Pastoral identity should be based on a sound theology of the church and its leadership.
In churches of Christ, that is not easy. Within our tradition, the development and articulation of pastoral identity is hampered by a confusing dynamic that often exists between the roles of preacher and elders. Theologically, the idea of “pastor” is most applicable to the role of elder. The preacher, on the other hand, is more like a deacon who has gifts, experience, and preparation for working across eldership constituencies to lead, preach, teach, counsel, and in general be the center of attention in congregation-wide settings.
From a practical standpoint though, elders and congregations within the churches of Christ often expect the preacher to function much more like the stereotypical pastor found within the larger Protestant culture. Elders, in the meantime, almost always operate as managers or administrators rather than the elders of NT times. Their shepherding role is therefore either left undone or is gradually assumed by the preacher– the latter often at the subtle insistence of congregations and even the elderships themselves.
At the same time though, members and elders often recognize the shift in roles and resist it– some based on biblical principles, others for less noble reasons. The net effect is to create a triangular “balance of power” among preacher, elders, and members with each center of influence operating, often unconsciously, to keep the others from becoming too influential. All of this is hugely dysfunctional. Mediocrity, if not outright failure, is a real danger.
All of the above can be avoided by returning to the essence of biblical forms rather than simply to their superficial, outward appearances. The pastor of biblical times was most likely the sole leader of a single house church– a social arrangement that allowed and even demanded the pastoral ideals so often articulated in pastoral theologies. Taken together, the pastors of house churches within a particular city or region constituted the “church” within that area. (See Acts 20:17 for an example.) Thus we see how to rationalize the committee-like plurality of elders found within the NT with the prudential necessity of single, strong pastor. The preceding understanding is the underlying assumption for the following:
The Pastor’s Calling:
In the apostolic church, the pastor’s call was a miraculous, supernatural one (Eph 4:11). Just as God miraculously blew life into the body of Adam, He also miraculously breathed life into the ancient church and its members, calling them to specific ministries in objective ways that dramatically differ from the grossly subjective “leadings” so common in the modern church. That objective life of the Spirit within the early church lives on and is communicated through tradition. That tradition, in turn, is the objective ground for the pastor’s outward call, his ministry, and his associated identity. As Oden notes, the ancients believed the pastor’s call was testable and that failure to test it was dangerous (cf. Acts 20:30; 1 Tim 5:22; Titus 1:6-16; Jas 5:14-19; 1 Pet 5:1-5).
And from among your own selves [elders of Ephesus] men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them– Acts 20:30 (NASB).
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. 21 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. 22 Do not lay hands upon anyone [e.g., elders] too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin– 1 Tim 5:17-22 (NASB)
Namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. 10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed– Titus 1:6-16 (NASB).
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man [most prominently, elders] can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit. 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one [most prominently, edlers] turns him back–Jas 5:14-19 (NASB).
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble– 1 Pet 5:1-5 (NASB).
The Pastor as Leader:
Every organization must have someone who leads, even commands if necessary (1 Tim 1:3)–– someone who provides the vision, represents the whole, and gives direction (1 Tim 5:17). Organizational immaturity of the church in New Testament times required those functions be accomplished by apostles and evangelists (church planters). In the post-apostolic church however, church direction, vision, etc. devolve directly to elders and from there to preachers. [Note that an implication of this devolution is that passages originally dealing with the “pastoral” work of apostles and evangelists are now appropriately applied to elders.] Present-day pastors envision, represent, and lead Christian communities today by equipping themselves for that role in response to an internal call and by being ordained to that work in response to the external call of a particular religious community. Ordination (outward call) is fundamental to the identity and work of the pastor. Preparation (inward call) is fundamental to appreciating the importance of ordination. As Willimon says, “ordination sets apart those who are to serve as exemplars to the congregation, being in all things without fault.” It bestows on its recipients a relationship to others unlike any other– beyond doctor/patient, teacher/student, leader/follower, and professional/client. See 1 Tim 3:1-7; 4:12; Tit 1:6-9; 1 Pet 5:1-5.
The Pastor as Priest:
All Christians have an intercessory role, but not all are equipped to prepare the entire community for entry into the presence of God. All Christians can hear confession of sins, but not all are trustworthy enough or knowledgeable enough to deal with confessions. All Christians can stand before the congregation to administer baptism and preside over the Lord’s Supper, but not all can commend those acts of worship by their personal character, knowledge, experience, sacrifices, and personal trust. All Christians can admonish and reprove, but not all Christians have the tacit permission and overt moral authority to call people to account. All Christians can pray for each other, but scripture clearly shows that some bear the responsibility more than others (e.g., Acts 6:4). “The prayer of a righteous man avails much (Jas 5:16),” and the church calls pastors to be among those men. The pastor “offers” himself (2 Tim 4:6) just as he also continually “offers” the community he serves to God (Rom 15:16). The church must be protected form the ministrations of ill-informed, egocentric, idiosyncratic, hypocritical, and often disinterested members.
The Pastor as Shepherd:
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is incarnated in the pastor. Jesus commissions just as He was commissioned (John 17:18). The pastor protects the congregation as a shepherd protects his flock (John 10:1-18; 1 Tim 1:20). As Oden observes, the shepherd knows the flock, is out front leading it into fitting pastures, gathers the wandering back into the flock, and sacrifices himself for the flock. The shepherd’s relationship to the flock is established in an approved way. In response, the flock is wary of other would-be shepherds, responds to the shepherd in a special way unlike any other, and is constituted based on those who either listen or don’t listen to the shepherd. Jesus came to serve rather than be served (Lk 22:27). So also, the pastor is one who serves rather than is served.
The Pastor as Teacher and Preacher:
The images of Jesus as Teacher and Preacher are incarnated in the pastor. The former (didache “teaching”) is directed toward the church for the purpose of spiritual formation– for shaping individual members in the pattern of Christ and equipping them for carrying on the ministry of Jesus. The latter (kerugma “proclamation”) is directed toward outsiders for the purpose of conversion. The pastor’s authority in preaching and teaching derives from that which is taught and preached. See 1 Tim 4:6-11; 6:11-14.
The Pastor as Prophet:
The postmodernists are right in viewing all reality as being socially constructed. They are wrong, however, in thinking the social construction of reality cuts humanity off from any objective contact with ultimate reality. God can reveal Himself. Christians believe that such revelation has indeed occurred and that their pastors are charged with bringing that revelation to bear on the socially constructed and alienated realities of fallen humanity. Thus, the pastor functions as prophet by taking a “prophetic stance” outside all human institutions and cultures in order to name things as God would name them. He interprets reality over against competing systems by seeing things the way God sees them. Like Paul, he “demolish[es] arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take[s] captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
The Pastor as Steward:
Pastors are the principal trustees of the Christian heritage and its future (1 Tim 1:11; 5:21). The things they have heard must be passed on (2 Tim 2:2). As the principle in Luke 12:41-48 indicates, to them much has been given and from them much will be required. Their job is to forge the link between past and future.