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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The extraordinary worth of what you do everyday

I have just read Paul Rude's post 'Do truck drivers matter to God' over at The Gospel Coalition blog and would urge you to read it too. He helpfully tackles the issue of whether the work we do everyday really matters to God and addresses the tacit Christian dualism, not uncommon in many churches, that suggests full-time Christian ministry is of inherent worth to God whilst secular employment, by contrast, is of little or no value.

It is not at all uncommon to hear of those who have left secular employment to answer the "higher calling" of full-time Christian ministry. The very use of this phrase, "higher calling", often belies the view that God especially values ministry work because it deals with eternal matters of the soul and, by contrast, attaches little or no value to the temporal things of everyday life. As Rude notes, 'the implied ranking of our [secular] vocations is obvious'.

Rude comments:
Audiences will sometimes affirm the speaker's decision to leap "from success to significance" by offering up an "Amen!" or "Hallelujah!" They may even give the speaker a stirring round of applause. But what's the truck driver---the one quietly sitting nine pews back, third from the left---feeling at that moment? And the godly accountant, engineer, retail associate, bank manager, and all the other people who will get up early the next morning and bend their backs at jobs just like the one the speaker renounced---what must they all feel at that moment?
The answer to Rude's question is clear: such comments are guilt inducing and unhelpful. For some, it leads to concerns that they have missed their life's calling. For others, it leads to an inherent sense of worthlessness as they continue in a job to which, they believe, God attaches no value. For many, it leads to the idea that we are only serving God when engaged in somewhat unspecified but always overtly "Christian" activities. On this view, secular employment becomes nothing but a barrier to serving God and committed Christians are typically those who leave behind such worldly constraints and give their life over to full-time Christian ministry.

In tackling this line of thinking, Rude's comments are incredibly helpful. He says the following:
The truth is stunning. The truth is that the regular, everyday, earthly work of a Christian's life possesses breathtaking significance bestowed by the touch of God's magnificent glory. God pulls the white-hot ingot of eternity from the forging fire of his sovereignty. Then, like master to apprentice, he entrusts the hammer to our hands (Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:17, 23; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Thess. 3:6-12). He says, "Strike it. Strike it right here. This is your place. This is where I want you to influence eternity. Live the life I gave you to live." And so, in stammering awe, we take up the hammer. We live our lives---our regular, everyday, toilsome lives. The hammer falls. Sparks fly. Eternity bends, and the Master is delighted (Matt. 25:21).
He goes on to comment:
There's something massive going on here---God's epic cosmic story---and we're smack in the middle of it. He knows your name and mine. He's given us each a life to live---a regular, everyday life---a particular place for us to shape eternity (Phil. 1:27Col. 1:101 Thess. 2:124:112 Thess. 3:6-12)
 All of this is to say, there is extraordinary worth in what we all do everyday!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Pastors and Teachers or Pastor-Teachers?

Paul, in discussing the gifts that God gives the church, tells us in Ephesians 4:11-12 'And truly He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (MKJV)'. There is little debate regarding the first three gifts, each representing a distinct role. However, there is a question over whether "pastors and teachers" denotes one spiritual gift or two.

Those who ascribe "pastors and teachers" as one gift tend to argue δὲ is repeated before each individual gift yet this article appears only once before the last two nouns. Grammatically, this signals a change and suggests "pastor and teachers" is a unit distinct from the preceding series. However, the discussion does not revolve around this grammatical rule, over which there can be no debate, but the nature of this distinct unit.

Bill Mounce argues:
The use of a single article with multiple plural nouns indicates a single unit, but it does not necessarily mean the two nouns are identical. This same construction occurs earlier in 2:20 and joins “apostles” and “prophets,” but these are not identical gifts.
Hoehner suggests that the distinction is that the prior gifts are expressed in an itinerate ministry and the later two are gifts for a local ministry. Harold’s discussion of this is excellent and worth reading (Ephesians. An Exegetical Commentary published by Baker).
Hoehner goes on to quote Wallace’s argument that the grammar suggests that the first (“pastors”) is a subset of the second (“teachers”). Everyone who is gifted to shepherd a local flock of believers is gifted to teach, but the gift of teaching does not necessarily mean the person is gifted to shepherd (e.g., administration, exhortation).
This leads us to the view that “pastor” and “teacher” are somewhat distinct gifts. Whilst all pastors must be able to teach (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2), not all teachers are gifted to pastor. Mounce comments:
God has gifted some people to do everything. These are the wonderful pastors who have a small enough church that they can care for everybody and everything. I have a friend who does this. He loves smaller churches. He pastors them for about ten years, takes a sabbatical, and then looks for another small church to love and care for. He is just now headed for his third church as their pastor. And he will pastor them, and that by definition includes the calling to teach them. Ultimately churches are to be led by their teachers, which is why every pastor and elder must of necessity be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). 
But there are other people who are gifted to teach. They may not have great administrative gifts, and may not be very good and sitting down with someone and listening to their issues. But they still love their God and their people just as fervently, and they show that love by spending a vast number of hours in preparing their sermons.
The interpretation of "pastors and teachers" as one gift often leads to the view that preaching and pastoral ministry amount to the same thing. On this view, church members with complex pastoral needs are often left high and dry as preaching alone is considered the remedy for all ills. Alternatively, this view can lead to a culture in which the preacher is expected to do everything - even handling complex pastoral matters outside his area of gifting - in direct conflict with both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. In the worst cases, it can lead to ministry appointments based solely on teaching ability by churches expecting a pastoral worker despite failing to seek any evidence of such ability. As a result, preaching is viewed as the the solution to all pastoral matters because the minister is uncomfortable doing anything else and the congregation insists on a pastoral element to his role despite appointing him based on his teaching gift alone. 

Church ministers with both teaching and pastoral gifting are a rarity indeed! However, this should come as no surprise if we understand Ephesians 4:11 as denoting two distinct gifts. Moreover, Bill Mounce's comment, to which I would subscribe - everyone who is gifted to shepherd a local flock should also be gifted to teach but not everyone who is gifted to teach is necessarily gifted to shepherd a local flock - should lead us to conclude that we are more likely to find gifted teachers than gifted pastors within our congregations. 

Therefore, as title would suggest, we should be seeking to appoint pastors based predominantly on their pastoral gifting, as opposed to their teaching ability. Of course, as expressly stated in 1 Timothy 3:2, pastors must be able to teach; however, this is not the overriding qualification to the detriment of all else. For how is the full-time ministers time predominantly spent if not dealing with pastoral issues? Preaching is but a part, though a nonetheless important one, of the wider role. Indeed, it is possible to have continued sound ministry from lay members or itinerate speakers but pastoral ministry cannot be outsourced. Yet how often are pastors appointed based on pastoral ability over and above their teaching gift?

Perhaps a plurality of elders is required to meet this need as every elder must be able to teach. If we have elders who are able to teach, and this is a scriptural criteria for eldership, to appoint a full-time minister predominantly for his teaching ability - though, of course, he should have such a gift - seems rather to miss the point. Instead, although able to teach, we should be appointing full-time ministers on the basis of their pastoral gifting in the knowledge that we have other elders who, by definition of the role, can teach. Perhaps it is because preaching is viewed as the summum bonum, though that is not to say it is unimportant, that we have emphasised it in such a way that our churches may be full of people 'able to teach', with fewer who are able to pastor and even less who can do both.