended to all believers, as we offer ourselves to God (Romans 12:1) in lives of praise to God and service to others (Hebrew 13:15-16). This means that we all may approach God directly, both on our own behalf and on behalf of other believers. We have “confident access” to God in Christ (Ephesians 3:12).

So, calling a pastor a “priest” because he cares for people misses the biblical picture of what a priest is. This confusion may stem from the fact that Roman Catholic priests perform pastoral care, which brings us to the second kind of confusion that arises when an evangelical pastor calls himself a “priest.” Catholic pastors are called “priests” because of the traditional teaching that the Lord’s Supper is an atoning sacrifice which can only be performed through the miraculous grace bestowed on ordained clergy. This is taught nowhere in Scripture, which is why the reformers rejected “priest” as a special clerical title. Calling the caring work of a pastor “priestly” thus not only departs from biblical categories of priesthood, but it risks blurring the difference between the biblical model of pastoral elders and traditional conceptions of a special clerical caste distinct from ordinary, “lay” Christians.

Being a pastor does not make me a priest. Caring for the flock certainly is part of pastoral work, but that is not the biblical conception of priesthood. Ordination does not confer some special access to God which other believers do not have. Every believer is a priest before God through Christ.

Finally, a pastor is not a king. Too many pastors have failed to recognize this, and their arrogant abuse of authority has led to the wounding or even dissolution of too many churches. The elders of the church do indeed have real authority within the church, and believers are called to respect, submit to, and even obey those God has placed in those positions of leadership (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 16:16; Hebrews 13:17). But this authority – like all authority – must yield to the authority of God himself (Acts 4:19-20). In any case, the relationship between a pastor and other Christians is not that of king to subject, nor of father to child, nor even of teacher to student, but of brother to brother (Matthew 23:8-12). Pastors are to lead not by domination, but by example (1 Peter 5:3). My role as pastor does not place me above other believers, but below them as their servant.

I am not a prophet, nor a priest, nor a king. Those are Jesus’ job titles. He is the one through whom God has spoken his ultimate revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the one whose sacrifice gives us access to God (Ephesians 2:18). He is the one who rules over the church, enthroned at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20-23).

But, as a pastor, I do share one title with Jesus. “Pastor” is just the Latin word for “shepherd.” Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King, does care for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep. He feeds us on his word, supports us in our struggles, and leads and directs us in obedience to him. As I serve as an elder and overseer of a local congregation, I also am called to feed, tend, and lead the flock of God in obedience to Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4). In doing this I advance not my own kingdom, but his, as long as I preach not my own word, but the word of God’s grace, which alone is able to build up the church (Acts 20:32).

That’s what it means to be a pastor.

 

Image Credit: Furniture of the Tabernacle, By illustrators of the 1890 Holman Bible [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Not a Prophet, Priest, or King

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.

Grommé,_Kuningas_Daavid_ja_profeetta_NathanOne 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

12 Guiding Principles of Pastoral Ministry

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In my last post, I described the “what” of pastoral ministry. This time around, I want to address the “how.” How does one faithfully fulfill the calling to shepherd God’s people with the gospel of Christ?

But first, one word about why this matters. I don’t usually write about being a pastor. That is because pastors as such are not my target audience; there are many far wiser and more experienced shepherds who are far more qualified than I am to advise other pastors on how to fulfill their calling. My purpose in writing is to help Christians in general grow in Christ.

That said, understanding what pastoral ministry is all about is important for all believers, because all believers are called to a life under the care of pastors in the context of the local church. Knowing what the Bible says about pastors will help you shape your expectations of your current pastors and evaluate potential pastors when you are looking for a new church or considering a new pastor for your current church. And seeing the challenges and temptations that accompany ministry will help you care for and pray for the shepherds God has set over you, so that you may reap the full benefits of their joyful service (Hebrews 13:17).

So, guided by Scripture and with an eye to the needs of the church today, here are 12 principles that guide my approach to pastoral ministry.

1. I am called to proclaim God’s word, not my own. Whether preaching on a Sunday morning, leading a Bible study, or counseling a struggling believer, my message must be thoroughly shaped by the word of God. I believe that the best way to ensure this in my public preaching is to derive both the message and structure of each sermon from a particular passage of Scripture. As a general rule, I prefer to preach sequentially through an entire book of Scripture so that my hearers receive not my favorite topics, but the full scope of the word of God. For this to be true, I must first be continually shaped by Scripture myself. (1 Cor 2:1-5; 2 Tim 3:14-4:5)

2. Pastoral ministry is only one part of a life dedicated to Christ. Before I am a pastor, I am a Christian. My most fundamental calling is to know and glorify God in Christ, not to perform pastoral tasks. This calling includes ministry to my own family and the community at large as well as receiving God’s blessings. I may not allow the demands of the pastorate to crowd out these other facets of my life as a follower of Christ. (Col 4:17; 1 Tim 3:5)

