Recently my wife and I have been exposed to two very different kinds of pastors. One pastor seems to be bent toward a practical model for preaching that is seemingly less rigorous academically, while the other pastor has a great deal of academic interests that are clearly displayed in his preaching and on his blog. As a result of these disparate experiences, a series of questions have come up around the role and function of a pastor.

Does the title “pastor” necessarily involve teaching so that we could say that all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors? Perhaps pastors are called to serve the practical needs of people, whereas teachers are called to pursue academic interests and preserve doctrinal purity so that these two roles are not bound up in one person.

Even for those who understand “pastors and teachers” as one person, there is the related question around how much emphasis is to be put on teaching vis–à–vis pastoring? Granted it is easier to see the role of pastoring as having good people skills, but what exactly is “teaching?” Must teaching be academically rigorous or just plain, simple, fly-over, 40,000-foot, high-level principles within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy? Spare the details and the studies.

Conversely, how much emphasis must one put on pastoring vis–à–vis teaching? I’ve known a few gifted teachers who were hard-pressed in the area of caring for others. Yet I’ve know far more pastors who are academically challenged, biblically uninformed, and theologically credulous, but have a warm and caring heart for others.

Naturally, Scripture gives some guidance and I hope to shed light on these issues. Paul writes to the Ephesians…

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

—Ephesians 4:11-12

Does Paul have five distinct people in mind when he wrote these words or can one person fulfill more than one role? Although I have Harold Hoehner and Markus Barth on Ephesians (among others), I turned first to Clinton Arnold‘s discussion in his Ephesians commentary, since he interacts with the aforementioned. What follows are my reflections mingled with Arnold’s findings.

  • It is “Christ himself” who graces his Body with gifts for ministry. These are not career paths or roles that individuals choose for themselves, nor are they elected to these roles by a group of other people. Put differently, a title in the Church must not be held by a person(s) unless and until Christ assigns it. This is not to say that a local body of believers do not recognize Christ’s calling and assignment, but it is to say that selection of church leaders cannot leave out Christ as the primary one who gifts certain individuals to lead his people.
  • Whatever number of people Paul has in mind, the goal of these 5 duties is “so that the body of Christ may be built up.” How this goal is measured and that this goal is measured must be on the radar of every member in Christ’s Church. While church growth (numerically) may be a KPI (key performance indicator), it is certainly not the only indication of success. Put differently, spiritual maturity is not the same as numerical growth, though there could be a correlation.
  • Moreover, the maturity Paul has in mind is not accomplished by a select few, but by every member of the body (see, e.g., Eph 4:7 “each one of us;” 4:16 “each individual part;” 1 Cor 12:7 “to each one”). Thus, each member individually and all members collectively of Christ’s Church are responsible to hold her leaders responsible for her maturity.
  • This is the only NT text where the term for pastor (“ποιμήν”) is used of church leaders. Other instances show this term is used of Christ (see Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25), yet the Protestant Church has made more out of this office/title than is required. Substantive usages of the noun are verbal and refer to tasks or actions rather than a title or office (see Acts 20:28-29; 1 Pet 5:2).
  • Although the role of pastor “involves a great deal of care, concern, and godly leadership” and “knowing people intimately,” “leading them,” “protecting them from ‘wolves’,” and “loving them enough to sacrifice one’s life for them” (Arnold, p 261), this is not to say that teaching is any less important. 
  • It is grammatically doubtful that the two ministry roles are to be viewed as one, since the Granville Sharp rule does not apply here where plural substantives exist (see Dan Wallace’s findings).
  • Nevertheless the roles of pastors and teachers “are not to be regarded as entirely distinct groups,” since “Paul probably expressed himself in this way because he wanted to convey that pastors are to be gifted teachers (thus, the latter is a subset of the former), but he stops short of saying that all teachers are gifted to be pastors” (Arnold, p 260).

If these findings are in accordance with Paul’s thinking, then the best formula is to see these roles as both separate entailing two persons, but also united where “ποιμένας” are intimated. That is, all pastors are required to be teachers, but not all teachers necessarily serve as pastors.

What remains, then, is whether or not one sees teaching as a primary strength requisite for being a pastor. That is the topic of the next post.

1 Comment

  1. Comment sent to me via email from Chris Brauns


    Thanks for your careful thinking. This is a technical discussion that has immense practical implications.

    There is the question of what does the text teach . . . and then there are also practical considerations. How much can one both teach and do pastoral care.

    I have more questions than answers! But this is helpful to think about. And now with both teaching and a funeral coming up – – I better get to work.”

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