Avoiding Unbiblical Expectations
In a previous post, we discovered that pastors do not have to fit into a predesigned pastoral mold. In other words, we do not have to wear Saul’s armor.
Every pastor brings a unique “gift mix” to his ministry, including a distinctive personality wiring that may range from introverted to extroverted, from big picture to detailist, from thinking to feeling-oriented, and from highly scheduled and organized to spontaneous and flexible.
Therefore, we want to avoid creating unbiblical expectations for what pastors should do.
Thom Rainer, former President of Lifeway Christian Resources has also pastored several churches. He once surveyed his church leadership coming to a shocking realization that the congregation’s expectations for his average workweek included a minimum of 114 hours spread over a multitude of church and community activities.
What was most distressing to him was the realization that, while he really loved everyone, he would never be able to please everyone. Unless he refused to sleep, he would be a pastoral disappointment, never able to achieve the approval ratings he wanted.
Neither will I.
Neither will you.
Still, a question begs to be asked.
Does the Bible give any specific hints as to what we should expect of a pastor, regardless of gifting or temperament? Are there any common denominators that determine pastoral faithfulness? What should he do with his limited amount of time as a non-omniscient being?
There are a number of passages in the New Testament that give us some direction concerning the baseline indicators of what a pastor’s focus should be.
One is in 1 Corinthians 4. In verse 1 he writes, “This, then, is how you ought to regard [i.e., objectively evaluate] us: as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the mysteries of God.”
In Classical Greek, the term hyperetes first occurs with reference to Hermes, the messenger of the gods. It denotes one who does the will of Zeus in the name of Zeus and with the authority of Zeus. In verse one, Paul uses this classical Greek term to describe the pastor as a servant-messenger of Christ.
The pastor/apostle took his marching orders and his job description from the Lord of the church. This divinely commissioned messenger was to do what the people needed him to do, not necessarily what they wanted him to do.
He was to do what the people needed him to do, not necessarily what they wanted him to do.
Those entrusted (lit, “stewards,” “a manager responsible for the house”) as messengers of God were responsible to maintain and promote “the mysteries.”
What are the mysteries of God? The truth of God contained in the gospel as revealed in the whole counsel of God.
In Jude 1:3 the mysteries are referred to as “the faith [the doctrine] that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
The conclusion is that the essential role of a “teaching” (senior) pastor (not necessarily a shepherding/ruling elder/pastor or a staff pastor who focuses on administration or pastoral care or a specific ministry) is an equipper of the saints who reveals the mysteries of God’s word through teaching and preaching.
Did you notice the common thread in that definition? Teaching. Okay, so I love that.
The essential role of a pastor is to be an equipper of the saints who reveals the mysteries of God’s word through teaching and preaching.
Through the ministry of preaching and teaching, a pastor is to unveil the wonder, beauty, and transforming power of the gospel.
That is his essential and primary role. This is what he can do that no one else in the church can, which is to feed the sheep as the lead/senior shepherd/preacher/teacher.
This is what Jesus told Peter to do when the fallen apostle was reinstated to his ministry following the resurrection of Jesus. His charge to Peter was simple: “feed my sheep.”
How? Through teaching and preaching.
This does not mean that the pastor stands aloof from the congregation from behind a podium merely to address large groups of people without personal contact.
No, the metaphor of pastor as shepherd requires him to know the sheep on a more personal level. This is one reason why I have instituted open office hours on Wednesday afternoons, a time when anyone can make an appointment or just drop by.
Yet as the pastor engages with the sheep out of the pulpit, his role as “pastor” is still one of gospel example and instruction.
Paul demonstrated this during his ministry in Ephesus. Upon his departure from that ministry, he told the leaders of the church in Acts 20:20, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”
Paul’s ministry was preaching-centric, whether in public or in smaller contexts.
An Effective Model
We see the effectiveness of this teaching focus in passages such as Acts 2 and Ephesians 4.
- Acts 2:42–47, “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together (to hear the apostles teach) and breaking bread in their homes (think community groups), they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Teaching and living life together was a simple model that began to change the world.
- Ephesians 4:11–16, “11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers (offices), 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (with a healthy diet of truth and grace), 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (doctrine), to mature adulthood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
In 1 Corinthians 4:2, Paul continues to describe the essential role of the teaching pastor: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
So, what does it look like to be faithful with such a responsibility?
Paul defines this faithfulness in two other key passages:
- 1 Timothy 4:6, 13–16, “6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed… 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.”
- 2 Timothy 2:15, “15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
On this pastoral description offered by the apostle Paul, Richard Pratt comments, “[Pastors] should be evaluated only by the standard of fidelity to Christ — their trustworthiness in handling the mysteries entrusted to them”–not by personal preference of what we want a pastor to be, or by cultural models.
While there is much more than a teaching pastor may do (according to gifting and temperament), there are certain tasks he must do (according to a calling to the office).
Like preach and pray.
Even if some people do not value these twin towers of pastoral ministry, Jesus does, and he calls pastors to love the sheep well by faithfully forming Christ’s church spiritually through teaching and by caring for them in prayer.
Much like an awareness that personality types are neither good nor bad has set me free to be a much more authentic pastor, realizing that the Bible gives clear baseline (biblical vs cultural) expectations for the role of the pastor has also set me free.
I hope it will set you free, too, so that you can love the sheep well by feeding them a steady diety rich with gospel nutrients that are tethered to the cross of Jesus.
Putting It Together
Now that we have identified the uniqueness of individual pastoral gifting and wiring, as well as discerned the essence of pastoral ministry as teaching and preaching the gospel in the context of the whole counsel of God, we may consider some next steps.
There are some areas of weakness in which I want to grow for sure. However, just as Paul told Timothy to “fan the flame of his gifts,” I think pastors should staff to their weaknesses and focus on their strengths (at least focus on the primary role of a pastor’s role).
After all, my core gifting and personality is not going to change.
May I be as bold as to say it shouldn’t change.
God designed me to be an introverted, big-picture thinker who structures his time around completing tasks. Nothing sinful there or anything for which I should apologize.
The question is this. What will it look like for me to be the most sanctified, loving, best version of me as a pastor that I can be for my wife, children, church, and ultimately for the glory of God?
I believe that the best way for me to love the way the Father desires is for me to devote myself to what I do best and what I most enjoy, not necessarily what someone else can do best or what others expect me to do differently.
A wiser pastor than I once quipped, “Play to your strengths and staff to your weaknesses.” Not bad advice.
Be encouraged by Paul, who said, “Am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
This is where faithful pastoral ministry begins. Not in seeking approval ratings from people but having the approval of God in the gift-righteousness of Jesus, which gives us the freedom and boldness to “devote [ourselves] to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13)