Great Stuff — Understanding the Role of the Pastor: Called to Proclaim the Word

Another great post found over on Ad Crucem (To the Cross) by our very own Pastor Matt Richard — posted on BJS by Norm Fisher.

 

Pastor-HeadlessEzekiel 2:1-5 says,

“And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

The previous verses cover the calling of Ezekiel to be a prophet to Israel. God is giving Ezekiel a task, setting him apart, to go to Israel and proclaim His (i.e. God’s) message to Israel.

Now, first and foremost, we need to understand what a prophet is. I think a common misunderstanding is that a prophet is one who solely “tells the future.” While we certainly see that happening in the Old Testament, a much better description of a prophet is simply one who is sent to proclaim a message, a message on behalf of God. God is consistently in the business of calling people to proclaim His Word, His message. Moses was called to bring a message to Egypt. Jonah was called to proclaim a message to Nineveh. Isaiah was called too and so forth, etc… you get the picture.

As we think about this in today’s context, what about here and now? Does God still speak through prophets in today’s context? Yes he does, however, not in the way that you probably think.

As we look to the New Testament we see that the scriptures speak of churches, groups of Christians, calling/appointing and ordaining pastors for the local church. Furthermore, we see in the scriptures the duties of the Pastor laid forth. As a result the church has called and ordained pastors to serve in the local church for the past two thousand years. Thus we can say that the office or role of the pastor is a divinely instituted office prescribed by scripture. The office is laid forth for the church to have and for men to fulfill.

But what makes a pastor a pastor? Very simply, I am a pastor not because of some intrinsic worth in myself. In other words, Pastor Matt Richard doesn’t have a special DNA or special divine powers that make me a pastor. I am no closer to God than you are and I am just as much as a sinner as you are, if not more. So what then makes a pastor?  The answer is that a pastor is a pastor due to his calling from the local church. Churches call pastors and churches are made up of  parishioners. The church is not a building but the gathering of believers around the Word and Sacraments.  Thus, a pastor is only a pastor when they have been called by a local church to be a shepherd. Therefore my friends, there is no such thing as a self-appointed pastor.

When I was starting seminary, someone asked me why I was going to seminary and I responded to them saying, “I was called.” Responding they said, “You are not called for you haven’t been called by a church.” This offended me greatly, but do you know what? They were right! Just as God called the people directly in the Old Testament to be a messenger of the Word, God works through His church, to call pastors to proclaim the Word to the flock & beyond.

So, now that we understand that prophets of the Old and Pastors today need to be ‘called,’ what are they called to?

In my humble opinion, the expectations of a pastor are some of the most misunderstood things in the church today. Just what does a pastor do and what is he called to? I came across a very funny job description for the ideal pastor. Here is what it says,

The ideal pastor preaches exactly twenty minutes with an hour’s content. He condemns sin, but never offends anyone. He works from 8 am to midnight, and also serves as the church janitor. He makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years of experience. He is a strong leader, yet also follows everyone’s advice. He can effectively relate to all teenagers and spends all of his time with the elderly. He is tall and short, thin and heavyset, and has one brown eye and one blue eye. He makes 15 house calls a day, regularly visits the hospital, and is always in his office.

Now, we can all get a good chuckle out of the previous job description. I am sure many of you can relate to similar expectations in your own field of work. However, in all seriousness though, what is the pastor called to? If we could summarize the office of pastor into a simple idea, theme and job description, what would it look like? What was the primary thrust of the prophet of the Old Testament? Simply put, the pastor is to be the shepherd of the sheep. He shepherds, protects and feeds them not by his own strength or wisdom but feeds the sheep and directs the sheep by the Word. A pastor’s main job is to be a servant of the Words of God, God’s Word as printed in the Bible.

An older pastor once sent out an email to a bunch of young seminarians. (Note: seminarians are those that are in training for ministry) David Petersen said to them,

You are a servant of the Word. Follow Jesus. The Way of the Cross is a lonely, narrow path but it leads to heaven. Be more afraid of God than you are of the people. It is not the one who signs the check who provides daily bread. Do the right thing. Tell the Truth. Suffer the consequences. That is what a servant of Christ does.

It is the Preaching Office. Don’t forget that. Your relationship to the congregation is the same as the prophets to Israel. Work on teaching and converting your own people– which includes scores of folks not on the books. Preach the Gospel to them — from the pulpit, the podium, the bedside, and behind the desk. They come looking for marital advice? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They come looking for sympathy and a listening ear? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They have a new baby, lost their jobs, are afraid of retirement? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. No matter what the circumstances, what the situation, you preach Christ crucified. Never compromise the simple Truth that has saved you.

