WHAT IS THE PASTOR’S ROLE?
Since starting seminary this question has been on my mind more and more. After all that’s the reason that I am here: to learn what it means to be a pastor so that I might faithfully live out that calling upon ordination. But what is a pastor’s job? What’s his role?
For the sake of full disclosure, I have yet to take a course on pastoral theology and the nature of the ordained office, but what’s funny about being at seminary is that there are as many answers to this question as there are people. As I’ve been dropping in on the conversations of my fellow students it is kind of funny to hear what their responses are. Of the responses that I’ve heard there are a couple that keep cropping up in some form or fashion:
- The pastor is the administrator of Word and Sacrament
- The pastor is the under-shepherd over God’s people
- The pastor is like a COO, overseeing the proper order and operations of the church
- The pastor is like a CEO, pushing forward and safeguarding the vision and values of the church
- The pastor is the lead missionary
- The pastor is a preacher and teacher
While there is probably some truth to all of these things, what I’ve found in each of them is that they are, essentially, task oriented. Each of the distinctions describes things that a pastor does, but none of them answers the “Why?” Why does the pastor administer Word and Sacrament, serve as under-shepherd, oversee the church, safeguard vision and values, and so on and so forth? What is the goal of the pastoral office? What should drive the heart of a pastor?
As I’ve been thinking about this, my mind keeps coming back to one verse from Scripture:
[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
~Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)
If I were to sum up the heart and passion of the pastor it would be this: to present everyone mature in Christ. And I emphasize the everyone in that verse. Here is the pastor’s call to both ministry and missions in a nutshell. We are called to reach all people, the churched and unchurched, the lost and found, the Christian and the non-Christian, with the Gospel message and help them grow up as mature men and women in Christ.
This calling to help all people grow into maturity in Christ is the end to which all of our pastoral activities must be directed. Whether serving the sacraments, stewarding the resources of the church, teaching and preaching from Scripture, or leading the body of Christ in evangelism, justice, and mission, we should always strive to help people grow in Christ.
Sadly there are times when I think our church’s traditions have fallen far short of this glorious calling. Too often the pastor becomes the Bible answer man, the one to whom everyone goes with their questions. And sadly, pastors have enabled this mentality rather than helping the people of God grow in their own understanding of Scripture and how to apply it to life. I see this immortalized in the pastor-led Bible study, which, in many cases, is simply another sermon before or after the Sunday morning service. But this is not the only way in which I see this take hold of the church. I can think of several congregations in which the pastor is the sole leader of all forms of ministry, from small groups to outreach events to mercy ministries. Why? Because the pastor is the “called and ordained servant of the Word,” as if everyone else is just a spectator or a cog in the church machine.
I would submit that this is not only unhealthy, but it is unbiblical. Paul’s desire was that everyone would grow to maturity in faith.; that they would increasingly see their lives through the eyes of Scripture, living lives submitted to Christ and helping others to do the same. And our role, as pastors, is to serve this end. This is why Paul writes:
And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
~Ephesians 4:11-16, emphasis mine (ESV)
This is my calling as a pastor: to serve the world so that as many people as possible might grow to full maturity in Christ. This is the end to which I endeavor. This is the calling which I must seek to live out.
So, as I continue in this seminary journey I am trying to keep this in mind. My driving question must be: How can what I’m learning be used to help people grow to maturity in Christ? And it is my prayer that those under my care, whether in my field education church or at my home church, would daily grow up in Christ, to the glory of God. Amen.