When I left for seminary I was warned that in the frenzy of schoolwork the first thing I would neglect was my “quiet time.” This seemed odd to me since I was going to seminary to gain more tools to understand the Scriptures. This dichotomy between “devotions” and “exegesis” has been continually reinforced by other pastors. “Study something in your quiet time that you are not going to preach,” they tell me. Really? I am supposed to meditate on the word of God and not share that in my public teaching?
I think this dichotomy is seriously problematic. On the one hand it can promote a shallow, pithy devotional reading of Scripture, out of context, for nuggets of “God promises.” On the other hand it can promote a cold, intellectual scholarship that neglects a life of submission to the Word of God. It seems essential to me to approach the text of Scripture with every tool to understand the original intention of the author with the aim of hearing and obeying the Word of God. For me, it means that I must use what little proficiency I have worked so hard to attain in the original languages to better understand the text of Scripture. The result is, however, not just more information but an encounter with the very words of God that convict, encourage, challenge, and commission me to be an agent of the gospel in every area of my life.
“Fight with every fiber of your being the common disjunction between “objective study” of Scripture and “devotional reading” of Scripture, between “critical reading” of the Bible and “devotional reading” of the Bible… Scripture remains Scripture, it is still the Word of God before which (as Isaiah reminds us) we are to tremble, the very words we are to revere, treasure, digest, meditate on, and hide in our hearts (minds?), whether we are reading the Bible at 5:30 AM at the start of a day, or preparing an assignment for an exegesis class at 10:00 PM. If we try to keep apart these alleged two ways of reading, then we will be irritated and troubled when our “devotions” are interrupted by a sudden stray reflection about a textual variant or the precise force of a Greek genitive; alternatively, we may be taken off guard when we are supposed to be preparing a paper or a sermon and suddenly find ourselves distracted by a glimpse of God’s greatness that is supposed to be reserved for our “devotions.” So when you read “devotionally,” keep your mind engaged; when you read “critically” (i.e., with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of “tools”), never, ever, forget whose Word this is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.”
— D. A. Carson, “The Scholar as Pastor”
With the idea that professional Christians function as Christian priests comes an emphasis on the “office” of pastor. You see this in Protestant churches with the frequent requirement that the pastor must baptize new believers and administer the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion. There is a glorification of the office over the person.
When I read the New Testament, I see leadership titles (deacon, elder, pastor, etc.) as descriptive rather than prescriptive. Merely because someone is ordained, has graduated from seminary, or has received their magical “call to ministry” does not indicate they have the gifts to lead and shepherd a church body. In fact, I know a man who is not even a member of a church who considers himself a pastor because he is ordained and came forward as a young man to surrender to “the ministry.”
“To say that a Wandering Levite who has no Flock is a Pastor, is as good sense as to say, that the man who has no Children is a Father, and that the man who has no Wife is a Husband.”
- Increase Mather, The Order of the Gospel
A pastor is someone who pastors! A title, ordination, or seminary degree does not make someone a pastor (I can call myself an athlete but the sad fact is that in two years of junior high basketball I scored more points for the opposite team than for my own). Education can give one tools to be a better pastor. An ordination can publicly recognize one’s gifts to teach and lead. The title “pastor” does not magically give someone gifts or leadership qualities that they did not already have.
I recently visited the building where a local church regularly gathers. In the lobby outside of their awkwardly named “sanctuary” was a plaque which read — “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 122:1).” Did I miss something? This room with pews and hymnals (remember those?) is the temple of God?! I hear this kind of language consistently infiltrating Protestant churches.
Not only have we equated the physical meeting place of the church with the Hebrew temple we have equated the leadership of the local church with the Levitical priesthood! The Israelites had their professional ministers, so we must have ours. Just like the Israelites we pay them to do the ministry. As such, most of our Protestant churches are functionally Catholic. The paid staff are the professional Christians.
We need to reclaim the priesthood of the believers. As the book of Hebrews reminds us, we have one high priest — Christ. Under that great high priest, all Christians are a part of the priesthood (1 Pt. 2:9-10). As such, every person who has been united to God through faith in Christ should fulfill their ministry duties to “declare the praises of Him who called [them] out of darkness (1 Pt. 2:9).”
As I write this I am looking at my “Certificate of Ordination.” The ordination process was meaningful and memorable in my life. As the church prayed for me (1 Tim. 4:11-14, 2 Tim. 1:3-7), it was an encouragement and affirmation of my gifts. They recognized and supported my desire to teach the gospel and provide leadership to the church.
As I read the “Certificate of Ordination,” however, I am baffled. It indicates that I, as a pastor, have received a “special calling” to the “gospel ministry.” Ridiculous! Every Christian is a minister of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:11-21). There is no unique calling to “gospel ministry” for someone in a pastoral position.
There is not one NT reference in which the language of calling is used of anyone other than the apostles unless the calling is to salvation. Not one pastor is referred to as having been called by God to ministry. One should not therefore assume an analogy to exist between apostolic calling and ministerial office.
- Paul Harrison, “Pastoral Turnover and the Call to Preach”
It is disingenuous for pastors to complain that other church members do not do their share of ministry. Congregants have been taught through the language and polity of most churches that they are not qualified, called, or capable for ministry, so they leave “gospel ministry” to the “professionals.”
Pastoral leadership must not be confused with gospel ministry. There are no “professional Christians.” As has been said, “every member is a minister.” Dr. Black often reminded me that he was not trying to abolish the clergy, but rather the laity!
“Every member ministry” is a wonderful catch-phrase, but the implications of genuinely embracing this sort of mentality will require shifts in leadership structure, allocation of church funds, and expectations of every church member. Is my church ready to treat every member as a fully capable and called minister of the gospel of Christ?