Ezekiel 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.”