Guest Column Peter Milsom
‘And some pastors and teachers’
One of the great gifts our ascended Lord gives to his churches is pastor-teachers. The ESV helpfully brings out the root meaning of ‘pastor’ when it uses the word ‘shepherd’.
The apostles and prophets laid the foundations of the church; the evangelists bring the gospel message to the world; and shepherd-teachers care for God’s people and teach them from the Word.
The order of the words is significant. The emphasis is on being a shepherd who teaches, rather than a teacher who also shepherds. Teaching the Word of God is to take place in a shepherding relationship.
In order to teach the Word effectively a shepherd must know his people. This involves spending time with people, listening to them, talking with them, teaching them from the Word and praying with them.
The shepherd image in the Bible is very rich and significant. In Psalm 23 we see the Lord as our Shepherd. He meets all our needs. He feeds, leads, restores and guides us. He is with us in the darkest valleys of life. He abundantly provides for us in times of danger.
Throughout our lives, he blesses us with goodness and mercy and brings us safely to his eternal home in heaven. In John 10, Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. His sheep listen to his voice and follow him. He passionately protects his sheep and no one is able to snatch them from his hand. Psalm 23 and John 10 provide great models for every shepherd-teacher.
The importance of pastoral ministry needs to be emphasised today. We have seen a welcome resurgence of enthusiasm for learning how to preach the Bible well. Many conferences focus on this and many pastors work hard in preparation for their regular ministry of the Word.
There is, however, much less emphasis on pastoral ministry and the essential relationship between the ministries of shepherding and teaching.
Sometimes it is said that pastors can do their pastoral work from the pulpit. This idea may have found its origin in the situations of men who are ministering in larger churches, where the demands of being a shepherd to many people are great.
In some larger churches there is now a senior pastor whose main task is to preach and give visionary leadership, but who is not expected to visit and spend time with people. In such ministries, however, it is still important to ensure that there is a genuine pastoral engagement with a cross-section of the congregation.
The pastor of a large church once visited a member of his congregation who was in hospital. The response of the member was ‘I didn’t realise I was that ill!’ A friend of mine, who has been an active member of several churches, told me that he and his wife have never had a pastoral visit in more than 40 years of Christian service.
The fact that they were always present in the meetings and actively involved in the ministries of the church had probably led to the assumption that they had no pastoral needs.
Richard Baxter’s book, The Reformed pastor, made a deep impression on me in my early ministry. In this book Baxter presents a powerful and urgent appeal for pastors to make systematic teaching of their people, on a personal and family basis, a priority.
Baxter ministered to a large church; there were 800 families in the congregation. In addition to his regular Sunday ministry, he devoted two days each week to meeting individuals and families for a time of systematic, face-to-face teaching using the Shorter Catechism.
In this way he met every member of his congregation at least once a year. Baxter’s experience was that his people retained a little of what was preached publicly, but understood much more from the face-to-face sessions. Through Baxter’s ministry the whole town of Kidderminster was transformed.
The care of God’s people is a shared ministry which involves both pastors and elders. Baxter based his book on Paul’s words to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:28: ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’.
Paul reminded these elders of his own ministry there. ‘You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you, but have taught you publicly and from house to house’. All elders should fulfil a genuine shepherding ministry.
In my first pastorate I was learning what it means to be a shepherd-teacher. Each Sunday I preached to the congregation and spoke briefly to each of them at the end of the service. When I asked how they were, almost all told me that they were fine. It was not until I sat in their homes that a significant number began to open their hearts and share with me the struggles they were facing.
I heard how they had come to faith. I learned where they were spiritually and could identify some of the truths they had not understood. I heard about the illnesses they had suffered and sometimes the heartbreaks they had experienced in their families.
Behind the fair outward appearance on Sundays and the often cheerful reassurances that all is well, there are many needs.
It is only by spending quality time with the Lord’s people, whom Christ has purchased with his own blood, that the shepherd-teacher is equipped to feed the flock from the Word.
It is a ministry which inevitably reveals our personal inadequacy and utter dependence on the Chief Shepherd. It is an immense privilege to be called by our ascended Lord to serve as a shepherd-teacher in his church.
The author is the Director of Affinity and an Associate Consultant with UFM Worldwide. He was Coordinator of Applied Studies at WEST from 1992-2010.