August 8, 2021
The Good News: What’s a Pastor to Do? Rev. Dr. Paul A. Day
Ephesians 4:1-8, 11-16
Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” On the Cross Jesus gave himself for us that we might have New Life in him. But that is not the end of our Lord’s giving!
This morning we resume our series in Ephesians. In Chapter Four we read that “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ” and that our Risen and Ascended Lord “gave gifts to his people. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers . . . .”
The theme of Ephesians is about Being the Church. Chapter One sets forth our Identity and Purpose, or Mission, in Christ. Chapter Two stresses the importance of Unity for the Body of Christ. Chapter Three has Paul’s prayer for us that we may know the “breadth and length and depth and height” of the love of Christ. As we turn to Chapter Four we look at the functioning of the Church — in particular, the role of “pastors and teachers.” That is especially important as First Congregational Church of Gray embarks on a search for a new settled Pastor and Teacher.
Ephesians 4:11 states, “The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” These all refer to offices, or functions, within the church.
- Apostles: Of course, we think of the Twelve, but there are others in the New Testament who are also called apostles, including at least two women, Phoebe and Junia. We might think of bishops, Conference ministers, or others who serve in positions of leadership in the wider church. Another equivalent of an apostle is a cross-cultural missionary.
- Prophets: In the Bible prophecy is less a matter of predicting the future than of proclaiming God’s truth – “speaking truth to power.” Such prophets call the Church to the forefront of the struggle for justice and peace.
- Evangelists: While all of us are called to bear witness, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those around us, there have always been a few people who are especially gifted in leading others to faith – George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Graham, et al.
- Pastors and Teachers: Here are those who have been called to a specific role in a local congregation. It is an open question whether pastors and teachers are two separate positions – such was the case among our Puritan forebears. (By the way, in colonial Congregational churches it was the “teacher” who did the preaching; the “pastor” was the leader, responsible for soul-care.) In most U.C.C. churches today we call a single person to the office of “pastor and teacher.”
So, then, what’s a Pastor and Teacher to do? Let us look to what Paul wrote in Ephesians, as well as to Paul himself. My friend, Dr. Scot McKnight, has examined Paul’s Letters from the perspective of his role as Pastor Paul;* for Paul was not only an “apostle to the Gentiles,” he also served as a “pastor and teacher” to congregations of Christians in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, and Thessalonika—to whom he wrote the epistles.
I was ordained to the ministry 42 years ago. The Service of Ordination included my vows to serve the whole Church, setting aside personal opinions when necessary and accepting the discipline of the Church. In the tradition in which I was ordained, I and those with me were set apart to “preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and bear rule in the Church.” The first two are self-explanatory; bearing rule refers to accepting responsibility for the welfare of the church. It is the role of a servant-leader. Jesus had said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant . . . just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25b-26, 28)
How did Paul exercise that servant-leadership? Let’s look at Ephesians 4:1-6 —
1 I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Notice that Paul does not command but appeals for the members of the churches to humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love — and he modelled such behavior in his own dealings with the churches. As a good pastor, his over-arching concern for the churches is unity and peace. Notice the seven-fold proclamation of our One-ness: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all! (In the Bible the number seven represents wholeness as well as the Divine.)
Paul goes on to point to the role or function of pastors and teachers — Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” . . . 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
(Note: The omitted verses 9 & 10 are a parenthetical statement.)
So, what’s a pastor to do? Working backwards: First, a pastor works for the unity of the Church – a unity based on faith (trust) and the knowledge of the Son of God – that’s the teacher part! Second, a pastor is given for building up the body of Christ. The Greek word “building up” is borrowed from architecture, constructing a building; metaphorically, the people of God are God’s Temple, so it means to “edify” the church. Third, and most importantly, a pastor does not do the ministry but equips “the saints for the work of ministry.”
