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Why I Think Non-Pastors Should Care About Pastoral Theology

(Lisa Robinson)

I’m not a pastor. I have no intentions of being a pastor even if I were affiliated with a denomination or church structure that would allow it. Yet, I find that I have quite an interest in pastoral theology, particularly as it relates to the pastors role in the church and shepherding the flock of God. I like to read and think about what makes for an effective pastoring. Now you may ask why I would be so concerned if it doesn’t apply to me. That’s a good question! But I am struck by a variety of reasons.

First, we have to consider the task of pastors from the perspective of a healthy local body. That means caring about pastoral theology is not so much about scrutinizing the ones in that role as much as it is seeing the broader picture of healthy church life. We can be incredibly self-focused and critical people and care only for what the pastor for us individually. But there is something much bigger than ourselves to consider – the body growing itself up together in love (Ephesians 4:15-16) So pastoral theology really is about a love for the church.

We shouldn’t care about pastoral theology to be critical. Yet, an understanding of the pastoral role is an issue of discernment. It amazes me when reports of pastoral malfeasance arise in the public eye and defended by those who question  Believe it or not, pastors do have job descriptions and qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-3.

Not only that but the New Testament gives strong support for the church to be governed by a group of elders. And by elders, I don’t mean a board of directors that give a yes vote to the pastor, but those who are actively governing the affairs of the local body.

Now, if your church is structured this way please don’t read what I write as endorsement to go nitpicking the leadership. That is not the intention. But I do believe that every church going believer should be aware that Scripture provides some pretty clear mandates for how the household of God should be governed. Granted there are varying leadership structures and we should have some familiarity with what those are. Ignorance on this matter makes it that much easier for transgressions to occur in the name of a self-proclaimed, God-given mandate. I think that is a sign of healthy pastoring is informing the congregation of what Scripture says about the pastoring responsibility that is rooted in what the breadth of Scripture concerning the nature and purpose of the church (not just cherry-picking some Old Testament passages out of context). 

Purves_pastoral theologyI am saddened when I learn of a church’s endorsement of a pastor who has veered outside of the lines of scriptural mandate, especially when it involves issues of ethical and doctrinal transgressions. It is a clear sign that that particularly body was unaware of the pastoral task. I don’t have all the empirical evidence, but a survey of stories that have come to my attention over the past several years suggest it typically involves the rogue solo pastor without proper accountability and spiritual abuse may be involved. I’m also grieved by the fact that modern pastoring has been defined more by strategic planning and marketing principles that are akin to a CEO type leadership than about the timeless practice of shepherding. I found this little book quite helpful in orienting the pastoral task in the classical tradition.

But more importantly, I believe caring about pastoral theology will infuse a greater respect for those who lead our local bodies. And this is the main reason why I think non-pastors should care about pastoral theology. Consider the immense responsibility that pastors/elders must bear: preserve the qualifications listed above, work together with unity to best lead the congregation and doing so in the face of opposition and personal issues that may be present.  Considering all the qualifications of the leader and their necessary preservation, that is a tremendous load and needs our support. The more we engage in reflection of the all encompassing responsibilities of leaders, the more it should drive us to our knees and pray for those who watch over the household of God. They need our encouragement and support and not just in October.

And please be especially supportive of the obscure pastor, as I wrote about here, whose labor goes largely unnoticed except in their sphere’s of influences. In our evangelical celebrity culture, these guys go overlooked.

Visit my blog at www.theothoughts.com

 

5 Responses to “Why I Think Non-Pastors Should Care About Pastoral Theology”

  1. In the light of Ephesians 4:11,12,13, Why aren’t prophets, evangelists, apostles, and teachers given equal weight in the church? Why are pastors at the forefront? Why only focus on “pastoral theology” at the expense of a full-orbed “ministerial theology?”

    Isn’t giving primacy to “pastoral theology” the reason why many pastors crash and burn?

  2. As I understand it the ministries of apostles, prophets and evangelists were instrumental in the formation of the first century church, but had no further function beyond that time. What they did and what they wrote still carries weight but these great servants of the Lord are no longer in the forefront of ministry because they are all dead (i.e. Asleep, a state in which there is no active responsibility ).

    The ministry of pastors and teachers continues and relies on (or should rely on) the authority of the earlier completed ministries. Of these the teaching aspect deals with the theory of Christian living, but the pastors are responsible for seeing it put into practice.

    There is no role so intimately bound up with the continuing life and growth of the Church as that of the pastors (or shepherds) – always a shared role, except for that of the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). The responsibility for a flock has always fallen on the shoulders of the shepherds (in both Old and New Testament language). That is the ministry that will always remain in the forefront, by definition!

  3. The ministry of pastors and teachers is a continuing one for the mature church as the others are not. The function of apostles is carried out in the Protestant world by missionaries to unchurched lands. Evangelists would be used to grow the fledgling church by carrying on the work the apostles started. Prophets yet have their place too, but they tend to live in “interesting times” – pray you don’t meet one!

    As far as the topic of the blog is concerned, I heard an excellent homily on the role of the shepherd just this morning. The Gospel passage was John 10:1-16, and the priest spoke on the example of St. John Chrysostom, who used his money and the church’s money to feed the hungry and clothe the destitute rather than eat sumptuously himself, turned the people of Antioch to repentance by his preaching after they invited the wrath of the emperor down upon them through riotous behavior, and unflinchingly stood up to the empress on behalf of his flock in Constantinople when she was in the wrong. He cared more for his flock than the trappings of power. In my experience as well, it is the solo pastor with little or no accountability that is the most likely to fail spectacularly. In my adopted Orthodox tradition, the sacrament of confession both assists the priest in shepherding his flock and helps to hold him accountable when he himself confesses his sins to another priest.

  4. Lisa.. could it be that the Lord has gifted you as a pastor even though you don’t operate within the accepted cultural practice of a pastor.

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