When asked what counsel he would leave with today’s Christian preachers, Haddon W. Robinson said:
Preach the Bible. If you don’t preach the Bible, you have nothing to preach. But don’t just preach the Bible. Preach the Bible to people. Understand your audience. Who are they? Pastors have a great advantage when they interact with their congregation. You know their hurts, problems, and questions. I think it is vitally important that the people in your congregation know that you love them. You want God’s best for them. When you do that, you capture something in your preaching that is vital and solid. ["Life-changing preaching: An Interview with Haddon W. Robinson", Ministry, July, 2014]
I have been thinking about Robinson’s counsel after reading a couple of engaging posts by a well-known American evangelical pastor and consultant. This pastor is a highly gifted and skilled communicator and leader. But does he measure up in terms of Haddon Robinson’s counsel?
In addition to his responsibilities as Lead Pastor of a growing congregation, the above-mentioned evangelical pastor holds an executive position with a major publisher, is a contributing editor for a leading Christian publication, is a columnist for another magazine, overseas a major publishing project, and serves as a visiting professor at two leading seminaries. Further, he has authored many books and articles and is in demand as a consultant throughout the evangelical world.
In what way is this pastor really a pastor? What meaningful interaction does he have with the congregation he leads? What does he really know about his people – their burdens, hurts, questions, and fears? Is he a good pastor?
I do not mean to be overly critical of this man. He is passionate for the cause of Christ and he works hard. And there are many like him. My question relates to the pastoral call – to the solemn responsibility as an overseer of God’s people gathered in a local church. It concerns the increasing ways in which today’s pastors involve themselves in a growing array of activities not directly related to shepherding the congregations where they serve. My burden is that those of us who are called to be pastors need to be just that – pastors. It is a full-time responsibility.
We do well to reflect again on how the Scriptures define and describe pastoral ministry.
Acts 6:2–4 (ESV)
And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Acts 20:28 (ESV)
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
1 Timothy 4:13–16 (ESV)
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Peter 5:1–3 (ESV)
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
However highly gifted and in demand you may be, if you have accepted the call to shepherd a congregation, give that solemn charge your full attention and energy. Be a true pastor.