Recently I was talking with a ministry friend of mine, a man I like and respect. He loves the lost and wants to see churches make an impact in their communities. He has gifts and insights that I can learn from.

But I was caught off guard by something he said about Ephesians 4:11. He argued that for too long we’ve trained pastors to be shepherds and teachers, when the time has now come to train them to be apostles, prophets, and evangelists. The second half of verse 11 might have worked in a different time, but in today’s world we need ministers who more resemble the first half of the verse. His point was that we have lots of pastors who are well-equipped to care for the flock and teach the finer points of doctrine, but precious few who can exercise dynamic leadership and get into the community to make a difference and build the kingdom.

I’ve heard these arguments many times, in pockets of the church that are conservative and evangelical, and sometimes in pockets of the church more or less reformed. No one says that teaching is a waste or that doctrine can be ignored. But the general sentiment is that good preaching and congregational care are pretty well taken care of. What we really need are innovators, visionary-leaders, entrepreneurs, and community change-agents. The nature of pastoral ministry accounts for much of what divides the evangelical world, and even the smaller tribe of the new Calvinists. I don’t mean “divide” in a nasty schismatic way (though I suppose that happens too). I simply mean that you can get a group of pastors together who share almost all the same theology, but hardly agree on anything about “doing church” because they don’t have the same roles and goals in mind for pastoral ministry. Often these disagreements go unstated and simmer below the surface, and good Christians wonder what the hang up really is.

Let me a venture a few reflections on this disagreement, the nature of pastoral ministry, and Ephesians 4:11 in particular.

1. God gifts some people to be innovators, visionary-leaders, entrepreneurs, and community change-agents. We should be thankful for Christians who love people and serve their cities in that way.

2. These kinds of gifts can be especially useful for church planters and those working in places with few Christians around. If “apostle” means the ability to start a new thing in a new place, and “prophet” means the ability to speak into our culture, and “evangelist” means the ability to connect with non-Christians, then these are gifts many pastors would do very well to have and to cultivate. Different pastors will excel in different areas of ministry. Some will excel in turning things around, some in wading through conflict, some in keeping a good thing going, and others in starting from scratch. In a country where the religious “nones” continue to rise, pastors need to see their communities may be changing in ways that significantly affect their ministries.

3. Having said all that, we should not read our own definitions into important biblical terminology. While there may be apostle-like gifts and prophet-like gifts, Paul considered the office of apostle and the office of prophet to be uniquely foundational in the life of the church (2:20; 3:5). Paul didn’t say that Christ gave to the church some people who start things and some people who speak in the culture and some people who connect with non-Christians. Those may all be good things and even gifts from the Spirit, but we shouldn’t assume our commonsense notions of pastoral training are what Paul had in mind by these specific offices.

4. It’s telling that the office of pastor/elder/overseer is described chiefly as one of shepherding and teaching (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Peter 5:2; cf. John 21:16). Timothy is also told to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), though the context suggests public preaching rather than a vague sense of being able to connect with non-Christians. If we read through the New Testament, and especially the pastoral epistles, we must conclude that responsibility of the pastor is not to cast vision or start new programs or even to engage with the community. His main responsibility is to shepherd the flock entrusted under his care, proclaim Christ, and faithfully pass on the apostolic teaching.

5. It’s also worth noticing what the four (or five) offices listed in Ephesians 4:11 all have in common. They all assume teaching gifts and are teaching offices. The apostles and prophets were the foundational teachers, the evangelists were (perhaps) itinerant teachers, and the shepherd-teachers were the pastors teaching in the local congregation. In one sense, the offices do not vary all that much. Christ’s singular gift to the church is in providing men who can boldly, clearly, and persuasively teach the whole counsel of God.

6. Which brings me to my final point and the title of this post: let pastors be pastors. There are men who want to love a church, lead their fellow elders, and preach solid sermons. And yet, they feel like they don’t have the entrepreneurial gifts or visionary personality to cut it in today’s church. They may still be called to pastoral ministry. Conversely, there are men entering the pastorate because they have great gifts for making things happen and great passion for changing their communities, but they should not be pastors because they cannot teach and have little patience for loving an actual congregation. I’m not at all convinced that our pastors are prepared to preach good sermons and shepherd a congregation. But even if we’ve been nailing this training for fifty years, it doesn’t make the continuing need any less real. Pastoral ministry as God describes it may not seem particularly relevant or cutting edge. But if we truly love our people, keep watch over their souls, and preach the word of God week after week, I’m willing to bet God’s people will be the entrepreneurial, cultural-engaging, community-shaping people we want them to be. We just have to get our calling squared away first.

