A Pastor's Work
“I held back nothing of what is profitable, so as not to announce [it] to you, and to teach you publicly and in every house”, (Acts 20: 20). The verse just quoted is taken from Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders and sets out in a forcible manner the intimate connection between the work of the teacher and that of the shepherd or pastor: “teach you publicly and in every house”.
Paul was not only an apostle, he combined in a striking way, the evangelist, the pastor and the teacher. The last two are closely connected, as is seen from Eph. 4: 11, and it is important that this connection is understood and maintained. The teacher unfolds truth; the pastor looks to the state of the heart. The teacher supplies the spiritual food; the pastor sees to the use that is made of it. The teacher occupies himself more with the Word; the pastor looks after the soul. The teacher’s work is for the most part public; the pastor’s work, chiefly private. When combined in one person, the ability to teach gives immense moral power to the pastor; and the pastoral element imparts affectionate tenderness to the teacher.
That there is urgent need of pastoral care throughout the Church of God few will deny. How rare is the true spiritual pastor! It is easy to take the name, and assume the office; but, in point of fact, pastorship is neither a name nor an office, but a living reality—a divinely imparted gift—something communicated by the Head of the Church for the growth and blessing of His members. A true pastor is a man who is not only possessed of a real spiritual gift, but also animated by the very affections of the heart of Christ toward every lamb and sheep of His blood–bought flock. Yes, every lamb and sheep. A true pastor is a pastor all over the world. He has a heart, a message, a ministry, for every member of the body of Christ. Not so the elder or bishop. His is a local charge, confined to the locality in which such charge is entrusted. The pastor’s range is the whole Church of God. In New York, in London, in Paris or in Tokyo, a pastor is a pastor, and he has his blessed work everywhere. To imagine a pastor, confined to a certain congregation to which he is expected to discharge the functions of evangelist, teacher and elder is something altogether foreign to the teaching of the NT.
How few real pastors are to be found in our midst! How rare is the pastor’s heart! Where shall we find those who duly combine the two grand elements contained in our opening verse—”publicly and in every house”. A man may, perhaps, give us a brief address on the Lord’s day, or a lecture on some week–day; but where is the close, earnest, diligent looking after individual souls day by day? Very often it happens that public teaching shoots completely over the head; it is the house to house teaching that is sure to come home to the heart. It is a fact that the loving pastoral visit is frequently more effective than the public address.
Nor is this all. How much there is in a pastor’s range that the public teacher can never compass. No doubt public teaching is invaluable but the loving pastor who earnestly, prayerfully, and faithfully goes from house to house, can get at the deep exercises of the soul, the sorrows of the heart, the puzzling questions of the mind, the grave difficulties of the conscience. He can enter, in the profound sympathy of an affectionate heart, into the thousand little circumstances and sorrows of the path. The public teacher cannot do this. No doubt, if he has something of the pastoral element in him, he can anticipate in his public address a great deal of the soul’s private exercises, sorrows and difficulties, but he cannot fully meet the soul’s individual need. This is the pastor’s holy work. He is to the soul what a doctor is to the body. He must be able to tell what is the matter. He must be able to discern the spiritual condition to apply the true remedy. Ah, how few are these pastors!
Christian reader, we earnestly entreat you to join us in fervent prayer to God to raise up true pastors amongst us. We are in sad need of them. The sheep of Christ are not fed and cared for. We are occupied so much with our own affairs, that we have not time to look after the beloved flock of Christ. Even on those occasions when the saints assemble in public, how little there is for precious souls! What long barren pauses and silence of poverty. What aimless hymns and prayers we hear! How little leading of the flock through the green pastures of Holy Scripture, and by the still waters of divine love! And then, all through the week, few loving pastoral calls, few tender solicitous inquiries after soul or body. There seems to be no time. Every moment is swallowed up in the business of providing for ourselves and our families. It is the old sad story: “For all seek their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ”, (Phil. 2: 21).
How different it was with the blessed apostle! He found time to make tents, and also to teach “publicly and in every house”. He was not only the earnest evangelist, ranging over continents and planting churches, but he was also the loving pastor, the tender nurse, the skilful physician. He had a heart for Christ and for His body, the Church, and for every member of that body. Here lies the real secret of the matter. If I really love the Church, I shall desire its blessing and progress and seek to promote these according to my ability.
May the Lord raise up in the midst of His people pastors and teachers after His own heart—animated by a genuine love for His Church—men competent and ready to teach—”publicly and in every house”.