Eugene Peterson laments, “If in the past fifty years a solid biblical foundation has been rebuilt under pulpit and lectern, it has been consistently eroded in other areas where pastors regularly do their work.”1 We have created capable orators but subpar ministers. Preachers may be trained to preach Scripture, but they are taught to manage the church like a businessman and guide the flock like a psychologist. This tragedy is all the more grievous once the nature of ministry is understood. The vocation of ministry is created by and for the Christian Scriptures as it acts in Christian communities. This vocation exists as the essential tie between canon and community and is therefore defined by the interaction between the two.
Aside On the Word “Pastor”
In the Church of Christ, the word “pastor” found in the quote above has often been shunned as a term for describing ministers or evangelists. If used at all, the term has been applied to elders (also called overseers or shepherds), an office differentiated from the minister. This was in keeping with the understanding of the term as used in the King James Version (see Ephesians 4:11, KJV).
The result I fear is a brotherhood full of ministers who do not know their task, their craft, or their vocation. We have become preachers who speak, rather than ministers who serve. We have become evangelists who might focus on conversion, but do not know how to allow the Scriptures to shape the converted flock. I am as guilty of this as any. Thus, this series of articles will break with certain customs and will occasionally use the word “pastor” to designate the type of congregational ministry in which I personally engage. To help explain why I might want to do this, here are a few observations about this word.
First, we should recognize that even translations vary in how to use this term. As one example, “pastor” should not be defined exclusively by its usage in a 400-year-old translation, when in fact, my more contemporary ESV does not use the term at all. In a church with a variety of translations being used, I cannot tell people just to use the word “pastor” as it is used in one particular translation. The irony here is that the Church of Christ has traditionally objected to the KJV’s use of the word “Easter,” but still preserves the KJV’s use of the word “pastor.” Sadly, the result is that these words, along with “bishop” and “presbyter,” are rarely if ever used in the Church of Christ at all, robbing us of rich vocabulary. We refuse to use them for our elders/shepherds because we actually know that no one would understand us if we did! If I want to communicate to people speaking modern English, I must speak modern English. The definitive authority for the usage of contemporary terms is an English dictionary, which will define “pastor” as a church minister. Words change in meaning in every language over time. Such is likely the case for the word “pastor” as well. We do not hold onto old definitions of words like “gay,” which in the KJV means something like extravagant rather than homosexual in James 2:3. Thus, it is a mystery as to why in a world of ever-changing words we have singled out this one as a point of objection.
Second, the literature in this field of study uses the word “pastor” in this way, making it both laborious and confusing to censor the word from the text. Likewise, it puts me in a state of denying reality when I read a book using the word “pastor” and pretend that I don’t know what the author means by it. For this type of article, it only makes sense to accept and employ the common usage of the word.
Third, those few souls who refer to me as pastor, unaware of the sensibility in the Church of Christ on the topic, do so out of respect and appreciation, a fact for which I am grateful. They see me not as a preacher, an orator who disappears from the universe after delivering his sermon, but rather as a guide, a person meaningfully involved in their life.
When taken together, these observations lead me to believe that many of us have made a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to this word. It does nothing favorable for the cause of Christ to object in these cases, or worse correct people when they do not use the word “pastor” in the manner in which the Church of Christ traditionally has done (or rather has not done). While I rarely if ever feel comfortable referring to myself as a pastor because of my history with this word, I would be foolish to be concerned by the respectful use of the word by others.
Vocation vs. Oration
So, this series of articles will discuss how the Scriptures shape the life and work of the minister. In this sense, the word “pastor” is actually helpful. Too many think of themselves only as “preachers,” a person who makes use of the text to accomplish one specific task. Instead, ministers should think of themselves as having a pastoral vocation, a way of life shaped by the Scriptures from start to finish. We are not here only to speak, but to guide in word and deed, much like a shepherd.
This series of articles will discuss three main areas. First, I want to address the connection of the canon to how we think about God generally and then specifically how we serve him as ministers. What is the relationship between the Scriptures and the practice of a minister? Second, I want to look at canon’s connection to Christ and his Church. God did not incarnate himself in a book, after all, and Jesus did not die for a book. Yet, the person of Christ and the life of the church are inseparable from the book. Why is that? Finally, I will discuss how pastoral theology is the outworking of these essential connections. In particular, I want to see how the minister facilitates the work of the Word in our worship and in our shared lives.
More to come!