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30 thoughts on “Let Pastors be Pastors”

  1. Ah, yes, pastoral ministry 101! Save the time and gas traveling to the latest Church growth gig and revisit the original plan! We need to refresh our biblical vision often because there is such widespread confusion about a pastor’s role. Is a pastor a shepherd who tends a flock or an entrepreneur leading a business and marketing a product? Pastors are expected to be spiritual teachers, overseers, biblical scholars, administrators, CEOs, financial advisors, professional counselors and friends. If a pastor tries to be effective in all of these areas, insecurity and deep feelings of inadequacy will intensify and possibly result in higher needs for affirmation or ultimately, burnout.

    A key component often neglected is plurality. God doesn’t want us to work alone in this great calling. Build a team of leaders following the prescribed pattern of Scripture for a plurality of eldership over each local Church.

    For the past 25 years, I’ve been blessed with a great team of leaders. Some of us have served together at our Church for most of those years. Team leadership requires deference, mutual honor, servanthood and love. Team (to be effective for eternity) must be centered in shared commitments to callings greater than any one person on the team. Commitments to shepherd God’s flock in the context of the first three requests of the Lord’s prayer should consume the focus of leadership.

    Honor God’s name
    Advance God’s kingdom
    Doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven

    Thanks for the good refresher for shepherd of God’s flock.

  2. Having study Ephesians 4:11 over the last 45 years I totally agree with your understanding of the verse and the purpose of the pastor and the ministry he has that God has called him to do.

  3. MarieP says:

    “Evangel” means “gospel” or “good news”- a preacher of the Gospel in season and out, whether to saints or lost sinners!

    Perhaps you could add a word about the pastor as ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)?

  4. Mel says:

    Or about being salt? Or perhaps I’m not understanding what community changing means.

  5. Scott says:

    Right on!!! Preach the word in season and out of season, the whole counsel of God. That is what changes hearts and which the spirit uses to motivate and change the congregation AND the pastor.

  6. Hi, I'm Karl says:

    Thank you, Kevin.

    You’ve done a great job articulating one of the main struggles many pastors face, especially in smaller churches – that terrible pressure to “perform” in ways we’re not called or gifted.

    If you caught the July/August 2012 issue of Outreach magazine (this is not a promo – I have no association with the magazine), Dan Kimball made a similar point from the other side of the ledger. In his piece, “Why I Am Not a ‘Pastor'”, he says he’s quit using the title “pastor” for himself because, as the leader of a megachurch, he no longer does much direct hands-on pastoring. That’s done mostly by their small group leaders. Whether-or-not that’s a good or bad thing is an argument for another time and place, but at least he acknowledges what you’re saying. The pastoring/shepherding gift doesn’t always overlap with the prophet/evangelist gifts.

    Pastoring is a unique gift to be valued all on its own.

    Not every pastor is an entrepreneur. Most aren’t. And that’s OK.

  7. I agree completely…
    somehow I feel like the pastor who is faithfully serving his rural church with 85 attendees feels like an utter failure were he to base his ministry on something other than “being a pastor to his people”.

  8. Tom MIlligan says:

    Thank you Kevin for your empowering reflections on Ephesians 4:11. I was encouraged as a pastor to both keep caring for the flock as well as to break free of any limitations of “pastoral work is only this or that.” Rather we are to use the gifts and training that we have to serve wholeheartedly and to the best of our ability God’s people.
    I always read Ephesians 4:11 as the body of Christ working together for the building up of the church. I emphasize “some” to do this “some” to do that. All that the church needs does not rest in one leader, but in a multitude of leaders. I am a solo pastor of a small country church, but have been encouraged that all of our church elders are to be leaders and that God has gifted and called them to work with me to equip the people to serve.

  9. Joseph Spell says:

    I think that many church leaders focus on one facet of evangelism, “reaching the lost”, without first building up the church for works of ministry. Proper teaching & exampled discipleship super-naturally results in solid evangelism. When the Gospel is not being proclaimed it may be an indication of weak discipleship. As for the work of the Evangelist his first work is amoung God’s people. Being a CEO is not a necessary, pastorial qualification. Caring for the people of God, personally involved in there daily living, is.

