Friday, April 22, 2005

Preparing for a new pastor, part three

The next step in preparing for a new pastor is to understand the pastor's work. That is, if we know with confidence that he is called to be a pastor, what does that mean that he is called to do, practically speaking?

Pastors, the Scripture tells us, are “Elders” and “Overseers” of the church. As such, they have duties distinct from other roles of leadership. For example, in Acts 6 we read of the apostles-- the original Teaching Elders-- appointing seven others (who we have come to call Deacons) to fulfill the role of ministering to the physical needs of the flock. This is because no one person, or even a group of people, can do all of the ministry of the church.

In my denomination, we further distinguish pastors as “Teaching Elders” which is an extension of the idea of Elder; we have other Elders (that we call Ruling Elders) in the church who share many of the functional duties that the pastor has, yet who are not called and trained to be pastors. Teaching Elders are full Elders, however, and therefore have all of the duties of the Ruling Elder, plus the additional roles they are charged with as Teaching Elders.

The duties of any Elder are:
  • The oversight of the flock
  • To give prudent example of godly living to the flock
  • To govern the house and Kingdom of Christ
  • The visitation of the flock
  • To instruct, comfort, encourage, and nurture the children of God
  • Prayer for and with the people of God
  • To seek the fruit of the Word among the flock
As I already mentioned, all Elders have these duties. Pastors, as Teaching Elders, have further additional duties. As a Teaching Elder, a pastor must:
  • Feed the flock by reading, expounding, and teaching Scripture
  • Serve as an ambassador for Christ
  • Function as an evangelist of the Gospel
  • Steward the mysteries of God by dispensing grace and the ordinances
These are a lot of duties! In fact, it should not be hard to see that, even in the smallest church, no one pastor (or even a staff of pastors) can fulfill all of these adequately. This is one of the reasons why Ruling Elders and Deacons are so important: these men bear some of the pastoral burdens, sharing in the work of ministry with the pastor. So, an essential way that we can prepare for a new pastor is to realize the scope of his work, but in its extent (and therefore acknowledging the need for good, committed leadership alongside our pastor) and in its limit (and thereby not placing expectations on him that are not appropriate to his calling).

Reflecting further on Acts 6, it is important to recognize that some of the most significant pastoral duties are the teaching of the Word and prayer. Among other things, then, in preparing for a new pastor we should realize that these are important priorities, and help the pastor to protect the time and focus he needs to devote to them. Some will ask, why is preaching so significant? Why do pastors need to take so much time to prepare their sermons? The Westminster Larger Catechism identifies the preaching of the Word of God as, somehow, actually being the Word of God; given this, we must regard preaching as a high calling, indeed. To presume to fulfill this calling with only cursory attention given to the study and consideration of the content of Scripture is a severe mistake. Preparing a sermon takes time; give your pastor the time he needs.

[To that I might add this: any church that hires a new seminary graduate ought to give especially careful attention to this. I mentioned before that presbyteries will require a certain number of sermons to be preached for the fulfillment of the Internship requirements-- for example, 12 sermons in the presbytery where I am an Intern. It is quite possible (in fact, regularly the case) that these 12 sermons are the only sermons that graduate has prepared and preached-- ever. Though opportunities exist for preaching while in seminary, I have found that most of my classmates do not take advantage of these opportunities. While I plan to reflect on this more in another post, I will say this here, as it relates to preparing for a new pastor: reducing the amount of time required for preparation of sermons demands a depth of knowledge of the Word and experience in developing Word-knowledge into a sermon. It would be quite difficult for the average new graduate to prepare a sermon adequately in less than 10-15 hours. But too often, expectations, either directly or indirectly, are placed on them to get it done in much less time. These expectations may be one of the big reasons that plagiarism of sermons is so common in our day.]


Saville said...

Yes, the time for sermon prep. is a big issue for a lot of guys coming out of seminary. I still like to have at least 12-15 hours for a sermon. The church at which I will begin to serve next month will require me to prepare two each week. That's a lot of time spent on sermon preparation. The one thing that can make things easier is preaching consecutively through a book.

Ed said...

You're right-- consecutive preaching helps a lot. Still, even 12-15 hours is a pretty low average, if you're recently out of seminary. One of my professors suggested that we try to budget up to 20 hours a week for the first six months of ministry.
On another note-- good for you that you will get to preach that often. That will really get you going fast.