Friday, January 10, 2014

The Local Church Pastor as Resident Theologian

It is practically impossible to be a pastor today.

At once, it is expected of a man to be a preacher, a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, a community organizer, and a church activities coordinator. Added to those titles we might suggest also: social media expert, financial administrator, organizational manager, and head of staff.

Among all those just listed, the role of preacher is the only one I can defend aptly in Scripture (2 Timothy 4:1-2). The other duties, while seemingly necessary from time to time, (and certainly expected from our people) are tangential at best to our calling as local church pastors.

It's time we return to our biblical mandate.

Nevertheless, I want to add an important duty to those given above to the job description of the pastor. One often neglected by evangelical church leadership today: that of resident theologian. The Apostles of the New Testament--and especially Paul in the Pastoral Epistles--are jealous to see local church pastors (or elders) steeped in the richness of Biblical doctrine, functioning in their local churches as healthy and robust theologians.

Consider some words of exhortation from Paul,
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed (1 Timothy 4:6). 
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).
 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). 
Notice Paul's emphasis on doctrine. Never more than today should the weighty role of "resident theologian" be necessarily placed back upon the shoulders of local church pastors. Never more than today is it incumbent upon us to return our people to the depths of truth contained in Christian orthodoxy!

I see at least three reasons for this:

1) We live in an age of biblical illiteracy. Like it our not, many of our people (not all) are simply not drinking deeply enough from the Scriptures anymore. If some of the folks in the pews today are even doing daily devotions at all, it likely comes from the "self-help" or self-esteem oriented formats so dreadfully common among Christian publishers today.

Most devotional material is presented as "life application" or "principles for better living." Rarely are the laity mining the Bible for the richer truths of the Christian faith. Christology, pneumatology, soteriology--these are foreign concepts to most of the popular devotional materials in today's Christian literature.

2) Many of our people today (again, not all) are largely disconnected from the theological treasures of the Christian heritage that we have inherited from our forefathers. Not only are many Christians not reading their Bibles, but they struggle mightily to comb through even a page of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Edwards.

Although the refreshing waters of biblical theology from previous generations are more available today through electronic, digital, and other means, they are unfortunately more neglected than ever before as well. The pastor serves--functionally speaking--as the local church's sole bridge to the abundant blessings of Christian history.

(I don't mean to be unnecessarily negative about all lay people; many are more diligent in their studies than their pastors! I am, however, concerned with the general direction of the evangelical church today). 

3) Finally, the questions that our people are asking are not going away. The people in our pews are still asking deep questions regarding the purpose of our existence, the mysteries of God's being, and the meaning in our sin and suffering. These perplexities have not dissipated.

The nature of mankind, the inner disturbances of the soul, our wranglings about guilt (especially in the area of sexual ethics) are not easily answered apart from a robust biblical doctrine. Our people will eventually go somewhere when the deeper questions of the human experience arise. Let us hope that they can come to us rather than to the secular culture to have those questions answered.

Pastors, we have an incredible job description before us. Humanly speaking, the expectations upon us are massively unrealistic. We will simply never be able to accomplish all that is expected from us. To be all that people want us to be.

But please--don't neglect your role--as resident theologian.

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

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