  10. This is a big tension point for me. I have within myself a strong evangelistic bent that loves engaging and reaching out to those outside the community to bring them in. I’m not much an innovator. My strategy mostly looks like hanging out in coffee shops:
    http://derekzrishmawy.com/2012/10/23/quick-blog-5-how-to-meet-people-in-coffee-shops/

    Still, I find in myself another bent which is simply to care for what I have, corral, study, and prep for the week. I could easily slip into a mode where I focus on either to the neglect of the other, but balancing both is tough. I know I’m at a stage where I can be learning new skills, but I’m also still trying to figure out the areas I’m most gifted and effective. In any case, this was a helpful post. It’s okay to be a pastor. I need to hear that. Thanks.

  11. Kevin Jandt says:

    I think it seems more exciting to cast visions and be an “evangelist” than the monotony of shepherding a flock.

    Shepherding is hard work. In the words of Judge Smails, “Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.”

    The job of being a shepherd and a pastor is like digging ditches. It’s hard work and your going to get dirty. People don’t like to be led. Much easier to speak at a conference and cast a vision than deal with people’s problems everyday.

    Great job taking on this tough subject.

  12. David Axberg says:

    Thanks Kevin.

    @Kevin Jandt “Noonnan” great quote.

  13. A fearful man says:

    This is a very needed distinction, and it’s presented very clearly. Thank you. By trade, I’m a Naval Officer, not a claric, but I am still called as a man of God. I am not a pastor, and never will be one, nor am I an evangelist or apostle. I do however, fulfill the role of prophet, which is not a role I would have chosen for myself, or wished on anyone, for being a prophet necessitates calling out sin and heracy within the Church, and warning the lost of the judgment that is required for national and cultural sins. I often say and write things, that God lays on my heart, and burn like a fire within me, that are not politically correct or expedient, and are more likely to garnish me insults than applause. (Which is part of why I often try to maintain a bit of anonymity when I do say such things.) This is not the role of a pastor. Although it is one Spirit Who gives the various gifts, He doesn’t gift all the same, and it is foolish to think that everyone who is called to Christian ministry is automatically called to pastor a church. Pastors must be allowed to shepherd their flocks, and supported in that ministry. They shouldn’t try to be the jacks of all trades. There are others, whom the Spirit has chosen, to do the other tasks of the ministry.

  14. Kerry Prochaska says:

    Amen and well written. I could agree w/ Kevin more. My reading of Ephesians 4:11 is exactly the same. Pastors ARE shepherds AND teachers. They are not entrepreneurs. I wish all who call themselves a pastor would read this article. Thank you for the excellent thoughts expressed here.

  15. John Thomson says:

    Kevin, while you say much here that is good and right, I dissent a little. I, of course, agree wholeheartedly that the church needs pastor/teachers. My problem is that we make one man such and put him in charge of a church, or at least all its teaching (unless we are big enough to afford two or more). I simply don’t see this in the NT.

    I don’t see a one-man-ministry (which nowadays is expected to be a one-man-omnigifted-omnicompetent-ministry. These one-man-wonders are expected to cover all bases. As you point out, they cannot do so. But, and here’s my point, the system demands that they do. Thus we have congregations who are pew-fillers and have little sense of personal gifting and pastors with burn-out. The problem is not simply that the system is abused, the problem is the system itself.

    The clerical system simply does not take Paul’s plurality and body life seriously. For, despite your bid to see significant similarity in each of these gifts actually enumerated in Eph 4, the similarity is not as great as claimed. What these mentioned gifts have in common is that they are SPEAKING gifts, thereafter they differ significantly. While some may have been given a good number of the gifts most don’t. Indeed the text suggests that being multi-talented is not the norm… some are apostles… prophets… evangelists (not ONE is apostle/prophet/evangelist).

    If we free up some to be pastor/teachers then we should free up some to be evangelists etc. Better still, lets make sure that the local church has pastor/teachers who are not Bible college trained and some who are not salaried (whether trained or otherwise). Let’s make sure that local church gifting has nothing to do with a crippling unbiblical clergy/laity structures and seek to recognise and develop in the members the giftings given by the sovereign Spirit.

