PASTORS AND TEACHERS
Written by Doug Ponder on May 23, 2013
Good Pastors Are Good Teachers
The apostle Paul wasn’t exaggerating when he said to his apprentice Timothy, “Keep a close watch on your life and on your doctrine . . . for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Because of the huge impact of a pastor’s life and teachings, for good or for evil, Paul also warned Timothy to entrust this responsibility only to “faithful men who are able to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). In a similar way Paul exhorted Titus, another of his apprentices, to appoint only pastors who “hold firm” to the gospel and are “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). In other words, Paul saw the pastoral calling as being inherently and inescapably theological in nature.
How A Pastor’s Theology Shapes Everything
If you think about it, every encounter in counseling, every dilemma in ministry, and every explanation of the gospel all have deep theological dimensions that need careful theological application. Every time a pastor speaks or makes a decision he is doing so on the basis of his theological convictions. This is what led one Christian author to conclude, “The abandonment of theology is a betrayal of the pastoral calling.” Indeed, without the ability to understand difficult truths or the ability to communicate them clearly to other people, pastors will become little more than “communicators” of a hollow message or “managers” of shallow congregations that have been largely emptied of the power of the gospel. Pastors therefore must be men who are well-grounded in both their knowledge of the Scriptures and their understanding of other indispensible concepts that will affect innumerable issues in ministry.
Many of us bristle at this notion. “It sounds so harsh, judgmental, and unloving,” we may think. But one of the reasons we feel this way is because we live in a highly pluralistic culture. We think that just about every idea is a good idea, so long as it was done with “good intentions.” But as the old proverb rightly warns, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Deep down we know this is true, even if we don’t like it on the surface. Forest fires aren’t started by people who want to burn trees down, for example, but by people who want a fire without knowing how to contain it. In a similar way, many people are lead astray by pastors who want to “do the right thing” without knowing what the right thing actually is.
Sound serious? It is. The apostle James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
Where Should We Go from Here?
If you’re a pastor, our prayer is that you realize the inescapably theological dimensions of your calling. Everything you do in your ministry necessarily reflects what you believe, either for great good or for great harm, depending upon the accuracy of those beliefs. In the face of this reality, it would be easy to get scared about making any tough decisions. But disobedient inaction is not any better than foolishly misdirected action. Instead, we hope that you will pursue relationships with members of your staff, as well as other men who serve in churches near you, that will offer help to you as you think through difficult issues. Furthermore, we urge you to never stop reading. Read widely (not just authors you already agree with), and read often. The applicability of God’s command to study to show yourself approved (2 Tim. 2:15) did not end with seminary; it continues in earnest because of the responsibility you have to lead your church through your teaching and your character.
If you are someone who is not currently serving as a pastor, we hope that you will be moved to pray for the men that God has placed in the leadership positions of your church. Pray for their hearts, especially that they would be resistant to temptation and quick to repent of sin. Pray also that God would grant them great clarity and humble confidence about the direction of the life and ministry of your church. These men will one day be required to give an account for what they taught (James 3:1) and for how they led (Heb. 13:17), so pray for them often.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.