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).
I 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.
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