How do I describe the impact of C. J. Mahaney’s message this weekend? I have yet to hear a teacher of the Bible who so accurately understands his own shortcomings yet so clearly magnifies God. Mahaney taught from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and encouraged faithfulness to the gospel through the content and character of the preacher.
Mahaney made clear that the Word of God is essential to the church. Before being overwhelmed by the obvious he traced out the implications of such a thought. For example, the primacy of the Word of God should be reflected in the schedule of the preacher (i.e., I should set aside adequate time to unhurriedly exegete, applicate, and illustrate the text of Scripture). I cannot let lesser duties overwhelm this primary concern nor can I allow sinful procrastination to cripple my Bible Study.
I was also reminded during this time that a pastor/elder is most adequately equipped to teach the Bible at a particular church because preaching requires pastoral skill and discernment to teach and apply the Bible. A pastor should know the struggles and victories of his congregation and, therefore, know the appropriate use of admonition and exhortation. I would not want to admonish the weak and encourage the unruly! This requires an atmosphere of community that is conducive to openly sharing life.
Mahaney pierced my heart with his encouragement to preach “with all patience” (2 Tim. 4:2). It is sometimes easier to give a weekly monologue than be patient with people. I must always keep in the front of my mind God’s patience with me. Further, I cannot expect my listeners to immediately understand and apply everything I preach. God has been slowly working on my heart and I have been “living in the text” for weeks. How foolish of me to think that what took me weeks and years to understand will immediately be fully grasped by my audience. Further, it is the height of arrogance to think that I am such a good communicator as to condense years worth of Biblical study and personal sanctification into a single hour-long sermon.
All-in-all I must persevere in the careful and consistent teaching of the Word of God and “be grateful and surprised” that anyone shows up to hear me speak at all!
In evaluating my ministry with high school and middle school students I am continually depressed by their understanding of the Bible. Many of these young adults have been going to church for years. Most of them are self-professed Christians. However, if I ask them to quote 5 verses from the Bible, I suspect few of them could. Most of them could not give even a basic description of entire books of the Old Testament such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Judges (just to name a few). I have come to the realization that the deficiency is more in the teaching of the church than the ability of the students. Here are some reasons I think our young adults are largely Biblically illiterate.
1. Emphasizing character traits more than Christ. In the desire to teach young adults morality we often miss Christ. We treat the Bible like a playbook (sorry Joe Gibbs and Tony Dungy) and look for principles of successful living. As a result we have considerate students who do not know Jesus. We get to a passage such as Luke 4 (the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness) and teach students how they can use magical Bible bullets to defeat Satan while neglecting to mention how Jesus (the second Adam) passes the test where Adam failed. We forget to show how Jesus’ time in the wilderness is a reversal of the Israelites’ failures in the wilderness (that is probably why all of Jesus’ quotations to the devil are from Deuteronomy 6 and 8). The result of character overemphasis is the creation of virtuous pagans.
2. Relying on literature about the Bible more than the Bible. My new goal in equipping gospel ministers is to free them from shiny Sunday School quarterlies. If I am unable to explain “the gospel according to the Scriptures” then I cannot teach it. I want to understand and articulate the gospel according to the Scriptures and use Bible helps only as a secondary study tool. If we imply that the Bible is not sufficient and perspicuous (+3 points for a seminary word) then those we teach will feel ill-equipped to study it on their own.
3. Not modeling good Bible-study. When teaching I must not only communicate the truth of a meaningful passage of Scripture I must demonstrate good tools of Bible Study that can be reproduced in the lives of those I am teaching. While I might not walk them through my hermeneutical method explicitly they should absorb a method of faithful exegesis.
4. Unnecessarily low expectations. Each Christian is a fully capable minister of Christ. Further, many of the adults in my church are more intelligent and educated than I. The young adults in my student ministry spend their days studying Trigonometry, Latin, and Physics. The people I teach are more than capable to grasp the things of God. It is arrogant and incorrect to treat them as if they cannot understand the “deep” truths of Scripture.
I am still trying to work out the implications of these suggestions but my basic goals are to trust that the Bible is sufficient, clearly articulate the gospel, and focus on discipleship rather than entertainment in my model of ministry. Jesus is compelling and relevant. I must give students every opportunity to know, follow, and obey Jesus.
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.
What about the New Testament? The promise of the new covenant is that God will be among us (Ez. 37:27) — we are the temple (2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:21)!
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?