I was recently listening to an audiobook discussing current trends in American churches. One of the topics addressed by the author was how men of God from previous generations have approached the task of leading God’s flock. In particular, the author spent much time commenting on the preaching of one of the most well-respected pastors of the 19th century: Charles Spurgeon.
Spurgeon is perhaps the most admired, quoted, and studied preacher in recent history. Why? He is regarded simply as a ‘great’ preacher of the word of God. Many of his sermons are available either online or in print. Moreover, he pastored the same church for several decades, preaching to thousands of people on a weekly basis.
Much more could be said about Charles Spurgeon, but is this the way to judge the efficacy of pastoral ministry (i.e. admirable sermons, widespread influence, etc.)? I want to argue that it is not; in fact, a biblical pastor’s effectiveness is not seen in what he produces, but what those under his influence accomplish.
The basis for this claim is found in Ephesians 4:11-12, where the apostle Paul states that pastors are given to the church to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. The ‘work’ of the Church is stated elsewhere as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), also referred to as the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Based on these passages, it seems that pastors are here to equip the people of God to preach the gospel and make disciples. Is that what Charles Spurgeon is known for? Better yet, is that what your pastor is known for? If you are a pastor, is that what you are doing?
Consider the following analogy: suppose you spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of your time attending college. When graduation time came, your parents wanted to know what degree you earned and what your career plans were. You informed them that you were not properly trained for any career but you enjoyed your college experience. What would they think? They would probably wonder, “How could you spend so much time (and money) pursuing higher education but never learn enough to get a decent job?” Also, what kind of university employs professors who fail to ‘equip’ their students with the knowledge and skills needed to fulfill their purpose? In the same way, why is it that church members can spend so many years receiving biblical ‘education’ but never learn how to make disciples? Maybe it is because the mandate issued in Ephesians 4:11-12 is not taken very seriously by the leadership.
The mark of a biblical pastor is that his people are being equipped to evangelize unbelievers and make disciples. In other words, the primary biblical fruit of pastoral ministry is best seen in what the people, not the pastor, are doing. If the vast majority of a congregation is not ever trained on how to both share and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ, something is terribly wrong with the leader’s priorities.
It is common knowledge that many pastors have a plethora of responsibilities. As such, they deserve support and encouragement. However, it is also important that the primary task of equipping their people for disciple-making is not neglected. After all, this is precisely what the apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy to do (2 Tim. 2:2).
To assess your church’s faithfulness to this mandate, consider the following diagnostic questions: are you better prepared to share the gospel with Muslims as a result of the preaching/leadership of your pastor? What about atheists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, indifferent teenagers, etc? Are you able to teach someone the meaning of the scriptures because your pastor has taught you (directly or indirectly) how to? Are you ready to baptize a new believer if you were so petitioned, or would you have to rely on the pastor to do it because you are ill-equipped for the task? Speaking of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is a reason why they are widely known for their outreach attempts. Their leaders impress upon them the urgency of the preaching work, and the leaders lead by example. Perhaps many pastors today can learn something from those who lead this cultic group.
Indeed, if we are going to recognize Spurgeon for his contributions to the cause of Christ, it should be because of the people who were equipped to make disciples through his ministry, not for his wonderful sermons. Again, pastors were not given to merely preach good messages (as important as that is) but to equip their people to pursue the Great Commission. Was that the focus of Spurgeon’s ministry? More importantly, can that be said about your pastor?
My purpose here is not to belittle the efforts of those in pastoral ministry. Rather, the goal is to challenge us to reevaluate the purpose of our church experiences. A biblical pastor is not one who merely does meaningful things for his congregants. Instead, a biblical pastor equips his people to carry out the mission Christ left for His Church. A church should not simply be known for all the pastor is doing; it should be recognized for what the congregation does. Is this happening in your church? If not, let’s pray that it will become a reality sooner rather than later.