3. I am called to humble and unreserved dependence. This is Christ’s ministry, not mine. Apart from him I can do nothing, but he is able to do infinitely more than all I can ask or think through the power of his Spirit. The knowledge of my weakness should humble me and drive me to my knees, while the knowledge of his sufficiency should give me such confidence and faith that I serve in ways that can only succeed if he is present in power. (John 15:4-5; 2 Cor 4:7; Eph 3:20-21)

4. Pastoral ministry is a shared responsibility. The pattern of the New Testament church is to have a team of elders who work together as peers in the pastoral oversight of the flock under their care. I must recognize that my fellow pastors (including full-time, part-time and unpaid pastor-elders) share equally in the same God-given calling and authority that has been given to me. We are thus accountable to one another, to the congregation as a whole, and to Christ, the Chief Shepherd. (Mark 10:42-45; Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil 1:1)

5. I am called to do the work of a pastor, not of the whole church. The role of a pastor is to equip the church for the work of ministry, not to do ministry in place of the church. I have not received all the gifts of the Spirit, and I am neither called nor equipped to do the work of the entire body. I must therefore resist the temptation to try to do everything myself and refuse the expectations of others that I usurp the tasks of others to the neglect of my own proper work. Instead, I must invite and seek out other people who are gifted to perform particular kinds of service to the body, while I persist in equipping the whole body with the gospel motivation and biblical worldview that will enable each part to fulfill its God-given function. (Acts 6:1-4; Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:14-30;  Eph 4:7-16)

6. Our congregation is only one piece of the Church of Christ. Though God has given me the responsibility of serving a particular congregation, I must never forget that he has many more children outside our walls, both locally and globally. His purposes do not begin and end with our membership roster. Other gospel-affirming churches are not competitors, but partners in the same mission. We should thus be on the lookout for ways in which we can individually and corporately love, serve and commune with our brothers and sisters around town and around the world. (Rom 15:7-8, 25-27; 1 Cor 1:2; 14:33, 36; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 6:18)

7. We should prioritize church multiplication. I am called to pursue the growth of the church of Christ, not necessarily the numerical growth of our particular congregation. In fact, a church that is faithfully sending out its people to plant new churches and carry the gospel to the nations may remain relatively small. Often such growth through multiplication of distinct congregations rather than accumulation of members under one roof may actually be better for the long-term health of the church. Instead of holding on to the growth God gives us, we should rejoice to become least and last by giving our growth away in gratitude to Christ who gave up everything for us. (Mark 10:41-45; John 3:22-30; Phil 1:12-18; 1 John 4:9-11)

8. I am called to serve joyfully, not for selfish gain. Shepherding God’s people is a privilege, not a means to power, wealth or esteem. My motive for service must always be the joy of seeing Christ glorified in the salvation and growth of his people, not my own self-interest and advancement. (1 Tim 3:3; 1 Pet 5:2)

9. I must seek Christ’s approval, not man’s. While I desire to serve God’s people, he alone is my Master. Whatever others may think of my performance, what matters is whether my ministry is pleasing in his eyes. I must always define success in ministry in terms of faithfulness to his call. (1 Cor 4:1-5; 2 Tim 4:1-8)

10. Pastoral ministry is about caring for and equipping people, not performing tasks and building programs. My goal is not simply to complete my assigned tasks; I want to make the biggest possible impact for Christ in the lives of the people around me. The structures, systems and services of our church can thus never be an end in themselves; they exist for people, not the other way around. We must constantly evaluate our habits, structures and culture to ensure we are genuinely meeting the needs (though not necessarily the wants) of those we are called to serve. (Mat 7:21-23; 23:23; Mark 2:23-27; 1 Cor 9:19-22)

11. I am called to work diligently for the growth of the church. If I truly desire to make the maximum possible impact on the church and the community, I must labor faithfully and wisely in the strength God provides. I will need the discipline to persist in the tasks before me, the discernment to plan, strategize and prioritize in light of the big picture, and the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord. We must sow and water diligently, but he alone gives the growth. (Acts 20:34-35; 1 Cor 3:5-9; 9:24-27; Col 1:24-29; 2 Tim 4:1-5)

12. Pastoral ministry entails suffering and sacrifice, but leads to joy. The life of a pastor is not an easy one, but it is eternally rewarding. I should expect to face demonic opposition, rejection by the world, betrayal, disappointment, temptation and all kinds of challenges. As I carry the word of Christ to those who need to hear it, I must not be surprised to find that my experience reflects the pattern of the Chief Shepherd, who suffered and died before entering into glory. So I am called to endure hardship for the sake of the joy of serving my Master, looking forward to the day when I will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Mat 10:5-42; 25:21; Acts 20:28-32; Jam 3; 1 Pet 5:1-11)

Image credit: Jesper Noer, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/prayer-1497680

A Philosophy of Pastoral Ministry

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I feel called by God to serve him in pastoral ministry. So, over the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about and reflecting on the natural and purpose of ministry within the local church. Based on Scripture and guided by the helpful insights of those who’ve gone before me, here is what I think a pastor is supposed to do and be.

