Among the many different considerations that occupy the current needs of the church, this one topic must head the list. The simple question, “What does a pastor do?”, is a monumental question to ask. It is crucial for the needs of the church in so many ways. It is also a need for the pastor to “check in” once in a while to make sure he is being faithful to his calling.
Let’s start by stating what a pastor is NOT to do. This little series will predominantly be taken from a perusal through the Pastoral Epistles of the New Testament (1, 2 Timothy, and Titus). All three letters were written by Paul, the old apostle at the time of writing. He bore the task of carrying the gospel of the kingdom of God to the greater areas of the known world of that time. He was the man who, although not single-handedly as he had many co-laborers, took the gospel to the “uttermost parts of the world” (Acts 1: 8). He suffered much and had tremendous disappointment and hardship during his years as an apostle. He writes of himself, reluctantly,
2 Corinthians 11:23–29
23 Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.
24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.
26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;
27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
How many pastors can say this? Not me. However, his task is my task. His responsibility is my responsibility. Therefore, if our work is the same, the proclamation of the gospel, the results will likely be the same as well.
Let’s consider what a pastor is not to do from the Pastoral Epistles, taken predominantly from the portions that begin with “Do not…” (NASB):
1) Do not give your time to learning false doctrines:
1 Timothy 1:3–4
3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,
4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
As an elder, Timothy must resist doing what Paul here is telling Timothy to rebuke in the other erring elders. Timothy must not teach heterodoxy. He must not teach “other doctrines” (ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω, same word as in 1 Timothy 6:3). A “strange doctrine” is one not taught by Jesus Christ. The church seems pummeled by “strange doctrines.” May none of the them come from pastors!
2) Do not neglect your giftedness and calling:
1 Timothy 4:14
14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.
It is assumed that a pastor has some kind of internal and external validation of his ministry. A pastor cannot appoint himself (cf. Matthew 23:1). He must be recognized and drawn into the work by his own righteous desires and the approval of other godly men/elders (1 Timothy 3:1). Once verified, he cannot look back. To neglect, here, means to “be unconcerned for; care nothing about.” It is basically apathy towards the reality of the work and need. There is nothing more important than the task of oversight of God’s people. There is no work that matches the work of the preaching and teaching of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-4). What can possibly do what the Word can do? What lasts into eternity like this work? To neglect this calling is to be apathetic towards God Himself as He is not apathetic toward this work. Jesus Christ spent His ministry simply preaching and teaching, of course accompanied by proofs of His ministry. Our only proof is the written Word. When we are in accord with that, our ministry is validated. Our ministries can be neglected in a number of ways:
- treating it like a job, and not a life-work.
- pursuing hobbies with greater interest.
- failing to receive appropriate education/equipping in order to dispense your task with precision.
- the love of sleep.
- the love of luxury.
- the disdain of hardship.
3) Do not wrongfully address others in the church:
1 Timothy 5:1–2
1 Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,
2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
A pastor has to rebuke at times, well…often. However, to “sharply” rebuke someone else who demands honor is wrong. That is not to say that they should not be rebuked. It is to say that in doing so, a pastor, especially a younger one, must remember to whom he is speaking. An older man demands, by mere age, respect. He is to be honored. He is to be listened to. He is to be given place as one made in God’s image. However, when he is wrong, or headed the wrong direction, he must be rebuked by one with spiritual authority via the Word of God, the pastor. But, to speak to an older man like he might a younger, inexperienced, foolish, man, is deplorable.
4) Do not listen to hearsay:
1 Timothy 5:19
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
A pastor must protect and guard his fellow pastors. He must not listen to the complaint of others in the church toward another pastor without examination. That is not to say that they cannot be listened to. It is to say that to formally charge a pastor for wrong-doing on the basis of one complaint is wrong. Look for others who might agree with the complaint by means of factual data. If none exists, do not receive that complaint. It is simply an accusation.
5) Do not place men into leadership too quickly:
1 Timothy 5:22
22 Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.
Over the years, I have heard from other men this recurring comment: “I put a man into leadership way too soon, and it has devastated this ministry. Removing him from ministry has split the church, or is about to.” I never want to be in that position. Take the time to examine a man first (see 1 Timothy 3:10). What kind of man are you looking for to assist in leadership? Here is a short list:
- Regenerate – he must demonstrate evidence of regeneration.
- Faithful – the one characteristic that evidences eldership raw material. He is faithful in his home, his work, and with doctrine.
- Godly – don’t use the leadership position to make a man godly. He must have a level of godliness before entering. Of course, being in leadership sanctifies you, but not from ungodly to godly. Rather, from godly to more godly.
- Submissive – he is willing to himself submit to other leadership and especially the Word of God.
- Supportive – he willingly, wholeheartedly, supports the teaching pastor’s doctrine and preaching. To chafe against the public teaching of the Word of God is to evidence disunity and possible hostility/jealousy toward the teaching pastor.
If Timothy were to place a man into that position who was not ready, then Timothy himself would be guilty of the sins that that man may commit while in leadership; sins of pride, laziness, false teaching, or abuse of authority.
If a man simply builds his ministry starting with these preventative admonitions, he will be on his way toward faithfulness to the One who called him into that ministry. I am convinced that Paul knew exactly what he was saying in these letters. And, when followed, these instructions will direct, guide, and commend a pastor in his service to Jesus Christ no matter his location.