Chris, a frequent commenter here at SBC Voice, blogs at “Seek the Holy.” We appreciate this post.
No matter who you are or what you do, people have certain expectations for how you should fulfill your office. Whether you are a corporate executive, a mail room clerk, a state senator, a librarian, or a general lackey, someone somewhere is ready to tell you what you should be doing in that position. This is especially true for those holding the position of pastor in a church.
It doesn’t take long to identify many of the expectations people have of their pastors. Those expectations generally reflect what a person believes to be the essential purpose of the biblical pastor. There is overlap between these various views, but each one emphasizes a particular goal for the pastoral office. Some of the more common views are:
- The pastor as therapist, helping people deal with their inner struggles – anxiety, doubt, fear, depression – and feel better about themselves and life in general.
- The pastor as life coach, providing tips, advice, and motivational talks that help people to succeed in life.
- The pastor as social worker, tending to the physical needs of the body, from medical concerns to financial woes.
- The pastor as socialite, serving as the social hub of the church and offering himself as a buddy to everyone.
Each of these positions have something to offer insofar as they each contain aspects that are necessary for the biblical pastor. That said, none of these describe what is at the heart of being a shepherd of God’s people. It should concern us that these views – particularly the first two – have become common in American Christianity, including throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.
In Scripture, Peter reveals to us what should be the central concern of the biblical pastor:
2 Peter 1:12-15
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
This follows Peter’s instructions in 1:5-11 where he tells believers the kinds of qualities and characteristics that should be present and growing in the Christian if we are to enjoy full, rich fellowship with Christ. Then following 1:12-15, he continues in verses 16-21 to remind them that he saw firsthand the majesty of the glory of God and concludes with a powerful affirmation of Scripture: we have seen these things firsthand, and we have the prophetic Word which comes from God himself. Peter’s testimony of the risen Christ validates the prophetic Word, and it is that Word which must rise up in us if we are to grow in the characteristics of 1:5-11.
In other words, Peter is saying that his heart for these people is that they would know what God promises to them (1:3-4, 8, 10-11) and expects of them (1:5-7, 10), and know these things so deeply, so fully, that they will never be forgotten. What Peter speaks to the people did not originate from his mind or from the myths of others but came from the testimony of Christ, a testimony first spoken in the Word of God.
This is what Peter’s pastor’s heart pursues for his people (we cannot avoid a little Southern Baptist alliteration!). His immediate goal is not to make friends, nor to make people feel better about themselves or to make them more successful in business. He wants them to live like Christ, to put on the things of God, to be filled with the truth of God’s Word and have that truth permeate every aspect of their being. He doesn’t want them to forget these things, so he reminds them over and over, even when he knows they have already received these teachings (1:12). The goal is stability, maturity, a lasting faith that leads to a rich entrance into the kingdom of Heaven.
Peter is not seeking their best life now, in the sense that a purveyor of prosperity might want his best life now; he is seeking their best eternity now. Peter knows that the best way for them to attain to the good life, the right life, the best life, the life in Christ, is to be filled with the things of God. As such, he will spend the rest of 2 Peter warning the people against false prophets who are doomed for destruction and will take with them any who follow them into error. Such irrational animals (2:12) are leading people astray by teaching that we should focus on ourselves now, we should build up ourselves now, we should make the most of life now. Such foolishness leads only to the day of judgment.
The pastor’s heart seeks to lead believers to that which builds true confidence, true peace, true assurance, true healing, true friendship, true life. These things do not spring from the comforts of the world or the soothing words of the flesh but from the hand of God. The true pastor knows that the only way to help his people experience true pleasure and delight is to lead them to the feet of Christ and keep them there by reminding them over and over and over again of those things that we have received from the mouth of God in his inerrant Word.
God forbid that the denomination which has worked so hard to proclaim an inspired, inerrant Word fall away from that Word by only talking about it and never making it known. God forbid that our pastors find the source of their sermons coming from anything but the prophetic word, that great lamp of God which shines through the darkness of the world.