What is the role of a pastor/minister? What is my job description if I am a pastor? I reckon that the way a church member answers this question often diverges enormously from how the pastor would answer it. And let’s not even speculate on how an outsider would answer it.
What is the role of a pastor/minister?
If you are a pastor, or employed in vocational word ministry of any variety, your employment arrangement probably has some form of job description. Some elements will reflect the way your church is organised (e.g. convene the board of elders), some will reflect the purpose of church gatherings (e.g. preach at least 3 Sundays in 4), and some will reflect a philosophy of ministry (e.g. equip and train the home group leaders). And almost certainly, there will be an element of strategic leadership (e.g. develop a 5 year plan for growth).
It is a fascinating and informative to compare this with the instructions Paul gives to Timothy and Titus to shape their pastoral ministries. Here is a sample from 1 and 2 Timothy:
- Command teachers of false doctrines to stop (1 Tim 1:3);
- Fight the battle well, holding onto faith and a good conscience (1 Tim 1:18-19, 6:12);
- (Ensure that) prayers and petitions are made for all people, including those in authority, especially by men (1 Tim 2:1-8);
- Ensure that (only) suitably qualified people serve as elders and deacons (1 Tim 3:1-13);
- Point out to believers the truths of the faith, and be nourished by them himself (1 Tim 4:6);
- Train yourself to be godly, rejecting godless myths (1 Tim 4:7);
- Command and teach the truths of the faith and their implications (1 Tim 4:11);
- Set an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity (1 Tim 4:12);
- Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching—being diligent and undistracted, so that everyone sees your progress (1 Tim 4:13-15);
- Watch your life and doctrine closely, persevering in them (1 Tim 4:16);
- Ensure that widows in genuine need are cared for by the church (1 Tim 5:3-16);
- Ensure that elders are honoured appropriately, protected from false accusations and held accountable (1 Tim 5:17-22);
- Flee from the love of money; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love endurance and gentleness (1 Tim 6:11);
- Take hold of eternal life (1 Tim 6:12);
- Command rich believers to not be arrogant or put hope in wealth, but in God and so be rich in generous good deeds (1 Tim 6:17-18);
- Fan into flame God’s gift to you (2 Tim 1:6, 1 Tim 4:14);
- Suffer for the gospel, not being ashamed of Paul or the gospel (2 Tim 1:8);
- Keep the pattern of sound teaching = guard the good deposit entrusted to you (2 Tim 1:13-14, 1 Tim 6:20);
- Entrust the gospel to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Tim 2:2);
- Suffer like a good soldier/athlete, farmer as you work hard (2 Tim 2:3-6);
- Reflect on Paul’s words to gain understanding (2 Tim 2:7);
- Remember the gospel—Jesus Christ raised from the dead, descended from David (2 Tim 2:8);
- Keep reminding God’s people of the gospel, and warn them about corrupting quarrelling (2 Tim 2:14);
- Do your best to handle the word of truth skilfully (2 Tim 2:15);
- Flee the evil desired of youth; pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2 Tim 2:22);
- Gently instruct opponents in the hope God will grant them repentance (2 Tim 2:25);
- Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of (2 Tim 3:14);
- Preach the word, in season and out, correct, rebuke, encourage, with patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2);
- Keep your head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5);
That is quite a list! It seems easily capable of keeping Timothy hard at work 8 days a week. Many of the instructions come under the heading of ‘Ministry of the Word’. Many others are about behaviour and lifestyle—living out gospel values as a model for others. Some are unclear to me, like Timothy’s ‘gift’. Is it an endowment of an ability or a responsibility?
But where is the strategic leadership? Some of us will feel relieved that it isn’t listed by Paul, because we find it the most difficult aspect of our job as pastors.
But I want to suggest it is there in Paul’s instructions to Timothy; it just isn’t in the shape we might expect. Paul is deeply concerned about the future of Christianity, especially as he pens 2 Timothy. He is very aware that his time is done, his race is run. And things are grim—everyone in Asia has deserted him and Christ. False teaching and godless chatter are decimating God’s church (1 Tim 1:3-7; 4:1-4; 2 Tim 2:16-18; 3:1-9, 4:3-4). What’s the strategy, Paul?
We see Paul’s strategy, firstly, in his solemn charges to Timothy to ‘guard the good deposit’—the true gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13-14). Christianity is a message about what God has done in Christ to graciously save sinners (1 Tim 1:12-17; 2 Tim 1:9-10). If that message is lost or distorted, the salvation it proclaims is also lost. So Timothy must preserve it pure and secure. That is an essential first step in Paul’s strategy.
