Some preachers inevitably believe that the preaching ministry is primary and pastoral ministry flows from the preaching ministry of the pastor. However, this is simply not true. While preaching is certainly one of the roles of the pastor, preaching is not all that a pastor does. In reality, what needs to be asked is, what is the main role of the pastor? It is my contention that the primary role of the pastor is his teaching ministry. But that statement also needs some clarification. What is the pastor’s teaching ministry? The teaching ministry of the pastor encompasses everything he does.
In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul repeatedly uses various forms of the Greek term didaskalia. This word is translated as doctrine or teaching. Paul uses the term to show Timothy and Titus the need to teach and guard right doctrine. It should be understood that a pastor does not just teach and guard doctrine only from the pulpit. He certainly can do so in his preaching, but once he steps off the stage, he does not cease to teach and to guard. Preaching is vital because it is the pastor’s best opportunity to speak to the entire congregation at one time. But his preaching ministry should be a doorway that leads to more opportunities to teach and guard right doctrine. With the Pastoral Epistles in mind, and with this understanding about the teaching ministry of the pastor, a few points of application are worth noting.
The Teaching Pastor Guards the Truth
Every pastor must understand that his primary role as a teacher is first to guard the truth. The truth here is God’s Word. He is to guard it with every aspect of his ministry. Specifically, though, two ways that he is able to do so is: (1) in his preaching ministry and (2) by being a pastor-theologian. Everything said above was not written to take away from the preaching ministry. It is certainly a vital part of church life. This is, perhaps, the pastor’s main way of guarding the truth. But it is not the only way.
As I said, he must also be a pastor-theologian. Malcolm Yarnell said, “One of the shepherd’s primary roles is that of being the congregation’s official teacher or theologian. As the flock feeds on the Word of God while it grazes in the world, the shepherd-theologian ensures that verdant fields are available to his congregation and that dangers are avoided.”Malcolm Yarnell, “The Shepherd Who Protects the Sheep,” in Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd, ed. Deron Biles, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 114. By being a theologian who studies theology and teaches theologically, the pastor will be better equipped to guard the truth.
The Teaching Pastor Guards the Church
In order to guard the church, the pastor must do three things: (1) protect the sheep, (2) exercise proper authority, and (3) lead his flock into maturity. In order to protect the sheep, the pastor must counter false doctrine. This is closely tied in with guarding the truth. While the pastor guards the truth by teaching right doctrine, this also protects the sheep. Not only does he teach them right doctrine, he counters false doctrine. This is precisely what Paul was telling Timothy to do in 1 Timothy 1.
Secondly, the pastor must exercise proper authority. This does not mean the pastor becomes a dictator. Rather, the pastor’s authority comes directly from the Word of God. David Allen wrote, “Only the written words of Scripture can give authority to your preaching.”David Allen, “Feed the Flock,” in Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd, ed. Deron Biles, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2017), 37. While he was strictly talking about preaching, this statement can be applied to all areas of a pastor’s ministry. A pastor who is submitted to the Word and rightly handles the Word will exercise his authority through the Word. Thus, if a pastor is going to properly guard the church, he must exercise his authority in the proper way. He must teach and lead according to the Word of God.
Finally, he must lead the flock into maturity. One of the key passages from the pastoral epistles that speaks to this need for maturity is 2 Timothy 3:16–17. Paul says the Word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” For a pastor to properly guard his church, he must teach the Word so they can become mature believers. And not just from the pulpit, but in everything he does. Why is maturity so important? As Yarnell noted, “It should go without saying that the role of the shepherd-theologian is not for him to fulfill the ministry of the church but for him to equip the people to fulfill the ministry of the church (Eph. 4:12).”Malcolm Yarnell, “The Shepherd Who Protects the Sheep,” 115. The pastor guards the church by leading the flock to be mature believers who recognize false doctrine and who are ready to fulfill the ministry.
The Teaching Pastor Guards his Character
Of all the things a pastor does within his teaching ministry, maintaining his character is the most significant. In fact, it is so significant, Malphurs calls it the “first ingredient for building leadership credibility.” He goes on to say, “Because it earns people’s respect and, most important, produces trust, character is the most crucial factor in all relationships. Your vision for ministry, your strategy, even your ability to communicate the Bible, are all less important than your character.”Aubrey Malphurs. Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 56. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” The teaching pastor has to guard his character or else nothing he does will matter.
The reality of pastoral ministry is that preaching, the one thing most pastor’s look forward to, is only one element of the teaching ministry of the pastor. Once he steps away from the pulpit, his teaching does not cease but rather extends to everything he does.
|↑1||Malcolm Yarnell, “The Shepherd Who Protects the Sheep,” in Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd, ed. Deron Biles, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 114.|
|↑2||David Allen, “Feed the Flock,” in Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd, ed. Deron Biles, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2017), 37.|
|↑3||Malcolm Yarnell, “The Shepherd Who Protects the Sheep,” 115.|
|↑4||Aubrey Malphurs. Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 56.|