No More Excuses: Pastors Must Get Serious About Teaching Their Flocks
Perhaps our minds are jarred when we read these words about the role of the New Testament pastor/overseer: “an overseer must be…able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). What is jarring about this statement is the conjunction of “overseer” and “teach.” We are accustomed to referring to our pastors as preachers, not teachers. Did the apostle Paul make a mistake in describing the pastor as, essentially, a person who has the ability and responsibility to teach?
By no means. What we think, what we believe, what we understand to be true determines what we become. Therefore, what we are taught is crucial to life itself.
My friend Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, has said, “If it is true that biblical illiteracy is commonplace in secular culture at large, there is ample evidence that points to similar trends in our churches.” Burge points to research done at Wheaton in which the biblical literacy of incoming freshmen was monitored. These students represented every state in the nation and almost every Protestant denomination. They turned in some “amazing results”:
In his book No Place for Truth, David Wells has likewise commented on the lack of biblical knowledge among American evangelicals. “I have watched with growing disbelief as the evangelical church has cheerfully plunged into astounding theological illiteracy,” he said.
If learning is ever again to inspire our church members, we must solve the current crisis. Evangelical Christians already hold the key to the solution to the church’s educational crisis: it is God’s Word itself. Evangelicals suffer significantly from putting tradition over the Scriptures. We tend to disparage logical reasoning. We fail to give proper attention to such things as theology and philosophy. The combination of superficiality and superspirituality has been lethal.
We forget that church is more than “meeting and eating.” We are involved in a war—a war for the hearts, souls, and minds of our children and our families. As Burge has noted, the church has failed to transmit its religious heritage to the next generation. This includes an overemphasis on personal experience to the exclusion of serious theological engagement. Sermons are now more therapeutic than instructional; our worship services are grounded more in what we feel than in what we think. Biblical teaching has become a lost art. Serious study of the Bible and theology are “studiously” avoided.
What is the solution to this problem? It is the systematic teaching of biblical truth, and it must start in the pulpit. The time has come for pastors to fulfill their role as those who feed the flock of God a healthy diet of biblical meat as exemplified by the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, who systematically taught his congregation verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, and book-by-book. Pastors can also teach basic courses in Old and New Testament survey, basic Christian doctrines, and principles of Bible study. They should, in addition, be willing to address the unbiblical worldviews that have crept into our churches. In particular, I believe pastors must constantly be at war against the messianic state and “salvation by legislation.” This means, among other things, that they must teach parents that they cannot morally transfer their responsibility to educate their children. The child who has been placed into the care of a God-hating, secular humanist school system is being asked to do what the Bible explicitly forbids: serve two masters—the God of the Bible and the god of the state. The paternal state then assumes the parents’ responsibilities; it not only feeds “its” children, but nurtures, educates, comforts, and disciplines them. Once we sink that low, as C. S. Lewis once put it, there is no point in telling state officials to mind their own business, since “our lives are their business.”
In Ephesians 4:11 the apostle Paul makes it clear that pastors are to be teachers, first and foremost. In 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:9 it is stipulated that “an overseer must be …able to teach, …able to give instruction in sound doctrine.” Note that this responsibility of teaching is related directly to the risen Christ’s rule over the church. Thus, failure to consistently teach the Word of God from the pulpit is an egregious act of disobedience to the Lord Himself.
October 22, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. He is currently finishing his latest book, Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.