A congregation does not hire a pastor to do ministry, but calls a pastor and teacher to equip the whole congregation for ministry. As the bulletin reminds us every week — “Ministers: All the People of the Church.” Indeed, verse 16 (below) stresses that the “whole body” – every member contributing – “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
How that equipping works out varies with the particular gifts of each pastor and teacher. Some are better at preaching or crafting worship, others at teaching small groups; some in “hands on” activism, and others in one-on-one people skills.
There are many good models for pastoral work. When I was in college, my home church was served for a time by one of my college professors in an Interim Ministry: Dr. Harvey Blaney modeled for me the scholar-teacher with a pastor’s heart.
Early in my ministry I discovered Eugene Peterson, another biblical scholar and pastor whose writings have challenged me and kept me grounded in the Scriptures as the basis for ministry. In The Unnecessary Pastor** Peterson argues that pastors are “unnecessary in three ways in which we are often assumed to be necessary:”
1) “We are unnecessary to what culture presumes is important: as paragons of goodness and niceness” and “custodians of moral order.”
2) “We are also unnecessary in what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding a congregation together.”
3) “And we are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as the experts who help them stay ahead of the competition. . . . Congregations get their ideas of what makes a pastor from the culture, not from the Scriptures: they want a winner; they want their needs met; they want to be part of something zesty and glamorous. . . . With hardly an exception they don’t want pastors at all—they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won’t have to bother with following Jesus anymore.”
That is a strong indictment, but consider: There are some not-so-good models for being a pastor. In Seminary in the 1970s most Pastoral Ministry courses took psychology and sociology as their basis. While the social sciences can provide helpful insights, not everyone is called to a professional counseling ministry. The Church Growth Movement of the 1980s combined sociology and salesmanship to create the ideal pastor. In a similar vein the rise of mega-churches has caused many churches and pastors to look at other business models – e.g., the pastor as CEO.
Again, each of these fields can provide important insights. I just ordered a recommended book— Preaching and the Thirty-Second Commercial: Lessons from Advertising for the Pulpit.*** It may be a source of some helpful insights, but it is not a substitute for the Bible.
The result of taking our ideas from culture instead of the Scriptures has been growth in numbers – and often not even that! – and certainly not growth in discipleship.
You see the goal is not mere numerical growth but discipleship, or cultivating maturity among the followers of Jesus. Paul gives us the standard for measurement: “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (v. 7) And pastors and teachers are “to equip the saints . . . until all of us come . . . to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (v. 13) Our standard for maturity is Jesus Christ himself! Paul goes on — Ephesians 4:14-16 —
14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
The measure for maturity is Jesus Christ and specifically, the love of Christ. Not just “speaking the truth in love” but “truthing in love” – living a life of love with integrity! When “each part is working properly” the whole body “builds itself up in love.” But what about when each part is not working properly? Every congregation, at one time or another, experiences disfunction. Then, the question, What’s a Pastor to Do? takes on a different tone.
Look again at Paul’s ministry as a model. In his letters we find Paul often dealing with difficult situations in the churches that he pastored. For example, his relationship with the church in Corinth seems to have been particularly fractious. And at Philippi Paul tried to reconcile two church ladies who had a falling out – Euodia and Syntyche – stressing how they had “struggled beside me for the work of the Gospel.” (Philippians 4:2-3)
I recently saw this meme on a Facebook clergy group post:
The two kinds of Pauline epistles are
1) We are heirs through unfathomable grace to unimaginable glory
2) I am as a personal favor begging you sick little freaks to act normal for five minutes
Here in Ephesians, we have both Paul’s soaring rhetoric of our One-ness and a reminder that “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” as well as a blunt appeal, “I . . . beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
So, as First Congregational Church of Gray moves forward in the search for a settled pastor and teacher, may you be guided by Scripture in your expectations of What’s a Pastor to Do? May you continue to do the work of the ministry. And always hold your pastor – bridge, interim or settled – firmly in your prayers.
*Scot McKnight, Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church, 2019.
**Marva Dawn & Eugene Peterson, The Unnecessary Pastor, 2000.