Thursday, April 12, 2012

what, exactly, are pastors and teachers supposed to do?

Ephesians 4: 11-15

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, 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.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Some twenty years ago I heard a brief but memorable discussion of what Ephesians 4:11-15 discusses about Christian leadership by a Pentecostal youth pastor.  Yes, you read that right, a Pentecostal youth pastor. 

He explained that the purpose of the pastor and the teacher is to equip Christ's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. He put it this way, and I paraphrase quite broadly:

My job as a pastor is to teach you how to understand the Bible so you can follow Jesus yourself, so that you will know how to interpret the Bible and not be swayed by false teachers, so that you will do the work of being the body of Christ.  The big misconception people in the church have is that pastors do the work of the ministry.  Pastors do the work of the ministry but that work is that we pastors should equip you to do good works to build up the church.  Our ministry is to train you so that you can be ministers of Christ to anyone around you.  A pastor who thinks his job is to do the good works himself is crazy and not reading the Bible correctly.

Again, I very broadly paraprase a message this Pentecostal youth pastor hammered at for years.  I can say that in my case that message stuck. Sometimes equipping the saints means instruction.  Sometimes equipping the saints means encouragement or exhortation.  Sometimes equipping the saints means stepping aside to let someone get something done or take some advice from someone who knows what they're talking about. Sometimes equipping the saints means a pastor or teacher should be honest enough to hear a question and then honestly say, "I don't have an answer for that question but let me go study the Scriptures to see what I can find out."

Those good works do not necessarily always mean inviting people to your church so they can hear the pastor preach and become a disciple of Jesus.  Yeah, there's that, too, obviously, but not every member of the body fulfills the same purpose and not everyone has the same gift.  I used to kick myself for not being that door-to-door end times witness guy.  I don't have that issue now.  I outgrew "wretched urgency" around the time I realized that forty years of Hal Lindsey style end-times freak outs had still not lead to Armageddon and yet snake oil salesman in each decade managed to announce that through careful Bible prophecy study they have worked out that the book of Revelations was referring to something new that could be fulfilled in just a few years.  A great way to part people with their money is to pull that stunt.  If you can't hack it as a science-fiction or horror writer you can run on the fumes of problematic applications of dispensationalist/futurist eschatology. Before you comment, yeah, I know there are more responsible exponents of dispensationalism. I don't agree with it but I do realize that not all dispensationalists are cast from the Hal Lindsey mold. 

But at the same time, grant me this point, that the year in and year out freak-outs about how this or that thing indicates the Mark of the Beast keeps changing.  Twenty years ago the Beast was going to be the European Common Market and some Syrian was going to be the Antichrist.  Now that a black Democrat is in the Oval Office, curiously, the new End Times timeline has been reworked to reflect new fears about what will potentially destroy America. How does this kind of endless, paranoid prediction racket equip the saints to do anything other than give vent to racial, political, ethnic, religious, economic, and social prejudices that, were they following the teachings of Christ, they might be called to repent of in maybe a couple of areas in their lives?

I've seen a lot of Christians scour the scriptures to find out when the Tribulation is happening and fearing being stuck in that time.  Whoever is meant for the sword will meet the sword, you know.  There's also those words from Jesus saying "In this world you will face tribulation but take heart, I have overcome the world." American Christians, honestly, sometimes seem more apt to experience tribulation at the hands of each other than actual persecution from the world. How this manages to equip the saints is hard to discern.

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