Every occupation or profession needs a clear focus: we need to know what our core work is, otherwise we will be constantly distracted from it and are likely ultimately to fail.
It is clear from scripture that the focus of pastoral ministry is to be on life and word - proclamation and character. In his instructions to Timothy, the man whom he left in pastoral charge of the church at Ephesus, Paul weaves together the twin emphases of sound teaching and godly lifestyle (1 Tim. 4). These become the two poles of the ellipsis which marks out the boundaries of a pastor’s work. Timothy is to teach the people sound teaching, not old wives’ tales or doctrines of demons (vv. 1, 7, 11). He is to set them a good example in his own life (vv. 11, 12). To achieve this, he must himself be immersed in ‘the words of faith’ and ‘good teaching’ (v. 6) and he must discipline and exercise himself for godly living (v. 7). He must work hard and put all his energy into these goals (v. 10). They are to form the substance of what he is to proclaim and teach (v. 11). These are the things with which he is to concern himself and to which he is to give his energies and his time (vv. 15, 16). He is to be conformed to Christ in his character and lifestyle and he is to teach the teachings of Christ to the people. Sound, biblical teaching is not enough if unaccompanied by a godly way of life. Equally, the most Christ-like character is insufficient if Christ’s teaching is not also brought to the people.
There is therefore no escaping it: a deep immersion in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments must be the first calling of the pastor. Whatever other interests we may legitimately pursue, we are to make it a primary goal to gain a thorough knowledge of the content, meaning and application of the whole Bible. To the extent possible, given our circumstances and gifts, we should surely try to do this in the languages in which the books of the Bible were actually written. We put ourselves at an inevitable disadvantage if we are confined to accessing the scriptures through translations. We will need, alongside scripture, to study the best commentaries of our own and of previous ages, ‘best’ in this context meaning those that are most helpful to us in understanding the meaning of the text, applying it to our day and communicating it to those to whom we speak. We are to give our lives to this work.
Alongside this, though, we are to ensure that we believe for ourselves the message of the scriptures that we so painstakingly study. We are to take its instructions, promises, warnings and rebukes to heart, for ourselves. We are to apply them in our own daily lives, relationships, activities; they are to shape our goals, ambitions, desires. We are to live the scriptures that we study, as well as proclaim their message.
We cannot choose between these two things. Both a godly life and sound teaching are to be pursued, if we are to be good ministers of Jesus Christ.
MA (University of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College)
ThM (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia)
PhD (University of Stirling)
Having trained for the pastoral ministry at LTS, Robert pastored an evangelical church in Banbury for 8 years. Prior to training for the ministry, he was a solicitor in private practice, working in London and Brussels. He has been involved in training pastors in French-speaking West Africa. He teaches New Testament and Greek and also lectures on Contemporary Issues. His doctoral research was on Philip Doddridge and early 18th century Dissent. He is married to Sarah and they have three sons.