    Your friend is right that most prominence is given to pastor/teacher (and we do need such gifts). But we also need evangelists. I find everyone wants to be a pastor but few desire to be evangelists. I wonder if kudos and safety come into play here. Certainly, the institutionalised role of the upfront performing pastor who is in charge does little to create the biblical balance in gifting that Eph 4 describes. This remnant of Roman Catholicism has been responsible for institutionalising the Spirit and stifling the flourishing of spiritual gifts; the Spirit is straight-jacketed and churches dismembered.

  16. Dan says:

    Ephesians 4 continues to keep surfacing!

    Overall I believe Kevin is right on target. Too much is expected of pastors in consumer-driven world, and good shepherding requires a love for people but informed by sound preaching of the Word. In light of 4:11, I’d be curious to hear some feedback regarding the translation and interpretation of 4:12, e.g.

    ESV: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,”
    KJV: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:”

    Notice how the ESV (as do all the other more modern versions I’ve looked at: NASB, NIV, NKJV) implies that the saints do the work of ministry, while the KJV splits the phrases such that the “perfecting of the saints” and “the work of the ministry” are linked directly to the offices listed in 4:11. I do not defend one translation vs. another as I am not qualified to do so, but I first became aware of this translation difference in a paper by T. David Gordon to which a pastor friend referred me just a few months ago (link here: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/37/37-1/JETS_37-1_069-078_Gordon.pdf), in which Gordon prefers the KJV translation.

    I’m sure that more knowledgeable readers than myself are well aware of this translation difference, while I am relatively new to it. Nevertheless, to tie back to Kevin’s post, I would have to say that if indeed Gordon is correct, it would certainly give strongest support to Kevin’s argument here.

  17. Jesse van der Meulen says:

    Thanks for the great encouragement Kevin!

  18. I think there is a grave danger in neglecting the real gifts of a pastor for entrepreneurial vision-casters. We are producing Christians who are superficial and not grounded in the Word of God. There is a need for more evangelism whether on the part of pastors or others. But we are required to make disciples and not just converts. Without real pastors who are shepherding the flock and teaching the whole council of God, all our entrepreneurial efforts will be overthrown by the first entrance of wolves into the flock.

  19. Simon says:

    “His main responsibility is to shepherd the flock entrusted under his care, proclaim Christ, and faithfully pass on the apostolic teaching”.
    So then the question is what should this look like? If a pastor is shepherding his flock faithfully with the whole council of God, does this not naturally lend itself to producing apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers?
    I have known of many ministers that focus too much on shepherding the flock to the detriment of the great commission.
    “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
    If shepherding the flock means avoiding the unambiguous teaching of the messiah himself, then perhaps one ought to ask himself why the flock matters at all. You are focused on the children of God but not the Kingdom of God.
    The point is Ministers always face the danger of chery-picking scripture.
    Conversely, those ministers that focus too much on being an apostle, prophet or evangel and not fully equipping the saints should make way for someone that can feed the sheep. We don’t want seeds planted in shallow soil.

    It’s a tough gig leading any body of believers. You can bet there are as many ideas on how you should do it as there are parishoners.
    Again, (thanks Kev):
    Your main responsibility is to shepherd the flock entrusted under your care, proclaim Christ, and faithfully pass on the apostolic teaching.
    Just make sure it’s ALL of the apostolic teaching.
    There are millions of souls on their way to a Christless eternity. We are called to play our part and we will be called to account.

  20. Neil says:

    “He argued that for too long we’ve trained pastors to be shepherds and teachers, when the time has now come to train them to be apostles, prophets, and evangelists.”

    Eph 4:11 And he (Who? The Lord Jesus Christ thorough the power of the Holy Spirit) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,

    These articles are always written with this presupposition that the pastor role is what the Lord had in mind for leadership of the church. The modern pastor role is a profession. I say this because there is “training” involved that extends far beyond how the Holy Spirit gifts us. Once you start saying the words training, seminary, and scholasticism, you are exiting the power of the Holy Spirit. You are denying that power by relying on the power of man. This is dangerous in so any ways because you essentially agree that we need formal training over the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit provided. Instead of bringing up disciples in the local church, you evoke passivity among the local church because it is expected that if anyone desires to be an elder, they need formal training. This costs money and time and provides the clergy/laity system with power. Thus, this clergy/laity system feeds itself by determining that spiritually inactive members are not living up to the standards of the pastor. This is wrong because every believer, I repeat, every believer receives a gift of the spirit and is capable of fulfilling one of these roles in Eph 4:11. Very few clergy will stand up and admit that their profession is unbiblical and was no where represented in the first century church.

