Philosophy of Pastoral Ministry


I am convinced that the chief metaphor for pastoral ministry in the scripture is oversight/guarding of souls (e.g., Heb 13:17; Acts 20:28; the imagery contained in the words ‘pastor’ and ‘overseer’). All the other tasks of pastors come under this aim and are controlled by it. The overseer is one called by God and set aside by the church to give himself to watching over the souls of the congregation as they make their pilgrimage to the Celestial City. As part of guarding souls, pastors are also involved, personally and by leading the congregation, in evangelism, bringing more souls to safety in Christ.

It is important at the outset to state the consistent New Testament pattern is for plurality of pastors/elders. Much confusion about pastoral ministry today results from the failure to acknowledge this. While it is very often practical (and, I believe, permissible) for the body of elders to delegate special responsibility to one of their number who leads in teaching and serves vocationally (i.e. a senior pastor), it is important to make clear that the elders are peers, sharing responsibility and accountability.

The way in which pastors guard the souls of the congregation is mentioned in Acts 6 where the apostles stated their two priorities: the ministry of the word and prayer. I will take these up in inverse order.

  1. Prayer- The pastors watch over souls by regularly and earnestly praying for the church as a whole, its vision, mission, unity, health, impact, etc. Even more so, they guard the souls of the people by interceding for each one individually on a regular basis, praying for spiritual health and growth. In this they imitate the Chief Shepherd who said to Peter, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail" (Luke 22:31-32).
  2. Ministry of the Word- Paul in Acts 20 describes his ministry of the word as being characterized by holding back nothing that was profitable, indeed preaching the whole counsel of God, and teaching ‘both publicly and house to house’ (Acts 20:20). A number of important issues are seen here. First pastors are to preach the whole counsel of God- the entire breadth of biblical revelation. Secondly, there are two explicit aspects of the ministry of the word: public and private/personal. Implicit in Paul’s concern to remind of them of the kind of life he lived among them (cf. also 1 Thess 2; 1 Peter 5) is a third aspect of the ministry of the word- personal example.

A. Public- The public aspect refers to the pulpit ministry where the entire congregation is systematically and regularly taught. This is the bedrock of the ministry of the word (indeed, I would suggest the bedrock of pastoral ministry as a whole) because here the entire congregation can be reached and the whole counsel of God can be addressed. It is for this reason that the key distinguishing trait required for a pastor is the ability to teach (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). The primacy of this task is seen also in the fact that Paul singles out for ‘double honor’ those elders who ‘work hard at preaching and teaching’ (1 Tim 5:17).

In the public teaching the pastors guard the souls of the people by exposing, warning of and rebuking error and sin, teaching and reveling in truth and showing how this is to be lived out. In short, they are teaching the people how to make the journey and are inviting others to join the journey.

B. Private/Personal- While the public teaching is paramount, to be fully effective it must be followed by less formal occasions where scripture can be applied directly to specific applications. To watch over the souls of their people pastors must watch for and seek out opportunities to speak truth into the particular issues of each members life, bringing out all the ways scripture is profitable- teaching, correcting, rebuking and instructing (2 Tim 3:16). The evangelistic ministry of the word is most effective on this level as well- one to one and in small groups.

Excursus: Evangelism

When the apostles in Acts 6 referred to the ministry of the Word, the context would clearly suggest that this involved both instructing the church and evangelizing others. Both must be a part of the work of the pastors. I believe the primary focus of the gathered meetings of the church should be to instruct the church (discipleship) and evangelism occurs most often outside the church (where the people are!) as believers engage the world both formally and informally.

C. Personal Example- If the pastors are to guard the souls of their people by teaching how to know and follow God, then they must also provide an example by knowing and following God themselves. Without this, the teaching will be a sham. This is what is suggested by the various character qualities required in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1. This is seen when Paul is at pains to explain the way he lived at various places. This is why he says to the Philippians ‘join in following my example’ (Phil 3:17), or to the Corinthians, ‘I exhort you, therefore, be imitators of me’ (1 Cor 4:16). Peter also urges elders ‘to be examples to the flock’ (1 Peter 5:3).

In this way the pastors guard souls by confirming the veracity of what is taught, showing that it does work and is possible, and providing a tangible example to follow. This also protects the congregation from the harm which comes from the moral failure of one expected to lead.

Many things that a church does are not mentioned here because the elders/pastors do not do everything in a church. Rather they labor in the ways described above ‘for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ’ (Eph 4:12). In closing, I believe Colossians 1:25, 28-29 provides a wonderful summary of the goal of pastoral ministry:

Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God… And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

This is my general philosophy of pastoral ministry as I understand the Scriptures. It does not say everything but it lays out the primary goal and the primary means for achieving that end. How this is specifically lived out will vary depending on many things including the specific needs and abilities of the congregation and the specific gifts of the pastor.

 

Personal Application

Col. 1:25-29 can function for me as a mission statement for the pastorate. The goal is to be used of God so that on the final day individuals can be presented to God Himself complete in Christ (cf. Eph 5:25-27). To accomplish this, the New Testament regularly places an emphasis on the teaching ministry, and I believe that teaching is my primary spiritual gift. Teaching the Word of God is what I was created to do.

This emphasis on the ministry of the Word does not preclude other activities but shapes them. Weddings and funerals are key opportunities to speak the Word of God into the lives of people, as are counseling situations and pastoral visits. However, for a pastor to be useful there must be a priority of time given to the Word and prayer. Otherwise when he is amongst the people (publicly or privately) he will have nothing worthwhile to say. In the pastorate there is always more to be done than there is time in which to do it. Therefore clear priorities are important, and it is important for the church to understand them.

My ultimate priority, as for all believers, must be glorifying and enjoying God Himself (cf. Westminster Catechism, Q1). I assume this is obvious. Paul has this in mind when he refers to disciplining himself ‘lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified’ (1 Cor 9:27). In this area the challenge and accountability of the other elders will be invaluable.

Then, my first ministry, as with all husbands, is to shepherd my own family. 1 Tim 3:4-5 makes this abundantly clear:

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?).

Failure in this area means disqualification from the office. Because of the importance Scripture places on this area and because of the many examples of pastors who have failed their families in ‘service’ to the church, I would ask the church and the leadership to help, encourage and challenge me to keep my priorities straight here.

My second ministry, then, would be to this church and unbelievers within our reach. In this ministry, as mentioned above a significant priority would be given to preaching and teaching. To do this well significant time is required. The understanding and support of the church, the other elders and other staff would be essential for this. As an extension of the teaching ministry I feel called to a writing ministry. This would be one facet of the churches larger impact on the world around us.