Publicly contending for and commending the true gospel is a central plank of Paul’s strategy.
But preserving the gospel does not mean locking it in a safety deposit box in a bank, away from corroding threats. Timothy is to preach it, teach it, content for it, correct opponents, shut false teachings down, even if it brings shame and pain or even death. Publicly contending for and commending the true gospel is a central plank of Paul’s strategy for the present and future preservation of Christianity.
Entrusting the Gospel
And there is another, critical element to Paul’s strategy. Timothy is to entrust this gospel to reliable people, who will be able to teach it to others (2 Tim 2:2). This seemingly simple command is so rich in concepts and connections, it is worth dwelling on it in detail.
They must be faithful people, because the baton of the gospel will be passed to their hands.
First, it involves Timothy identifying some reliable people among his congregation. Although Timothy is teaching all the flock (and others) patiently and persistently (e.g. 1 Tim 4:11-13; 2 Tim 2:14, 4:1-5), he is to be selective in this task of entrusting. He is to identify faithful people in his church who have the capacity to teach the gospel to others. They must be faithful people, because the baton of the gospel will be passed to their hands. If they drop it or bend it, the gospel will be lost and people won’t be saved. Like Timothy, they must become people who guard the good deposit, by treasuring it and teaching it. We are not told how Timothy is to get them onboard with the crucial role they have to play in the strategy, but it looks like he will need to persuade them of the huge importance of the task.
Second, it involves Timothy entrusting the gospel to them. This is clearly much more than ensuring they understand the gospel accurately. They must also be deeply convinced of its incredible value and be armed against threats to its purity. They will need to be committed to guarding it—even at the cost of their lives.
Like a Father
It will also involves a substantial investment from Timothy. We get many glimpses into the way Paul entrusted the gospel to Timothy in the NT. It was done in the context of doing ministry together. Paul writes of how Timothy, as ‘a son with his father, Timothy has served with me in the work of the gospel’ (Phil 2:22). This is the language of the family business, in which the son learns his father’s trade by doing it alongside him; like an apprenticeship, but more deeply intertwined. And now Timothy is to do a similar thing with a select number in his church.
It’s not a succession plan, so someone can take over from Timothy; it’s a bigger vision.
This is a growth strategy. Timothy is not to do this to only one or 2 people, but to multiple people. It’s not a succession plan, so someone can take over from Timothy; it’s a bigger vision. If Timothy is effective in the task, there will be a growing surplus of people, equipped to take the gospel to new frontiers and opportunities. They will be ready to plant new churches; strengthen existing churches, reach new people groups and subcultures.
The Many through the Few
It appears that in Paul’s mind, the key to future growth is people: investing deeply in a few. Underlying this strategy seems to be the conviction that the key to the health and growth of God’s work on earth is the quality of the leaders and pastors. Reliable leaders grounded in the gospel will ensure the health of churches. Multiplying reliable leaders will open the door to fruitful expansion of God’s churches.
And if I have understood Paul rightly, this task of selecting and recruiting reliable people, and entrusting the gospel to them, is an essential part of your job description if you are a pastor or ministry leader. It wasn’t an optional extra for Timothy, and neither is it for us.
Selecting and recruiting reliable people, and entrusting the gospel to them, is an essential part of our job description.
The Scriptures don’t provide a formulae or curriculum for doing this entrusting ministry. It could be done over years with a few people committed to children’s ministry in your church, as they sit under the preached word, study the Bible richly, get training in the Bible and teaching it, receive mentoring in theology and ministry practicalities. Or it could be done by inviting such people to quit their jobs, and come work together in ministry over a couple of years. If you haven’t recognised it, this sounds very much like the sort of ministry training that MTS (Ministry Training Strategy) has been promoting and provoking over the last 30 years.
It is critical to notice that this strategy of entrusting the gospel to reliable people is mainly implemented at the local level. We ought to be looking around at the people God has embedded us with to identify suitable entrustees; to invite them to have the gospel entrusted to them, and to do the entrusting. We can’t avoid this task; we can’t outsource it (although the contribution of theological colleges is vital).
As I have discussed this with pastors and Christian leaders in Australia and a few other countries, they inevitably say, ‘This is what we need in ________’. But they are often don’t see the inevitable conclusion to draw, ‘This is what I need to do’.