Over the years I have been exposed to different kinds of pastoring. One is a practical side that is typically less rigorous academically, while another shows diligent academic interests with only some application. As a result of these disparate models, a series of questions have come up around the role and function of a leader in church. For example: Does the title “pastor” necessarily involve teaching so that we could say all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors?

Many take the view that “pastors and teachers” are one person (Ephesians 4:11-12). If so, then how much weight should there be on pastoring vis–à–vis teaching? I’ve known gifted teachers who were hard-pressed in the area of caring for others. I’ve also known (far more) pastors who have a warm and caring heart for others but are academically challenged, considerably under-informed, and theologically thin.

Scripture gives a little guidance on these varied roles and I’ll attempt to shed some light in this post. First, the text. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12:

Are these five distinct roles? Could it be that one person fulfills 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 some gleanings from Arnold’s findings, mingled with a few of my own reflections.

  • 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 any church is assigned by Christ. 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 numerical church growth 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 growth in numbers, though there could be a correlation.
  • Interestingly, the maturity Paul has in mind is not the result of the efforts from 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 are responsible to hold the church and its leaders responsible for 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 far more out of this office/title than the texts demand. 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 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 summaries comport 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.

Still, questions remain.

How prominent should teaching be for those who are also called and gifted as pastors? Related questions include: Are pastors required to be highly skilled in the gift of teaching before they are recognized as pastor? If not, then how much skill in teaching should a pastor have?

Here are a few more notes on the context and syntax of the surrounding pericope (Ephesians 4:7-16). I’m indebted to Frank Thielman‘s fine commentary on Ephesians for many of these findings.

  • Paul is listing gifts and not offices. Thus, the function of a member in the Body of Christ is what is stressed here, not a title or office. Emphasis is placed on activities that gifted individuals perform. It is activities and not positions that are stressed here. To confuse the two can result in considerable anachronistic errors in ecclesiology, which may find support from church history but not from Scripture.
  • Correspondingly, every member of Christ’s Body has a gift (Eph 4:7; 1 Cor 12:7, 11; Rom 12:4; 1 Pet 4:10) but not everyone holds an office or title. Of course, since all believers have gifts, and those who hold a recognized office or title are believers, then those who hold an office or title are gifted. Yet, the Body of Christ would be well served in keeping the gifts and the offices distinct, especially where Scripture does so.
  • Similarly, Paul’s burden is the role and ministry of all believers as it pertains to the unity and spiritual maturity of the Church, not simply to focus on a subset of persons who are specifically gifted (cf. especially the bookend effect of the language surrounding this pericope; 4:7 “to each one of us,” and again 4:16, “as each part”).
  • The “works of service” (“εἰς ἔργον διακονίας,” Eph 4:12) are performed not by a select few, but by every member; it is the few who are selected and gifted by Christ to enable and encourage all toward the penultimate goal “so that the body of Christ may be built up” (εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ). Speaking of Christ’s Body, the Church, Thielman writes: “Its foundation is the apostles and prophets, Christ is its guiding and crowning stone, and its building blocks are believers from both Jews and Gentiles…evangelists, pastors, and teachers are involved in addition to the apostles and prophets, and their job is to equip all believers (‘the saints’) to participate in the construction.” (p 280).

Christ has bestowed his gifts on the few for outfitting every member in his Church with the requisite tools for increasing spiritual maturity. “Each part” performs its “work of service” by deploying their gifts in the Church and in the world, which include pastoring and teaching.

To these ends, should pastors make teaching a priority, devoting a large part of their time and energy to study? Or should pastoring take the foreground and teaching be relegated to second place in the daily grind of ministry? While the role of pastor (which has come to mean “people care”) has come to be fairly straight forward, what exactly is teaching? Is this just someone who can do a decent job speaking publicly about the Bible and motivate others to action?

I would offer there are no clear biblical texts that answer these questions, but there are relevant principles from the Scriptures.

  1. In some broad sense all believers are or should be teachers (see Rom 15:14; 1 Cor 14:26; Col 3:16; Heb 5:12). This be true, then all pastors are or should be teachers, since all pastors are believers. Contrary to a consumer-driven culture, the Church is not a place to “sit and soak, but to serve….being a Christian means being a minister” (Arnold, p 274) and this ministry will take on the form of teaching, in the broadest sense.
  2. That said, how well or how much a pastor “pastors” versus “teaches” is not clearly spelled out in God’s Word. This is not to excuse anyone who is gifted as a pastor from the important and often arduous task of teaching. A gift of pastoring may be especially pronounced and publicly recognized over and above a person’s abilities to unpack details around a biblical text in the way an experienced exegete might.
  3. While the gifts of teaching and pastoring may be unique, there is significant overlap. Pastoring involves human interaction on a more personal level, teaching is primarily public in nature. Where a teacher may appreciate the import of parsing Greek verbs or analyzing the nuances of Christological controversies in church history, a pastor will typically identify practical needs or discern spiritual struggles while assisting others in finding resources to mend brokenness. These two skill sets may intersect in a case where a person’s brokenness was built upon a faulty teaching, and so pastoring may very well involve teaching (cf., 1 Cor 6:12-13).
  4. Teachers necessarily engage in pastoring minds and hearts by helping construct a holistic Christian world and life view. As I’ve said elsewhere everyone typically lives from the inside out and not only how we think matters, but so too does what we think. Our thought life dictates the course of action that we take. But a biblical model of teaching does not come full circle when others become merely informed. No amount of hermeneutically sound or theologically profound information can substitute for a life that is transformed, however gradually it often is, by the Scriptures. “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (Jn 13:17). Though doing is informed by our knowing, it is blessing that results from implementation and every teacher worth their biblical salt must long for changed lives as well as enriched minds.
  5. It could be that teaching is involved in all 5 of the gifts mentioned from Eph 4:11. After all, every role (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) involves speaking and all teaching involves speaking. Ergo, all those who are pastors necessarily teach. Some might push back arguing that this commits the fallacy of ambiguity (a.k.a. suffering the death of a thousand qualifications) by imposing other tacit requirements, such as the property of “existence” before one could fulfill a role. Logic aside (dare I?), teaching is not so far removed from the context. To achieve “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” and to “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming,” one must continually be “speaking the truth in love,” which seemingly invokes some kind of teaching.
  6. Evaluating a pastor’s or a teacher’s effectiveness has the wrong starting point. Instead, leadership effectiveness should be identified by the affect upon God’s people. Questions such as “How are others better equipped as a result of the pastor or teacher efforts?” “How many people are engaged in ministry activities as a direct result of the pastor or teacher?” (see Arnold, p 275). Looking at the results of a pastor or teacher can be a more accurate means of determining the skill of a pastor or teacher, rather than simply evaluating their performance.
  7. Finally, it is no mistake that 5 gifts are bestowed by Christ upon certain individuals and that all 5 of the gifts listed are plural. In other words, it takes a village! Not one gift is sufficient, but all gifts work together in a plurality of individuals to achieve Christ’s goal for his Church. And, given that all the gifts listed in Eph 4:11 do not reside in one person, then necessarily it requires a team effort. Quite frankly, I get weary hearing about Greg Laurie, John Piper, T. D. Jakes, Rick Warren, John Mark Comer, Andy Stanley, David Platt, et al. when no doubt there are countless, unnamed others in churches who work hard and faithfully to serve in just as important a role as these leaders.

In summary, pastors and teachers are shepherds of minds and hearts, which entails teaching sound doctrine and encouraging every member in Christ’s Church to employ their Christ-given ability(ies) to build itself up in love “as each part does its work.”

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