You are very careful, deliberate, and wise about who you hire in your office. The procedures you follow relative to employment help assure that you get who you are looking for. In a similar way, do you use scrutiny in choosing a pastor and church wherein you and your family will obtain a proper spiritual diet? Many legislators and governing authorities simply go to church where their family has always gone. But, as illustrated in the first chapters of the Book of Revelation, churches change — and so do pastors. This study — How to Choose a Good Pastor — will aid you in discernment when it comes to choosing a good, biblically-based spiritual coach for life.
Today there are many thoughts as to what a pastor is or should be like. Some view him as a nice teddy bear who offers hugs and walks beside you. Others see him as the Sunday-morning event leader who is the good-looking CEO of a slick, market-driven outreach. Others view the minister as someone who can heal the congregants’ physical ailments via touching the tube (flat screen). Others can’t wait to get pumped up from this week’s prosperity message. And then there are those who view ministers as impersonal and removed, black-robed, untouchables; outsider professionals.
In the midst of these varying perceptions of a pastor, what does Scripture indicate he should be like? What are your thoughts on what makes a good pastor? The answer to this question is gained by studying what are known as the Pastoral Epistles of the New Testament: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
II. PRELIMINARY PASSAGES
By far the largest number of passages related to the pastor has to do with his injunction to teach and preach the Word of God. The sheer volume of those commandments far outweighs any other aspect of his God-given job description. This alone serves to indicate that the primacy of pastoring is related to teaching and preaching the Word of God.
A. 1 TIMOTHY 5:17
Note this emphasis as illustrated by the Holy Spirit in several passages: 1 Timothy 5:17:
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
B. ACTS 20:27
In Acts, relative to the Ephesian elders with whom Paul had labored in ministry for three years, he states:
“For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
C. COLOSSIANS 1:25
Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God.
In these three passages, the emphasis of the Apostles’ ministry was proclaiming the Word. And as will be seen, this same perspective on ministry was handed down from the Apostles to the first-century church leaders as evidenced in and by the Pastoral Epistles.
III. POSITIONAL PASSAGES EMPHASIZING TEACHING
One of the main texts that underscore the prominence of the pastor being a teacher is found in Ephesians 4:11. Herein revealed is the kind of leadership that Jesus Christ has given and intends for the Body of Christ in His physical absence (in between His first and second incarnation):
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.
Listed are four different positions of leadership that God advocates to build His body (cf. 4:11). Importantly, there is a distinction in Ephesians and elsewhere in the NT, between spiritual gifts — gifts which all believers obtain at the point of salvation — and those whom God gives as gifts to lead His body in between the First and Second Coming of Christ. Spiritual gifts are given to each member of the body (Ephesians 4:16); over and above that fact, He gives certain individuals as gifts to the Church to mature His Church. Wherein the leadership positions of Apostles and Prophets primarily related to the apostolic, formative years of the Church Age (as chronicled in the Book of Acts), the prevalent ongoing leadership positions given by Christ today are those of the Evangelist and Pastor-Teacher.
IV. PRIMARY PASSAGES EMPHASIZING TEACHING
The Pastor-Teacher is best understood as one person in Ephesians 4:11. Whereas some English Bibles translate the Greek to mean pastors and teachers, a careful study of the NT on this subject (in my opinion and others’) supports the idea of one person and one office. In other words, Christ gifts His Church with a pastor who is a teacher, and a teacher who is a pastor; they go together. In a pragmatic sense it is difficult to effectively pastor without teaching the Scriptures and it is difficult to effectively teach without pastoring. Those who are teachers and not pastors should not be lead pastors; perhaps they serve better by teaching in a seminary or writing books.
In addition to a pragmatic connection, grammatically here is why many commentators believe this is the case: The conjunction and (kai), which is found between the two nouns, often means “that is” or “in particular” in the Greek language. Accordingly, if such is the intended usage here, teachers (didaskalos) is descriptive of pastors (poimen). I.e., “Pastors, in particular, Teachers.” This evidence is inconclusive standing alone, but consider the following: 1 Peter 5:1 and 2 states,
Therefore, I exhort the elders (presbuteros) among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd (poimen) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (episkopeo) …
The three words used distinctively — elders, shepherd, and oversight — yet interchangeably, describe the same person and position. I.e., elders and overseers are other titles used to describe pastors (translated here as shepherd). Notice the same in Acts 20:17and 28:
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders (presbuteros) of the church.
