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?

Marks of a Good Pastor (Part 2: Charges You Not To Quarrel)

marks-of-a-good-pastor-2A good pastor is a man with regularly reminds his members of the gospel. He keeps the truth that God reigns, that man is sinful, that Jesus saves, and that we must repent in front of his congregation. He will not let them forget the gospel. (Click here to read more about the first mark)!

But for the faithful pastor to make much of the gospel. He must also downplay something else. He must neglect worldly philosophies and ideas. After telling Timothy to remind his hearers of the gospel, Paul instructs Timothy to “charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does not good, but only ruins its hearers.”

Not The Red Letter Pastor

Now some hear these words and rejoice. Paul’s words appear to be an “Aha” passage of Scripture for them. These red letter Christians are tired of pastors who talk about sexual ethics, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality. They are tired of discussing church polity, baptism, and sanctification. They just want Jesus. They want the Jesus of the Bible and can happily jettison all those unessential things mentioned above. They want  additional stuff of doctrine to be pushed aside so that they can delight in the goodness of Jesus. “He’s all we need,” is their chant.”

Paul seems to be agreeing with the red letter folks at first glance. He appears to be saying that all our discussions about marriage, reformed doctrine, and church polity do no good. Away with controversy. All we need is Jesus.

But Paul is not siding with the anti-doctrine crowd. If we place the verse back into the context of 2 Timothy, we see that Paul thinks all of the Bible is important. He tells Timothy to guard the good deposit and to entrust what he has learned from Paul to faithful men (1:14; 2:2). And in chapter 3:14-15 and again in chapter 4:1-4, Paul champions the full gospel. Four 1:1-4 states:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Timothy is supposed to preach the Word. He does should not just focus on the red letters. No he gets to Jesus through the preaching of the Word.

When we step back from the gospel and seek to find the “true” Jesus, we find only confusion. The heretic Bryan McClaren correctly noted that at least seven Jesus exists in Christendom today. We have everything from the Conservative Protestant Jesus to the Liberation Jesus. We do not get the “true” Jesus when we abandon the larger message of the Bible. We do not get unity, peace, and harmony. When we mistakenly seek just Jesus, we find confusion, dismay, and disunity.

Jesus is the Word become flesh. John 1:14 states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the Word become flesh. And he is not just the red letter words in the flesh. He is everything. Every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter and book points to Jesus. When Jesus was walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he did not champion Jesus only movement. He did the opposite. Like 24:27 says,

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus revealed himself through Moses and the Prophets. The story of creation, the Red Sea, and of David where not useless words that lead to ruin. These narratives and the words of all the prophets all pointed to Christ. They were all essential. They were all needed. If the God of the universe, our savior, and our Lord prizes all of the Bible, we do not have the freedom to ignore any part of the Bible. Martyn Lloyd-Jones   prophetically warned in 1981:

 So to refuse to consider doctrine is not only to refuse to believe in the Bible as the Word of God, it is insulting to God Himself. If God has chosen to use such terms as righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, then it is our duty to face those terms and to consider their meaning; it is dishonoring to God not to do so.

We must read, study and value all of Scripture if we hope to find, worship, and follow the true Jesus.

Pastor Avoid The World’s Ideas

When Paul tell us to avoid quarrelsome words, he is addressing the words of the World. He is teaching us that we most avoid being entangled in the arguments of this world. We must not welcome the world’s opinions into the church. We must not derive our sexual ethic, or our parenting strategies, or our view of senior adults from our popular culture, from social media, or even from the academy. We must not ask the world for help when seeking to live and master all the intricacies of life. In Colossians 2:8-9, Paul expands on this topic writing,

 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ.” For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

To go to the world, to appeal to the academy, and to submit to popular opinion is to be taken captive by the world. And the world is not in harmony with Christ. Human tradition, common sense, academic wisdom, and natural inclinations will not lead us to joy and happiness and fulfillment. Those things are found in Christ. All of the deity, all of the goodness, and all of the power that we need to survive and excel through life are found in Christ. Hence Paul tells us that worldly quarrels do no good.

When the World calls to us and says it has a better way forward for the tired parents in the room, for those overcome by alcohol, for those struggling with depression, and for those struggling with sexual sin, we must ignore the world’s cries. We must be like Odysseus and tie ourselves to the mast of God’s Word. We must not listen to the smooth sounding and beautiful calls of the siren. If we listen to them and embraces the world’s ideas in our church, we are crash into the rocks of life and our lives and churches will be shattered. We will experience ruin.

Time and again this has been proven true. The world has championed cohabitation and has labeled marriage old fashion. Yet, those who cohabitate before marriage are worse suited for marriage. They are 33% more likely to get divorced than those who do cohabitate. Moreover, the average relationship lasts twenty-two months. And 1 of every 5 women who cohabited will become pregnant. Cohabitation does not lead to lasting relationships but to unstable homes and single parenthood.Similarly, those who embrace the LGBT lifestyle are more likely abused by their girlfriend or boyfriend and are three times more likely to consider and to attempt suicide than those who do not embrace their lifestyle (CDC).And those who have an abortion do not find liberation and a fuller life. Most who lose their baby this way find despair and broken. Those who have an abortion are 25 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 23 times more likely to use marijuana, and 15 times more likely to consider suicide than women who have not had an abortion.

The church must not embrace the world’s view of sexuality or identity, or success. The church must stand for truth. If she get caught up int he world’s debates about marriage, sexuality, and life, she will lead her people to ruin. However, The church should be quick to offer hope and support to those who experience the hardship associated with the above decisions. We have the truth and comfort that the hurting are seeking. To hide God’s love and comfort from those who need it most is intolerably cruel. But the she must never abandon truth. She must never look to the world for wisdom, affirming the world’s destructive ideas to be good. The faithful pastor must do the same. He must warn his people to flee the harmful teachings of the world. Puritan Richard Baxter rightfully noted,

Friendship must be cemented by piety. A wicked man cannot be a true friend; and if you befriend their wickedness, you show that you are wicked yourselves.

The pastor who deserves your respect, your support, and your affirmation is the man who points you back to the gospel and who charges you not to quarrel over divisive words. Pray for your pastor to be such a man. And if you pastor fails to preach or to warn, speak to him and encourage him to once again befriend the gospel and sound teaching. Is your pastor calling you to remember the gospel and to avoid quarrelsome words?