Let Pastors Teach
The dearth of solid biblical teaching in America’s pulpits stems from a fatal misperception of the pastoral ministry. A much-needed midcourse correction is the only solution to this perennial problem.
In Ephesians 4:11 Paul speaks of “teaching shepherds” (lit., “pastors and teachers”). Our translation tries to do justice to the Greek construction the apostle uses. According to the original, the words “pastors” and “teachers” belong closer together than do “apostles and prophets” or “prophets and evangelists.” The reason is this. Before the last-mentioned item (“teachers”) the Greek definite article is not used, thus implying a close conceptual relation between the nouns “pastors” and “teachers.” This phenomenon does not, of course, resolve the age-old question of whether Paul has one ministry in mind (i.e., “teaching shepherds”) or the unity of two individual groups (“teachers” and “shepherds”). However, Paul’s injunction in 1 Timothy 3:2 makes it clear that an overseer must be didaktikon (“able to teach” or — perhaps — “teachable”) and that the function of teaching is part and parcel of the pastor’s responsibility.
The famous Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 says essentially the same thing. Here Jesus commands His disciples: “As you go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them…and teaching them….” The two modal participles “baptizing” and “teaching” explain the main command to “disciple all the nations.” Our Lord is saying that His church is to be established through two continual ministries, the one involving evangelism (where new converts come to Christ), and the other involving teaching (where converts are taught to observe the “all things” He commanded).
An analogy may be helpful to explain what Jesus meant. Just as the physical body grows in two ways — by the addition of new cells to the body and by the nourishing of existing cells — so the Body of Christ grows in two ways. New believers are added by the Lord to the church, but in order to grow and truly become “disciples” it is absolutely necessary that they be taught and instructed. And, while all believers to a certain degree can and should “teach one another” (Col. 3:16), it is especially the pastoral leadership of the church that has been entrusted with this sacred task.
The point is this: Pastors are called upon to teach from their pulpits — not entertain, or tell stories, or focus their messages on non-believers. They must proclaim, not philosophize or argue. Their message is the Word of God, the God-breathed Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16). To proclaim God’s Word involves the whole counsel of God, not picking out some truths while ignoring others. The Word of God in its entirely is the content of the preacher’s message.
Thus, while evangelism can and should be done when believers are gathered, the focus must always be on teaching the Word of God to believers. The only New Testament passage where evangelism takes place within the gathered congregation is 1 Corinthians 14, where the unbeliever is said to be “convicted by all”— not by an evangelistic sermon. Indeed, Paul sums up the exercise of the various proceedings in the assembly in one phrase: “Let all things be done for edification” (14:26).
It is because we have neglected solid biblical teaching in our pulpits that so many believers today are still immature, baby Christians. Teaching is absolutely necessary to impart the eternal doctrines of the Word of God and to feed the flock as “good shepherds” of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wasn’t a religious huckster who used techniques that simply moved people’s emotions. He preached the Scriptures to the whole man, and this included the intellect. Many preachers today try to move people to respond without the Scriptures or Christ being the focus. They seek to manipulate people emotionally. As a result, the anthropocentrism in our modern-day pulpits is appalling.
Any man who shows himself incapable of energetically teaching others the truths of Scripture is not qualified for eldership in the church.
May 4, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.