Believe your own preaching. Jesus died also for you. He called you to this Ministry. He knows what he is doing. As good or as bad as it gets, it will not last forever. He is coming back to claim His own.

The main job of a pastor is to proclaim the Word of God to his flock. He is to proclaim the Word, not his opinion. The pulpit is tied to the Word of God and the pastor is called to preach the Word. The pastor only has authority when he is preaching the Word of God and not the opinion of man. Furthermore the pastor has no jurisdiction apart from the Word.

So, pastors are called to proclaim the Word to their flocks, however, what is so special about this Word? Why the importance of proclaiming, teaching, sharing, applying God’s Word?

There is a temptation in the church these days to excuse the spoken Word in exchange for deeds. The cry is, “We don’t want creeds/words, but deeds.” My friends, while it is important for us to serve our neighbor, we can never forsake the Word of God. As human beings we are prone to wander and prone to leave the God that we love. Therefore, we need to hear daily and especially in the midst of the church, God’s Word. We need the Word to stand from the outside—in, speaking to us about our human condition of sin and also God’s solution, the forgiveness of sins found and purchased in Christ for us. We need someone to give us a report from the Word, we need the authoritative Word to stand outside of us and above us to tell us how things actually are.

We don’t need good advice, good techniques and good ideas to make us better parents, better spouses and better friends. No, we need God’s Word of Law announced to us to reveal sin, show us where we have been deceived, and indicate to us where we have injured our neighbors. We also need God’s Word of Forgiveness declared to us so that we might hear that we are forgiven, that we are declared righteous for Christ’s sake, that the guilt has been removed, that there is no condemnation for us in Christ.

The reason why the church calls pastors to proclaim the Word is that the message of the Cross is the power of God. In Genesis chapter 1 we read and see that God is speaking the World into existence out of nothing. God speaks, “Let there be….” And there was. Out of nothing God makes something and He does so by simply speaking, His Word. Through God’s Word He makes all things out of nothing. There is power in the Word of God! The same word that created the world is the same Word that creates and grants faith to you and me. (Rom. 10:17) The same Word that created the world is the same Word that creates and sustains the church. Through the Word of God miracles happen! You were/are saved. You are granted assurance. You are brought from death to life.

Pastors are called to proclaim the Word because in the Word of God everything hinges. My friends hear this today,

“Christ died for your and my sins and He was buried and He was raised on the third day. In Christ there is forgiveness and righteousness for you; in Christ, you are accepted, you are accepted, you are accepted.”

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Great Stuff — Understanding the Role of the Pastor: Called to Proclaim the Word — 9 Comments

  1. Great article. My only suggestion is to use a word other than “role.” As the sainted Doctor Korby used to say, a “role” is the language of theater or social sciences. We should speak of our vocation, office, order or station. You play a role. Pastors, parents, men and women do not have “roles”.

  2. Very well written and thought out. The only thing I was waiting for was for you to complete your distinction between pastor and prophet. There is a big difference between mediate and immediate calls. Just a thought. Prosit!

  3. Pastor Richard, thank you for this Faith-strengthening, Word-focusing, Christ-centered message. There are definitely quite a few good kernels of truth and topics presented in this essay.

    I wish you would have tied the connection between Pastor and Prophet much more towards the end. I say this, because of the many interpretations & confusion around the “5-fold ministry” of Eph.4:9-16 that “need to restored.”

    This is exactly the reason why here in Denmark, a new church was started after the turn of the new 20th century following in the same “Restorationist” spirit of the latter-half of the 1800s (Campbell’s Disciples of Christ/Church of Christ movement, Jehovah’s Witnesses & Millerites, even Mormonism …). This danish-origin church is called The Apostolic Church (http://apostolskkirke.dk/), a neoProtestant revivalistic church that resembles a Vineyard Church (oh yes, we have Vineyards now in Denmark also) or a mild Pentecostal or Charismatic congregation.

    Thank you for your good research and preaching work you do to hold-up Chirst and His Church (John 3:30 “He must become greater; I must become less.”)

  4. QUOTE:

    “No, the task which stands before us in this century [20th] is the construction of a theology (and as everybody knows, a theology always has to be something more than a theory) in which the problems of modern culture are thought through in a manner consistent with the two pillars of our religious thought: justification by faith and the Lutheran definition of the church.”

    from “The Lonely Way” vol I, chapter ‘American Christianity and The Church’ by Hermann Sasse.

    It is my experience for why non-Sacramental (sacramentarian) Protestantism and even some pietistic/revivalistic Lutheran bodies/synods have a low view of the Office of the Ministry (aka Pastoral Office) is because they have a low view of the Church, and … ultimatelly this comes from a weak view of what SIN is.