The Context of Pastoral Ministry

Pastoral ministry takes place within the particular divinely-appointed context of the church. A pastor does not minister in isolation; rather, he serves as one member of the body of Christ. Pastoral ministry thus cannot be understood apart from a clear grasp of the identity and mission of the church. I like to summarize this as follows:

  • the church is the new community of God’s redeemed people established in Christ Jesus and expressed in individual congregations which are all bound together in the unity of the Spirit;
  • this community exists to experience, express and extend to all people the amazing grace of Christ our Savior in the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.

The work of a pastor takes place in the context of this new community and is directed to fulfilling this divine mission. Of course, this is true of every believer. We are all called to use our gifts to build up the body of Christ and make disciples. A pastor is just as loved and called by God as all his brothers and sisters – no more, and no less. Nevertheless, though a pastor is no more valuable to God, pastoral ministry does have a unique and crucial strategic role in enabling the church as a whole to fulfill its mission.

1 Cor 12; 1 Pet 2:9; Gen 12:2-3; Eph 2:6-10; 19-22; 3:10; Mat 28:18-20

The Purpose of Pastoral Ministry

Pastors are given by the Holy Spirit to equip particular congregations with the gospel of Jesus Christ for the growth of God’s church both in numbers and in maturity. A faithful pastor thus works and prays for more people to know Christ, and for people to know Christ more. These two aspects of growth naturally go together, for as God’s people see and know more of Christ and his saving work for them, their joy in their salvation will overflow into loving and effective witness to that salvation. The pastor’s continual task will thus be to proclaim the good news that God has responded to our sin and rebellion by graciously sending his Son into the world to become one of us, suffer and die in our place, and rise again so that all who trust in him may have peace with God and eternal life in his glorious kingdom.

Eph 4:7-16; Rom 1:15-16; Col 1:5-6, 19-29; 2:6-7; Acts 6:1-7

Responsibilities of Pastoral Ministry

As a shepherd of the flock of God under the Lordship of Christ, the Chief Shepherd, every pastor is called to equip the church for gospel growth through some combination of the following tasks:

  • Feeding the flock. The first and most important function of a pastor is to supply the flock with the life-giving food of the word of God. He must be able and faithful to preach the whole counsel of God rather than the doctrines of men. Because Christ is the center of all of Scripture, all preaching must feature the proclamation of the gospel. Because the gospel message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is what gives and sustains spiritual life, this focus on the gospel must extend beyond public teaching to permeate every facet of pastoral ministry. Whether leading, tending or guarding, a pastor should always be proclaiming the word of Christ in dependence on his Spirit.
  • Leading the flock. Together with the other elders, a pastor is responsible to exercise wise and faithful oversight of the flock under his care. First and foremost, this involves exercising spiritual leadership of the congregation by pointing them toward Christ through biblical teaching and godly living. In addition, a pastor must labor alongside the other elders to discern the Spirit’s leading on behalf of the congregation in setting direction and responding to challenges and opportunities facing the church. When such matters should be considered by the congregation as a whole, the elders are responsible to facilitate the process of seeking the mind of the Spirit and to assist their brothers and sisters in making wise and biblical decisions.
  • Tending the flock. A pastor should pay careful attention to the spiritual needs of the entire flock under his care. As pastors, the elders should work together to ensure that each member receives spiritual care and direction, whether through one of the elders or through another trustworthy, mature believer. They should both invite and seek out the hurting, broken, confused and guilty and minister to them according to their needs. In particular, they should pray for and anoint the sick in the expectation of God’s gracious healing power on behalf of his children.
  • Guarding the flock. A faithful pastor will be aware of and ready to face the dangers that threaten the flock. The pastors must confront and rebuke sin, both privately and (when necessary) publicly as they lead the congregation in loving and honest discipline. They must also correct errors and refute false teaching, so that the church will not be led away from the truth of Christ. Above all, they must constantly watch over the flock in prayer, calling upon God to guard and protect his people from every attack of the evil one.

Mark 4:14-20; Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 21:15-17; Acts 6:2-4; 20:17-35; 1 Tim 3:1-7; 5:17; 2 Tim 3:14-4:5; Tit 1:5-9; Heb 12:12-15; 13:17; Jam 5:14-16

 

Image credit: abcdz2000, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/old-bible-1246026