Marks of A Good Pastor (Part 3: An Approved Worker)

mark-3Why should your pastor want to walk into his small, jam-packed office this morning? What should he be about while his burning the the candle? Your pastor should jump out of bed tomorrow morning because he desires to be approved by God. The apostle Paul writes to his beloved son in the faith in 2 Timothy 2:15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Why should Timothy, Paul’s mentee in the faith,  want to be a pastor? Why should your pastor desire to step into the pulpit this Sunday?

Paul tells us that our pastor should be driven by a desire to present himself to God. He should wake up each morning eager to stand at attention in God’s army, declaring that he is with God and ready to be used by God. He should seek to present himself to God as one who is approved and as one who is ready for service.

And what service should your pastor be about? Paul tells us. He says that the pastor is a worker, someone who labors faithfully and who has no need to be ashamed of his efforts.

And what does the pastor work at? What should he be laboring hard at? What should drive him to awake in the morning? The Truth.

The faithful pastor is marked by a burning and incessant desire to study the Word of God. He labors day-in and day-out to cut a path through the dense forest of biblical thought so that he can declare the truths of Scriptures to others. He labors in his study so that his congregation can understand and obey the Word of God on Sunday. This is the work of the pastor and elder. God has blessed the church with deacons to help with the administration and the daily physical tasks associated with ministry (Acts 6:1-7).

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. – Acts 6:3-4. 

The pastor or elder should be motivated by a desire to please God through the faithful study and teaching of the Word. The pastor is primarily a man who studies and prays.

The pastor can and should visit. He can and should be involved in some of the church’s administrative decisions. He can and should be able to move chairs and able to change a diaper. The man who is too lofty to serve his congregation is too immature to pastor his congregation. Yes, the pastor must do other tasks. But his main task and function is to be the correct handling the Word of truth. All of the pastors and elders other gifts and ministries and the very health of the church depends upon the pastor’s ability to understand and declare truth.  As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said,

Visiting, or any other activity, can never compensate for a lack of preaching. Indeed I suggest that visiting will not have much meaning unless the preaching has been what it should be, and has prepared the way…Preaching prepares the way for all other activities of a minister.

If we want our church to thrive, we must encourage our pastor to faithfully and regularly study the Word of Truth. If our pastor becomes focused on facilities, visitation, counseling, or anything other than the Gospel, he will do harm to his church.

I heard a pastor once brag about neglecting his studies so that he could counsel more. He began to recycle sermon series and boasted about his changed focus. Before the next twelves months passed, his church was rocked by two different scandals.

41aOmdoo-sL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_I have heard other pastors boast in their lack of preparation and study, believing their refusal to preach certain chapters of the Bible to be a mark of wisdom. It is not.

Paul affirms the opposite. He says the faithful pastor works hard to understand, declare, and apply the Scriptures. The faithful pastor makes the study of the word his main focus. The pastor who cannot preach the whole Bible should not pastor.

Moreover if you desire to go into the ministry and if you believe God is calling you to pastor his church, you must be a student of the Word. You do not have to go to college or seminary to be a faithful preacher. Spurgeon had only the equivalent of a high school degree. But he was an avid learner, reading at least six substantive books each week.  If you do not like to read, write, and study, please stay away from the pulpit and from pastoral ministry. The ministry is for those who desire to diligently study the Word of Truth.

As we have seen in past blogs, the faithful pastor is the one who reminds his congregation of the gospel, who encourages his congregation to avoid ruinous words, and who faithfully handles the Truth as an approved worker. Is this your pastor? Are your praying for your pastor to be such a man? What marks characterize your pastor the man stepping into your pulpit?

Irrelevant: Pastors Don’t Matter?

irrelevantPastors do not matter. Seventy-five percent of Americans turn to resources other than their pastors when seeking to live out the Christian life. Only one in four Americans think their pastors have something relevant to offer when facing life’s problems. Commenting on these findings, David Kinnnamin and Gabe Lyons said,

You might say Christians leaders are viewed like a smiling greeter at Walmart: they might point you in the right direction, but after that you’re on your own.

I believe Christendom arrived at this troubling point by encouraging pastors to be professionals.

Pastors devote their time to preaching, developing programs, to sitting on committees and to a ton of other administrative duties. Because they are so busy with the ‘work’ of the church, they do not have time for the people of the church.

Well known, Baptists’ leadership groups encourage pastors to only briefly counsel with the people before passing those time consuming sheep off to the local psychologists. As Jared Wilson noted, “A sheep who wants to be feed is seen as someone in the way of the vision.” The pastor who goes beyond the occasional hospital visit and actually cares for his sheep is deemed by many church cultures to be a pastor out of focus. He is a pastor that has abandoned the growth of the church for people.

This sentiment is bizarre and yet very real. It is also grossly unbiblical. Christ was all about people. Paul was all about people. They were not all about programs and church growth models. Yet, most pastors today are all about creating programs and filling pews.

In their rush to grow the kingdom of God, many modern pastors have made the kingdom irrelevant to the very world they are trying to reach. These men have declared themselves too busy to deal with the messiness of people’s lives. As a result, they have communicated that the church and the gospel have no real solutions for divorces, embezzlement, abuse, pornography, and the many other sins that weigh down local church members.

Such an attitude of professionalism is deeply troubling because pastors have access to the most powerfully truth. They have access to the power of Christ which both saves and liberates men and women from their sin. When pastors bounce their church members out of their offices and into the sofa of the local, secular counselor, they are pointing their people away from truth to hopelessness.

As Dietrich Bonoffer wrote,

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. 

He goes on to say,

Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness.

The world has no power to liberate the drug-addict from sin. The secular counselor has no power to restore a broken marriage. The psychologist has no power to heal the depressed. The power to change, to power to have abundant life and hope is found in Christ.  2 Timothy 3:16 makes this reality abundantly clear,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I think many people do not value pastoral insight into their lives because their pastors have boldly declared for years that they have nothing to offer. In so doing, they have done great harm to their churches, to the body of Christ, and to our nation.

irrelevant-2The American church needs revival. It needs pastors who are not hooked on pornography and enraptured by their own self-aggrandizement. The church needs pastors committed to holiness. But the need even more than that. It needs pastors who are willing to shepherd their people. As Jared Wilson says, “we are not managers of spiritual enterprises: we are shepherds. And shepherds feed their sheep.”

At the end of the day, the pastor who will not counsel does not have an education problem. He has a gospel problem. As Bonhoeffer rightfully noted, “It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient in brotherly confession.” Pastors are poor counselors because they have a poor grasp of the gospel. If pastors believed the gospel was radically changing their lives, they would boldly offer that same power to their church members.

The solution is simple. Pastors need to get serious about the gospel.  They need to love God so much that they cannot help but daily seek to repent and change of their sins. They need to be men who regularly confess their sins to others and invite others to speak into their lives. “Every person should refrain from listening to confession who does not himself practice it.” As the power of Christ takes control of their hearts, they will have something to offer to their congregations. They will be able to put the power of Christ on display. They will become relevant again.

My dear friend, the test of the Christian is not his busyness and his activity, it is his knowledge of God, it is his knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. –Martin Lloyd-Jones. 

Pastors, how are you doing?