  21. A. Amos Love says:

    Kevin

    Was wondering…
    When you mention – “a ministry friend of mine… He loves the lost.”
    Who are you referring to when you say “the lost?”

    If we “Let Pastors be Pastors”- Shouldn’t they at least know who the lost are?

    In “The Abusive Religious System” I was raised in, they taught it was the unbeliever, those who do NOT know Jesus, they are the “lost.” I found some scriptures that seem to indicate it’s God’s people who are “lost.” Was wondering what you thought.

    Seems there are scriptures that say, before we come to Christ “we are dead” in trespasses and sins?
    Eph 2:1 KJV – Eph 2:5 KJV – Col 2:13 KJV

    Don’t you have to have life, be alive, in order to be “lost?”

    1 – In Luke 15, there are two parables, that could be about “lost” believers.

    1a. A man had a hundred sheep – and one was “lost.”
    And, sheep in the scriptures often refers to believers. Yes?
    Then he says – “Rejoice with me; for I have found **my sheep** which was “lost.”

    1b. Then there is the prodigal son. He was both dead and “lost.” And, he was already a son. Yes?

    2 – The Psalmist, a lover of God, saw himself as a “lost” sheep.

    I have gone astray like a “lost” sheep… Psalm 119:176

    3 – Even though the shepherds, in Ezek 34:1-16, caused “God’s Flock”
    to be driven away and “lost” God Himself would be their shepherd.

    I will feed **my flock,** and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD.
    I will seek that which was “lost,” (My flock?) – Eze 34:1-16 KJV

    4 – Jeremiah 50:6, seems to indicate it was God’s people who were “lost,”
    “lost sheep,” led astray by **their shepherds.** Seems similar to Ezek 34:1-16. Yes?

    My people hath been “lost” sheep:
    **their shepherds** have caused them to go astray…
    Jer 50:6

    I’ve been down a few paths that I thought was the “Truth.”
    But – Caused to ere and be destroyed by those who told me, they were Spiritual Leaders.
    Isa 3:12 KJV, Isa 9:16 KJV.

    And, Led astray by those who convinced me, nay, deceived me, they were Shephereds.

    So, could it be that we, the believers, are the “Lost,” led astray by our shepherds?

  22. Jim M says:

    maybe i am reading this wrong, but there seems to be an effort to here and other circles to rid the church of apostles and prophets and maybe evangelist. is this how you see things happening? there is not office in the church for them so, are we to believe that God does not anoint particular people with these giftings? are new church plants just to be extensions of existing churches? missionaries, what are missionaries? are they doing apostolic work, without that title?

    i don’t see Paul coming out and clearly trimming apostles, prophets and evangelist out of the Eph 4:11 list. one of the arguments has been that there is no clear “job description” for these people/offices.

    does the church no longer need them?

  23. Kristin says:

    I feel like many of your points are correct. At times we preach against the perils of culture, yet we are letting pop culture dictate the role of pastor and that’s a scary thing. Yet, as I read your reflections of our gifting as pastors and our call, I can’t help but think that it is less of an “either/or” and more like a soundboard where somethings are high, some low, and some in the middle. Some of us are super high on our gift of care giving and rather low on leadership in the way of evangelism, but we are not devoid of that gift altogether. I don’t think preaching and leadership are mutually exclusive things. So my pastoral profile is different than the woman next me, but that doesn’t mean that we are only good at teaching or not teaching.

  24. Brad says:

    “These articles are always written with this presupposition that the pastor role is what the Lord had in mind for leadership of the church. The modern pastor role is a profession. I say this because there is “training” involved that extends far beyond how the Holy Spirit gifts us. Once you start saying the words training, seminary, and scholasticism, you are exiting the power of the Holy Spirit.”

    Amen. The irony is that most prominent pastors embraced this mindset earlier in their careers, but then gave way to “training” once they “had arrived”….often stiffling the Spirit gifted (albeit “untrained”) among them. Kevin’s argument here seems to come around full circle to devour itself.

  25. dean says:

    I’m no scholar…but there needs to be both,how that works I’m not sure. As for the apostle Paul, he was single for a start & had more opportunity.

    I think there will often be these two camps of thought & rightly so. Some plant, some water but it is God who grants the growth ( I have seen that somewhere before ? ). Is it possible that we could be bordering on Israels predicament in wanting a King like the surrounding nations.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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