Later in the passage he states to these elders:
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopos), to shepherd (poimen) the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Once again the elder and overseer are descriptors of the same person as is the shepherd (pastor). Each name is a definitive aspect of the same person and office given by Christ to His Church. States one commentator, “These are different ways of identifying the same person.”
Now add the following: In the Pastoral Epistles, specifically 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, which reveal the qualifications for those who are called by Christ as leaders in the Body of Christ, the shopping lists of qualifiers begin respectively with An overseer (episcope) then … and Appoint elders (presbuteros) [who are] …
Each passage goes on to define and describe the elder-overseer as one who is able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:5). Follow the deductive conclusion here: If a Pastor is another name for an Overseer or Elder per the conclusion of the former paragraph, then it stands to reason that, per the latter paragraph, a Pastor is one who is able to teach. These various passages, combined, seem to conclude that every pastor is one who is able to teach the Word of God … A Pastor-Teacher.
SOME PASTORS ARE NOT BIBLE TEACHERS AND SOME BIBLE TEACHERS ARE NOT PASTORS
Choose one who is both! Your spiritual coach needs to love and mentor you as he labors to teach you God’s Word! Don’t settle for less, my friend. You can see by my studies that I work hard at teaching in our capital; I want to work just as hard at being a good personable pastor for you as well.
As seen in the aforementioned passages and many others, the above are the primary interchangeable titles that God uses to identify those whom He has actually given to the Body of Christ today. Given this intel, God expects you, a believer, to cue in on this! Don’t choose a pastor who is not a teacher. Equally bad, don’t choose a teacher who is not a pastor! Add to this 1 John 4:1:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
One need discern if a spiritual leader is really sent from God by first of all asking, does he even teach the Bible? And secondly, if he does, to what degree does he teach it? Acts 17:11 states regarding the Berean Christians:
For they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:20-21 regarding true belief:
“So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven …”
Choose wisely your pastor! Make sure he is teaching you the Word of God!
Is it an appropriate and/or a fair question to ask, “How do I rate my pastor?” I think so.
Properly rating another (like you do those seeking employment in your office) relates to good judgment. Whereas God condemns those who possess a self-righteous judgmental spirit akin to the Pharisees (cf. Matthew 7:1), every believer is to possess careful discernment especially when it comes to spiritual matters. Perhaps the best way to think about this is as follows: One must be judicious. Whereas we all know Pharisees who are despicable in their condescending tones of pious self-righteousness, no one finds fault with an individual characterized by judiciousness.
John 7:24 states:
“Judge with righteous judgment.”
As a matter of fact, judiciousness — or better, discernment — is required in order to properly love. Philippians 1:9 states:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.
Choose wisely, my friend, who will pastor you at both ends of your geographically split-apart vocation.
SIMILAR TO JUDGING SAFETY FROM DANGER IS THE ABILITY TO JUDGE TRUTH FROM ERROR
Spiritual judiciousness is requisite of one who desires to obey Jesus regarding inadequate or even false-teaching pastors. One need be discerning when it comes to evaluating good vs. bad pastors. Make sure, too, that you are not following a pastor who is simply flattering you; real shepherds will speak truth into your life at the risk of losing your friendship.
Too often believers incorrectly think, “I’m not to judge” as they follow after ineffectual pastors, pastors who fail to ever mature their congregants because they serve up a low-protein Bible diet; non-discernment is another way of spelling naiveté or imprudence. Proverbs calls such individuals “simpletons.” “I am not to judge” can sometimes be a “spiritual cloak” covering a lack of applied biblical insight or necessary courage.
Put yourself in association with a pastor who will stimulate spiritual growth via teaching and preaching the Word. At the same time, put yourself in association with a pastor who will stimulate spiritual growth via shepherding your heart through the good times and the bad.
This selection will make a huge difference in your growth over the decades ahead! Hebrews 5:14 speaks about how learning the precepts of God develops spiritual judiciousness:
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Biblical laxity leads to spiritual naiveté. The ability to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) implies that one possesses theological acumen. Proverbs 1:22 states, “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded?” States Proverbs 14:15 and Ephesians 5:17:
The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps.
So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Be discerning! Ask judiciously, “Does the pastor I’m following really shepherd me? Does he possess a genuine love for people as well as the skill and commitment to teach the Bible?” Those questions are emblematic of the kind of thinking and decisions God expects from you.