...are the ones that make the biggest difference


The Pastor's Arenas

In recent blog discussions and private readings, I have been confronted with a great deal of theological questioning and debate. In thinking about this, I've found it helpful to (artificially) divide the pastor's duties & obligations into 3 arenas - the doctrinal, the pastoral and the humanitarian.

The doctrinal arena is quite straightforward - a pastor is expected to know, practice and be able to effectively communicate "the mystery of the faith" (1 Tim 3:9) to those he shepherds. There is, I think, too strong a tendency in American Protestantism to put the emphasis on intellectual knowledge of the pastor without enough focus on personal praxis & devotion, but that is not entirely relevant to this discussion. This is arena is somewhat objective - does the pastor know and support the doctrinal positions of the church-body of which he is a member?

The pastoral arena includes all areas of pastoral care and duties. This would certainly include the communication of God's love & grace through visitation, preaching, teaching, counseling and personal availability to congregation members. Process evangelism would probably fall into this arena, as well as "spiritual friendships" with seekers. This arena is more subjective since it deals with interpersonal relationships and has a larger emphasis on communicating the love of God and shepherding believers.

The humanitarian arena focuses on the extra-church community - its emphasis is on evangelism and service. There is obviously some overlap with the pastoral arena. A person in the community may come to the congregation prior to coming to faith. Thus, the humanitarian arena may extend both into the church and into the external community.

So what does this have to do with theological debates? For those open to them, the primacy of an arena has much to do with the nature and content of their theological revisions. For conservatives of whatever Christian tradition, the doctrinal arena has clearly come first and not without ample biblical & patristic support for this position. In the discussion of pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, one quickly notices that personal conduct & piety is the most oft repeated criterion. However, doctrinal fidelity receives strong emphasis in chapter 4, especially with the warning in verse 16 "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." It is Timothy's teaching of sound doctrine, as well as his personal walk, that will bring salvation to himself and to others. This is not to undermine the pastoral and humanitarian requirements that are obviously required by the Gospel, but it clearly shows that we have to, as pastors, first understand the Gospel and only then can we effectively communicate it to others.

But for the postmodern Christian, doctrine is up for grabs. As I posted earlier, there is a strong tendency to discount even the possibility that our theology has any correspondence to the reality of God. With that in mind, it is no wonder that the doctrinal arena loses its place of prominence and is instead replaced with the pastoral. And here, as Phil points out, the emergent church seems to be largely driven by a desire to be pragmatic, though I think he rightly posits they have not fully realized all that this pragmatism entails. In favoring the pastoral side, the question becomes "how can we best serve/reach the people?", which is obviously not a bad question. However, when that question is divorced from the priority of sound doctrine, it becomes a market-driven ideal. To illustrate; someone who is scared to death of going to the dentist will deny that dental care is the best possible treatment for their infected teeth. If we have moved away from a clear understanding of the need for proper dental & medical care, then we may be fooled into thinking another option - perhaps a different mouthwash or an electric toothbrush - might be the best treatment. Similarly, if we have moved away from a strong doctrinal understanding of the Gospel, we may be tempted to fall into the trap of "effectiveness." (And as I touched on earlier, this is not confined to liberal or emergent churches - I fear my evangelical seeker church has gotten mired in the same trap, though possibly for different reasons.) The reality is that the best thing we can offer to someone caught up in sin is the redemption offered through the grace of Christ. While this grace is free in that we can never earn it, it is not without its demands. As Paul clearly told Timothy, sound doctrine is almost sacramental; it is a vehicle for grace. If we have compromised or revised our doctrine, what does that do to grace?

1 comment:

Phil Steiger said...

These are some very helpful thoughts. I have been struck from time to time with the role differences between a pastor in colonial America and the pastor today. Then, a pastor was the theological bulwark for the community, now they tend to be more like the spiritual pop-psychologists or church marketers.