  5. From the main post: “We don’t need good advice, good techniques and good ideas to make us better parents, better spouses and better friends.”

    Many of us do, actually. After our relationship with the Lord those are the most important relationships in our lives, and to fulfill those roles better is to love better, to the glory of God. (1 John 4:7)

    Do you discourage parishioners from seeking good counsel in these matters? Where would you prefer that people find support? Are Christians not to encourage and help one another in practical ways in these areas? Isn’t that how we can love God and love each other? Are you against marriage encounter weekends, parenting seminars and caregiving workshops?

    Doesn’t the Bible itself provide generous practical counsel concerning marriage, family and friendship? Don’t pastors have an interest in communicating the “whole counsel of God”?

    Do you see only Law and Gospel in Scripture? Do you not also see the many passages that are neither bite of Law nor balm of Gospel but God’s loving instruction to his children, “You are blessed if you do these things”?

  6. Carl H,

    You raise a good question. Here are a few thoughts.

    1) Whenever someone seeks me out for advice on these matters I share with them whatever is applicalble from Scripture and my own personal advice if I have any and I always distinguish between the two.

    2) You would be surprised how little there is in Scripture about the things that you list. Study it yourself and you will find that it is 1-2% of all Scripture, if that. This does not surprise us because the Scriptures were written to bring us salvation in Christ Jesus. The Bible is not a handbook for effective, succesful, daily living.

    3) Whenever I counsel young couples before marriage I tell them that if they think it is a wise investment and if they need it they should spend a few hours with pscychologist to learn better communication skills or a few hours with a financial planner to learn about that. I focus on law and Gospel and tell them that if they continue faithful in the word, they will have a source of love and forgiveness that trumps any fight over money or lack of communication skills, etc. and that will strengthen them to forgive each other daily and build each other up. According to my office I am not a marriage counselor, financial planner, or wise old sage. I am a dispenser and steward of the mysteries of God, i.e. the means of grace.

    Hope that helps.

  7. @Pastor Tim Rossow #8

    Right on Pastor Rossow!

    @Carl H #7
    Carl H, you asked, “Are you against marriage encounter weekends, parenting seminars and caregiving workshops?”

    While many workshops can be valuable for practical advice, as a pastor my job is to go deeper than mere practical advice.

    Let me give you a brief example. I used to be a financial investment representative for a company of AIG. This background has proved to be very valuable when I do marriage counseling for parishioners, especially those who are struggling with finances. Thus, there are many times that I work on budgets, debt reduction, and so forth with couples. With that said though, that is not my main calling or my primary vocation. I have a good friend at Edward Jones that does a much better job than me and it is actually a part of her vocation. So, why do I take time to dabble a little with budgets, debt reduction, and so forth in marriage counseling situations? The reason being, I have yet to come across a couple where issues of sin and guilt are not lying beneath the surface of their financial struggles and generally speaking are the cause of all their financial problems.

    What this means is that couples who are struggling with finances probably could learn a lot from a weekend financial seminary taught by my friend at Edward Jones. However, what they ‘really’ need from me as their pastor is something that they will most likely not get at Edward Jones, and that is Law & Gospel. Specifically, they need the delivery of the Law to reveal their sin and show them where they have been deceived by the false financial idols of the world. They need God’s Word of Law to show them how they have wounded each other in their struggles over their finances. They also need God’s Word of Forgiveness declared to them so that they might hear that they are forgiven; that they are declared righteous for Christ’s sake; that their guilt has been removed; that there is no condemnation in Christ; etc…

    Though it has been awhile since I’ve read it, H. Curtis Lyon’s book was most helpful to me in understanding and emphasizing Law and Gospel beyond the pulpit (i.e., in counseling situations). http://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Cross-Using-Gospel-Christian/dp/0810003538

    You also asked, “Do you discourage parishioners from seeking good counsel in these matters? Where would you prefer that people find support?”

    I encourage people to come on Sunday mornings to hear the Word. I encourage them to make appointments with me if they are struggling and want to talk more thoroughly. And then if needed, I make referrals (e.g., a referral with a financial investment representative). But guess what? I would estimate that after hearing the Law and the absolving Gospel, that 90% of all my counseling visits rarely ask for the next referral or anything else beyond the Gospel. On the other hand, it has been my experience that people who come to me desperately demanding and wanting to accumulate good advice, good techniques and good ideas to make them better parents, better spouses and better friends are those that are most opposed to being confronted by the Law and the Gospel. It has been my experience in counseling that such demands are usually the result of individuals wanting to reform, tame, and master the old Adam.

    Great questions Carl H!

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