I was talking recently with a friend about the difference between pastors and teachers, and it got my thoughts churning. You know what Wodehouse said about some minds being like the soup in a bad restaurant — better left unstirred. But that’s too bad, too late now, etc.
Considered from one angle, this topic might seem a little theology wonkish — three office/four office debate and so on. But considered from another angle it could be considered the more controversial things I have written. (Overheard in the faculty lounge at Westminster West: “We’ll be the judge of that . . .”).
First, let’s get some of the biblical data out of the way. I understand the gifts that Paul describes in Ephesians to be four in number, not five (Eph. 4:11). That means that the fourth is a compound gift, that of pastor/teacher. This means that those who are called to this office should both instruct and shepherd the people of God. All pastors should be teachers.
But it does not follow that all teachers should be pastors. The gift of teaching is mentioned a number of times in Scripture as a stand-alone gift (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 13:1). A man in a seminary classroom, or a scholar devoted to the production of books, or engaged in similar activity, is doing something that is very valuable. But the fact that it is valuable and good does not mean that it is the same thing as a pastor. A screwdriver is valuable, but it is not a hammer.
So here is the difficulty. Because of the high value placed on intellectual rigor in the Reformed tradition, we have drifted into a position where the academic pastor is the highly prized pastor. He has a doctorate, hopefully from somewhere in the UK, he smokes a pipe, and there are bonus points if he sounds like Sinclair Ferguson. This is not a shot at Sinclair Ferguson, incidentally — he’s supposed to sound that way, and I am reading a fantastic book by him right now. So forget I mentioned it.
Teaching is good, and teachers are good, but teachers are not pastors. Big problems come down upon us when we assume that because the teaching is good, the pastoring is covered.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
The man of God here is the minister, the one called to pastoral ministry. He is given the Bible, his tool chest, and why? There are four things he is to do with it — teach doctrine, reprove, correct, and instruct in righteousness. Twenty-five percent of this is something a teacher could do. The rest of it is pastoral. And actually, the teaching of doctrine is, in the hands of a pastor, pastoral also. It is quite striking how Paul uses the term doctrine. “For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10). Sound doctrine for Paul is wrapped up together with how the people of God are actually living their lives.
So pastors care about trajectories. They care about consequences. They care about the direction, the way a border collie cares about the direction. They don’t believe in tattoos, but if they did, “ideas have consequences” would be tattooed on their right forearm.
When pastors lose their touch, and forget the gospel of grace, the whole thing about “consequences” deteriorates into a simplistic moralism. The point about writing this is not that there is no such thing as pastors failing as pastors. That is manifestly not the case, as anyone who has had to deal with suffocating legalism can testify. When this happens — and it does happen — nobody here wants to defend it. When a maiden of Israel has a skirt that is two fingers above the knee and she is written off as a hoochy-mama, there has been a pastoral fail. Sure. But in the meantime, let us not forget multitudes of evangelical parents are begrudgingly buying their junior high daughters various hooker-wear outfits, silently wishing they could somehow get their family off the crazy train.
That said, let us come back to the point that teaching is not automatically pastoral. It is true that good teaching can be somewhat detached. Good pastoral care cannot be. Good teachers therefore know that they are one part of the body in our shared body life, and that their part in it is destructive if pastoral care is missing, or if their teaching is mistaken for pastoral care.
When teachers lose their touch, they assume their place in the stuffy atmospherics of the seminar classroom, there endlessly to discuss ideas, the kind of ideas that never have any consequences whatsoever. Well, actually, they do have consequences, just not consequences that a non-pastoral teacher might notice or care about. A teacher assumes that if he has an immune system in a particular area (or thinks he does), then the students must all have a robust immune system also. But they don’t, and so they get all screwed up by philosophers, theologians, and movie directors that a wise pastor would not let within three miles of these malleable little brains and hearts. And here is a good litmus test. Anybody who responds to this criticism with a sentence that includes the phrase “but academic freedom” is plainly part of the problem.
Pastors care about the natural trajectory of ideas, and they care about what weaker heads are going to do with certain ideas. This is not to say that the people of God should never be taught to respond appropriately to the streams and currents out in the world. They should be. I am just saying you don’t do the live ammo exercises on the second day of boot camp. Equipping the saints to respond to error is a very different thing than introducing them to it. I have seen many instances of the latter when people thought they were doing the former. Pastors know that the very first step when it comes to a genuine “engagement with culture” is to “beware of vain philosophy” (Col. 2:8).
Pastors know that preaching drives the word deep into hearts, and it does so in a way that mere teaching cannot do. Teaching can reach the self-motivated, and that is one of the great blessings it brings. But pastors have to care for the whole flock, and that includes those who are not self-motivated. I remember one time, decades ago, visiting a large church with a “name” pastor. He preached a sermon that was exegetically sound, ably derived from the text, and so on. It was a lot of good information. But when it was over I felt like he had handed everyone in the sanctuary a spike, and entrusted us all to take it home and drive it into our own hearts. But that is not how it is supposed to work (Acts 2:37). Some people do, but most don’t. After a generation of that, when it comes to sound doctrine, things look pretty ugly.
Pastors believe that their task is not measured in tiny increments of time, but rather in the light of eternity. The goal is to get the people somewhere. The intention is present every man perfect in Christ. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–13).
Pastors care about the climate control inside the greenhouse. This is one of the things that their preaching and teaching can do. It sets the tone, it sets the expectation. Preaching settles the baseline, and pastoral care seeks to make the individual applications. And by saying all this, incidentally, I am not claiming that this is something I have mastered. Far from it. But I do know that this is what the task actually is, and I do know that the question who is sufficient? is the question that pastors should hang around their necks like a garland.
Pastors want their people to die well. Pastors are concerned about how the college students are going to do when they are gone over the summer — three months is more than enough to wreck your life. Pastors pray for their people. And one of the griefs that a good pastor has is that his gifting attracts many to his ministry — more than he feels like he can be a good pastor to. But he still feels responsible for them. “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Cor. 11:28–29).
I am not saying that teachers should care about all these things in exactly the same way. It is a different gift, and a different calling. Of course they should care in the sense that every believer should care, and in the sense that every officer of the church should care. But good pastors get worked up about it.
So the problem I am addressing comes when we think that the gifting of a teacher is sufficient to place a man in the office of a pastor. Good teachers care if those they teach know the lesson. Good teachers want the teaching to be clear, and remembered. But a man can be a good teacher, and still not be gifted to see all the interconnections, trajectories, consequences, temptations, and snares. Don’t blame him for not seeing it — but if he doesn’t see it, he shouldn’t be the pastor. Pastors are involved with all the stuff of life, with the wires running everywhere. They are concerned with everlasting results, and these results have to be connected to everything.
So pulpit or lectern? Both are good, and we need both. But it is terrible to confuse them, and we are desperate for a right understanding of the former.