Who Is Your Pastor?

Who Is Your Pastor?

Dr. R. E. Harlow

Dr. Harlow writes out of deep concern for the people of God. He clearly states divine principles as these are presented in the New Testament.

A young lady visiting in our office said she came from an assembly in another part of the country. “Do you know Mr. Sonso?” “Oh yes, he is our pastor.”

Several assemblies in United States and Canada have made arrangements with a commended worker to serve the local church. He is expected to do a good deal of the preaching and visitation work. For preaching, the 60-40-20 formula has been used: 60% of the Sunday mornings, 40% of Sunday evenings and 20% of the mid-week meetings. He may do all of the visitation work.

Is this man a or the pastor? What should he be called?

The word pastor is found eight times in the King James Version of the Old Testament, in Jeremiah only. It is always used to translate the Hebrew word meaning to feed, which is rightly rendered in the Revised Standard Version as shepherd. Indeed the word is found 12 times more in Jeremiah and translated shepherd, as well as dozens of times in the Old Testament, from Genesis to Zechariah. In the New Testament the word pastor occurs only once, Ephesians 4:11, but the same Greek word is found 17 times translated shepherd.

Jehovah refers to Himself as the Shepherd of His people, Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11, 12. He uses the same word of the Messiah, Ezekiel 34:23; Zechariah 13:7. The Lord Jesus is called the Good, Great and Chief Shepherd. How precious and appropriate then that when ascended He should give shepherds as well as evangelists and teachers to build up His body!

The work of the shepherd is to feed, to lead and to care for both sheep and lambs. The Great Shepherd gives this gift freely and frequently because He loves His own sheep. If this is so, pastoral work requires a spiritual gift from the risen Christ and does not depend on a knowledge of psychology, psychiatry, or theology. You cannot touch lives and help souls through the intellect: the problem is really a spiritual one.

What should an assembly do if the elders feel that there is “no gift?” This language may mean no platform gift, because the elders themselves should be “apt to teach.” Also the Holy Spirit says that everyone has a gift, Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Matthew 25:15; Ephesians 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10. We should therefore understand this statement about no gift as meaning, there is no exercise of gift. The question is: Are we willing to spend time preparing material for ministry of the Word? Everybody learns by doing.

At the same time the assembly should be willing to accept the efforts of those who are less than the best of speakers. Asking the Lord to help them is better than smug criticism. Also people who are not gifted as students of the Word or as preachers or teachers are often quite capable of meeting people, listening sympathetically to their problems and ministering Christ to individuals. They may be excellent at visitation work. The question is are they willing to give their time, that is, a part of their lives, for this purpose? In an age of affluence (Rev. 3:17) it is always easier to call in someone else.

The local assembly should be looked on, not as a social club or an evangelistic organization, but as a body. Everyone influences everyone else, either by helping or by hindering. If I sincerely feel that my brother is weak in the faith I should try to help him. In the human body, if my eye is tired and does not serve me well, I try to rest it or bathe it or gently massage it. I do not rush out to get a glass eye or a transplant or even a new pair of glasses. We should pray for members of the local assembly and help them to develop their gift. A real word of encouragement will do more good than constant criticism, or “faint praise.”

If the body is weak or if parts of it are weak, the rest of the body can and should help the weak parts. Spoon feeding a weak body will only make it weaker. An assembly feels “that it has no gift” so someone is called in to look after things. Unless he really understands the truth of the Body he will surely cause any individual exercise to dry up and wither. Everything is left to him because “He can do things so much better”.

Perhaps he can. But is this the long term solution? Take the home, for example. The mother can certainly cook and do the house work better, more quickly and more neatly than the daughters of the family. If she is wise she will accept less than perfection for the greater benefit of teaching her daughters to be good housekeepers.

If the body has a disease, then outside action may be indicated. Medicine, strong medicine, may be given or injected, but only on a temporary basis. The object of the medicine is to help the body cure itself. If the use of drugs is continued, more and more may be required. Finally human life is prolonged only on the vegetable level.

So with the assembly. An outsider called in to rectify pathological weakness should try to work himself out of a job. This is the teaching of Ephesians 4. The gifts are given in order to build up a self contained body, able to edify itself in love.

This working oneself out of a job is hard to do, especially for older people. Many missionaries have the same problem. The true evangelist who starts a new work, however, is eager to leave the assembly and enter other fruitful fields.

Some assemblies excuse their own lack of exercise by saying that people from the neighbourhood just won’t come in if a local man is on the platform. No doubt the Evangelist is also a special gift to the Church, but this reasoning is less important today when institutional Christianity is on the wane. Hundreds of ordinary Christians have started coffee hours or Bible “raps” in their own homes. It is probable that far more are being reached to-day through direct contact than through regular meetings at gospel halls or churches.

To summarize:

    1. Local gift should be cultivated and encouraged and tolerated, if mediocre, until it develops.

    2. Outside gifts may help temporarily but may tend to stultify the true spiritual growth of the assembly.

    3. 3. A true pastor is a gift from the Lord for the purpose of building up a body which is able to minister to itself.

Does he need a special name or special honour? There are other gifts in the assembly: stewards, teachers, helps. They serve quietly and faithfully, hoping to hear the Lord’s commendation a little later. Godly pastors with a heart for the spiritual welfare of the Lord’s people also have no desire for special titles or consideration. They prove their love for Christ by feeding Ms sheep. Will this be forgotten by the Lord?