The Pastors Calling

From He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

“The pastoral calling is inherently theological. Given the fact that the pastor is to be the teacher of the Word of God and the teacher of the gospel, it cannot be otherwise. The idea of the pastorate as a non-theological office is inconceivable in light of the New Testament.

Though this truth is implicit throughout the Scriptures, it is perhaps the most apparent in Paul’s letters to Timothy. In these short and powerful letters, Paul establishes Timothy’s role as a theologian and also affirms that all of Timothy’s fellow pastors are to share in the same calling. Paul emphatically encourages Timothy concerning his reading, teaching, preaching, and study of Scripture. All of this is essentially theological, as is made clear when Paul commands Timothy to “follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). Timothy is to be a teacher of others who will also teach. “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

As Paul completes his second letter to Timothy, he reaches a crescendo of concern as he commands him to preach the Word, specifically instructing him to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (4:2). Why? “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (4:3-4).

Further, Paul defines the duty of the overseer or pastor as one who is “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9 NASB). In this single verse, Paul simultaneously affirms the apologetic and polemical facets of the pastor-theologian’s calling. As he makes clear, the pastoral theologian must be able to defend the faith even as he identifies false teachings and makes correction by the Word of God. There is no more theological calling than this – guard the flock of God for the sake of God’s truth.

In fact, there is no dimension of the pastor’s calling that is not deeply, inherently, and inescapably theological. There is no problem the pastor will encounter in counseling that is not specifically theological in character. There is no major question in ministry that does not come with deep theological dimensions and the need for careful theological application. The task of leading, feeding, and guiding the congregation is as theological as any other conceivable vocation.

Evangelism is a theological calling as well, for the very act of sharing the gospel is, in short, a theological argument presented with the goal of seeing a sinner come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to be a faithful evangelist, the pastor must first understand the gospel and then understand the nature of the evangelist’s calling. As every stop of the way, the pastor is dealing with issues that are irrefutably theological.

Most important, the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is theological from beginning to end. The preacher functions as a steward of the mysteries of God, explaining the deepest and most profound theological truths to a congregation that must be armed with the knowledge of these truths in order to grow as disciples and meet the challenge of faithfulness in the Christian life.

As many observers have noted, today’s pastors are often pulled in many directions simultaneously – and the theological vocation is often lost amidst the pressing concerns of a ministry that has been reconceived as something other than what Paul intended for Timothy. The managerial revolution has left many pastors feeling more like administrators than theologians, dealing with matters of organizational theory before ever turning to the deep truths of God’s Word and the application of these truths in everyday life. The rise of therapeutic concerns within the culture means that many pastors, and many of their church members, believe that the pastoral calling is best understood as a “helping profession.” As such, the pastor is seen as someone who functions in a therapeutic role in which theology is often seen as more of a problem than a solution.

All this is a betrayal of the pastoral calling as presented in the New Testament. Furthermore, it is a rejection of the apostolic teaching and of the biblical admonition concerning the role and responsibilities of the pastor. Today’s pastors must recover and reclaim the pastoral calling as inherently and cheerfully theological. Otherwise, pastors will be nothing more than communicators, counselors, and managers of congregations that have been emptied of the gospel and of biblical truth.”

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. He is Not Silent. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008). 106-09.

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