The Great Need
In a day when edification was never more urgent it seems that the church’s teaching mission was never more lacking. One might almost say that the contemporary church has all but forgotten that an indispensable part of our Lord’s Great Commission to His church was “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). Indeed, the very concept of the pastor as a teacher has dropped out of our vocabulary. Pastors (usually called “preachers” here in the South) are expected to administer, counsel, and preach, but rarely are they expected to teach the Word of God in a systematic fashion. In fact, in Ethiopia I have yet to find one pastor who teaches the Bible verse by verse, passage by passage. An urgent need remains today for surveying the whole problem of the pastoral ministry with special reference to the need for edification and the methods by which such a need can most effectively and scripturally be fulfilled.
What impels me to insist that the pastoral role is supremely one of teaching and not preaching? We may learn the answer from the apostle Paul. At the beginning of his list of qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes that pastors are to be “able to teach” (didaktikon). This provides strong biblical warrant for requiring overseers to be teachers. This is confirmed by Paul when he writes to Titus that an overseer “must be devoted to the trustworthy message that is in agreement with our teaching, so that he may be able to encourage others with healthy doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Tit. 1:9) and when he says to the Ephesians that Christ “gifted some to be…pastor-teachers, in order to equip the saints to do the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12).
It may come as a surprise to many Christians, even as a shock, that the role of pastors is regularly expressed in the New Testament in terms of teaching. They expect their pastors to deliver pithy sermons or evangelistic talks but not to exposit the Bible systematically. It is not surprising therefore that the Lord Jesus, in describing the role of the good shepherd (pastor) in John 10, emphasizes his feeding ministry. The good shepherd is concerned that his sheep always have enough to eat. Thus Jesus was primarily a teacher, feeding His disciples with the good pasture of instruction.
It is tragic beyond words that this high and holy purpose of Christ to edify His Body through pastor-teachers has been frequently diluted by the church. Instead of the faithful exposition of the Word of God, the teaching ministry becomes a pathetic attempt to induce people to live better lives. But Scripture teaches, and experience confirms, that the greet need today in our churches is for a knowledge of God’s Word and a spirit of obedience to its teachings. Such knowledge and obedience is expected of every Christian.
Ultimately edification is the responsibility of the whole church and every member of it (cf. Col. 3:16: “teaching and admonition one another”). But Christ expects His under-shepherds to take the initiative in feeding the flock of God.
The health of the church depends on it.
January 20, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.