Sunday, August 14, 2005

Praying Abut Your Calling?

“Getting the Role of Pastor Right Again”

John H. Armstrong

[Visit "Antiphon: Theological Soundings on Modern Ideas", John's Blog at]

For a long time I have had serious doubts about many of the models of pastoral ministry used and promoted in the West. These models range from academic and biblical teacher models to chief counselor and care-giver. In my estimation they all fail the biblical test at some crucial point, and some fall even further short than others. Worse still these various models generally hinder the church from being the church in the best sense. Until these models are radically altered I do not believe that we will see the kind of renewal that we need in the church in America.

Put very simply, the primary vision of ministry that we gave to pastors, from the time of the Protestant Reformation right down to the present, has been that of a well-trained teacher explaining the Bible to the flock. In response to the specialized priestly role that had developed among the leadership of the church over the course of centuries, the Reformers recovered the centrality of the preaching of the Word of God and restored a pulpit to the church. For this recovery I am profoundly grateful. But, it was by this means that the minister became the primary teacher of the flock in time. When seminaries arose they were specifically designed to prepare the pastor to be the primary specialist in Bible and theology and thus the best teacher in the local church setting. (In reality, Calvin saw two different roles in the Ephesians 4 description of "pastor-teacher." He thought the church was best served by two different persons, the pastor who cared for the flock and the teacher who was the resident theologian who made sure the truth of the gospel was preserved and taught.)

In this development the Bible was central. And the pastor's chief task was to teach it faithfully. By the late twentieth century this role had undergone significant changes as the church began to respond to the modern era. By the 1980s the pastor has become a counselor-therapist in many settings and then, in an even more important shift, the pastor became a manager, or CEO. The stalemate that resulted was huge. On the one side we have people arguing that the pastor should be the scholar/teacher of the flock. On the other we have the pastor as management consultant/visionary/CEO. Other roles pop up now and then but among evangelicals these are the two dominant ones in most of our churches.

I have publicly argued that the first model is primary, at least since the 1980s. I have generally remained skeptical of the second. I am now prepared to say that I can not argue for either as primary. While the second is quite unacceptable, lacking clear and sufficient biblical support, the first is also distorted and lacks biblical support as well, though in a much less obvious way to some. How can I make such a seemingly conflicted statement?

My short answer is simple. To equip the people of God to become meaningfully engaged in the worship and mission of God in Jesus Christ is the primary call of God upon the pastor's life (Ephesians 4). Teaching, at least as an end in itself, is not the pastoral role. But when we make teaching the Scriptures the goal then the pastor who can handle the text faithfully (which, I submit, he must be able to do), and preach like a trained professional, can leave the ministry at that and soon believe that by preaching he has done the job. Put even more crassly, he can feel that he the job is done if he is faithful to the test and what the folks actually do with the teaching is not his real burden at all. He can learn to leave the results to God and the people, and feel he has done his job.

But if the pastor is to “equip [Christ’s] people for works of service [ministry]” (Ephesians 4:12a) then I believe the pastor can only complete the work Christ gave to him when he has taught and prepared the people so that they can be engaged in the mission of Christ, namely service. The verse that follows these words in Ephesians 4:12 further adds that this equipping is “so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12b-13). Pastors, in other words, are not given to the church to simply teach it great truth. They are given to teach people in such a way that they are “equipped” to minister. This is, if the truth is honestly faced, an entirely different calling from simply teaching well.

Based upon this rather simple, but striking profound, observation I deduce the following:

Churches that place the primary emphasis of the pastor’s ministry upon communicating content, as an end in itself, are likely to be satisfied when the teaching content is solid and the manner of delivery done well.

Churches that make the congregational worship experience a “classroom gathering” are less likely to become missional, while at the same time they often continue to believe they are faithful.

Churches that see the ministry as simply a teaching office will inevitably see this as an end in itself. And such a view is commonly rooted in conservative doctrinal contexts precisely because these models are the ones that can best explain clear doctrine and correct false teaching, while giving the impression that this is an end in itself.

The correctives for this problem include:
The teaching of faithful ministers-which must be clear, sharp and doctrinally based-must intentionally be aimed at leading people to become involved in mission and ministry. Every-member ministry is not just a 1970s fad, it is the biblical model lost throughout much of the church’s history. We need to develop the truth, still virtually unknown in the West, that the members of the church are the “informal” everyday missionaries of our movement.
The faithful pastor must himself learn how to become a missional equipper intentionally. In most cases this will require massive effort since schools did not teach him this approach. This calls for honest evaluation and must be undertaken in faith before God.
Churches and schools must make it a priority to prepare leadership that is not primarily about priesthood, or simply teaching solid content, but about mission. The Western church has had a bad case of missional amnesia for decades. Only by facing up to this problem can it be changed. Professors who teach future pastors must not teach theology, church history, and Old and New Testament studies as an end in themselves. They must teach them as missional equippers who are helping prepare servants for the church. From Genesis 12 to the last chapter of Revelation the Bible makes it clear that we are blessed by God’s grace in order to be a blessing to the nations. We must recover this in every aspect of ministry and preparation.
Pastors must stress mission to the world over separation from the world. As the Christendom model increasingly fails this will becomes more and more obvious. This means we must become less and less interested about who is in and who is out. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are meant to provide the real boundary markers and churches that recover their proper place will be better able to pursue mission.

Sine I wrote my first draft of this article a fine piece by my friend Glenn Wagner came to me own box and helpfully addressed this problem. Wagner writes:
But when you look at the church in other parts of the world, we see a different picture. We find that 40,000 people a day are coming to Christ in Latin America, 70,000 people a day in China. The greatest numerical revival in history is happening with the two notable exceptions: Western Europe and North America.
When you fess up and shut up long enough to listen you find out the reason. The American Church uses a corporate model of leadership and the global church uses a biblical model of leadership. They have figured out that to lead a spiritual revolution, you must use spiritual models. In short, we have to “rethink leadership” so that we are driven and informed by the sacred rather than the secular (“Rethinking Leadership,” August 1, 2005, available at:

We clearly need a new reformation in the West. Wagner is right when he says new tools and methods are not the answer. He, like me, calls for a new foundation, an entirely new priority in the ministry. The reformation that we need must provide a number of serious correctives to the traditions that we have assumed to be biblical. One such corrective will be to get the role of the pastor right in terms of the mission of the church as seen in Ephesians 4. Shepherds who know how to love and equip sheep to minister to others will be the job description of the pastor if we are to experience reformation.

Reformation Revival Ministries
PO Box 88216
Carol Stream, IL 60188ph : (630) 221-1817
fx : (630) 653-3050

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