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
- 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
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.]