SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2012.
THE MINISTER AS A TEACHER
‘And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people’— Matt. 9:36.
IN Christian theology and thought, these words: Pastor, Shepherd, Elder and Teacher are highly inter-connected and so could be used interchangeably. The Greek word pastor simply refers to a shepherd. A shepherd is a person who cares for a flock of sheep. He leads them to a place where they can find food and water. He keeps the flock together, so it is safe from attack. At the same time, each sheep receives individual attention. Those that stray are brought back to the flock, and any sick sheep is healed. Each one is known by name.
The elder who is a pastor and teacher has two similar functions:
• Formation of Character
• Building Relationships
Formation of character
The first is the formation of Christian character. In this, every Christian receives individual care. Each one must be helped to grow to full Christian maturity, as measured by the stature of Christ. The elder does this by teaching the Word, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, binding up the broken-hearted, and releasing those who are captives of Satan. At the same time he must discipline those who wander from the true way. In Titus 2:15, Paul sums this up in three words: teach, encourage, rebuke. This is the work of the pastor and teacher.
At the same time elders must be careful not to dominate the lives of those whom they are disciplining. It is very easy for young Christians to become too dependent on their elders. Instead each Christian should be taught to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Then by reading the Bible and following the leading of the Spirit he will be able to grow on his own (I John 2:27). The elder will then only need to exercise oversight; giving encouragement and correcting mistakes. The aim is for each Christian to grow to a level of maturity where he can walk in the Spirit, and not be too dependent on an elder.
The pastor and teacher must also release each believer into his ministry. The New Testament teaches that every believer has a ministry, or area of service to God. The elders must help each Christian to discern what his gifts are, and equip him for service in the ministry to which God has called him. The elder will teach and pray and lead by example, so that every member of the Church grows to maturity.
The second function of the elder is to build relationships among Church members. Just as the shepherd keeps his flock together, so the elder will work to build up the whole body of believers. A Church is a group of believers bound together in unity. It is the responsibility of the elders to take a group of disciples, and build strong relationships between them. In this way the whole body is joined together, and grows and builds itself up in love.
This aspect of the pastor and teacher’s work is clearly demonstrated in Paul’s letters. A large part of them is devoted to building relationships. Paul is not just concerned about teaching doctrine; he also teaches the believers how to relate to each other. And often a whole chapter is given to strengthening his own relationship with the Church.
However, the best example of an elder working as a pastor and teacher is the ministry of Jesus to his disciples. He chose twelve men and worked with them for three years (Mark 3:14). Each one of them was given individual attention. Jesus taught and trained them so that they would grow to maturity. At the same time he built strong relationships between the twelve. He prepared them to work as a unit once he was gone. We can see this in the way that Jesus taught his twelve disciples. He did not just impart information to them. By living in close proximity with them for three years, he developed a strong relationship with them. They submitted to Jesus and carried out all his instructions. He had complete authority over them. In this way he formed their lives into a likeness of his own. And throughout the New Testament, teaching takes place within a similar pastoral relationship. This means that the ‘pastor and teacher: is one ministry. Every teacher is a pastor, and every pastor is a teacher’ (I Timothy 3:2).
This pattern should be followed by every elder who is a pastor and teacher.
Unfortunately, today the teaching ministry is lacking in the church of God. Ministers now seem to be crowded with a lot of activities to the detriment of the flock. Some have lost sight of the New Testament church attitude to the young believers: ‘And they
continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship…’ Acts 2:42
(a). The apostles found time to disciple the young believers. If we do not have time as teachers to teach and guide the flock, how can they know? The Ethiopian Eunuch lamented: ‘And he said, how can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself or of some other man?’ Thank God Philip was there to guide him: ‘…Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus’. Acts 8:31-35.
No doubt ministry of today requires teaching in order to guide, lead and direct the flock aright. The teacher must be up and doing, especially now as many teachings are being bandied around by false teachers and false prophets. The minister who is an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher should find time to teach and guide the flock in all matters of faith.Ven. Ernest Onuoha Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.