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Probably one of the most traditional and significant roles of the parish pastor is that of teacher. Historically the pastor has functioned as the chief teacher or “teaching elder” of the congregation.
Scripture notes many precedents for that role. Paul lists as qualifications for a pastor: “temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2 NIV). Among the specific directives to Timothy in his function as congregational shepherd is this challenge: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13 NIV). Many interpreters note that in the list of spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4, pastoring and teaching are listed in tandem, strongly suggesting Paul’s intention for them to be exercised simultaneously.
How then shall a pastor exercise the teaching role of the office” Three considerations are vital.
Modeling the truth. It is an inescapable fact that the pastor’s own person is the most consistent and conspicuous teacher of the biblical truth. The pastor must pay special attention to his/her own conduct, attitudes, relationships, and words as a Christian.
Exposition of the Word informal settings. Foremost among these settings is the pulpit. This is the primary arena for teaching a congregation if by no other fact than sheer presence. No number of classes or one-on-one visitations will replace the opportunity to teach via the pulpit. Preparation of the sermon should always be at the top of the pastor’s list of priorities.
Likewise, the minister teaches in Sunday school classrooms, Bible studies, informal leadership development programs, and pastor’s classes. The clergy must not negate the advantage of extensive training by giving insufficient time to these opportunities. Sometimes pastors rely on their superior grasp of the content, natural skills, and the learner’s ignorance to justify shoddy preparation and inferior presentation. But probably more important is the reminder that in these settings, the pastor also teaches how to teach. Teaching opportunities, even more than the pulpit, give the pastor the responsibility to instruct a group on how to teach.
Even the administrative functions of church business meetings and planning sessions are teaching opportunities, not just in administrative skills or ecclesiastical insights, but also in biblical truths. Each interaction with a parishioner gives the pastor one more opportunity to convey, interpret, and reinforce the truth of Scripture and the biblical foundations for daily living.
Counseling and visitation. Informal times should never be overlooked as teaching opportunities. Here the teaching, especially in visitation, may be less direct, but a pastor should not see counseling times as merely “listening” or “behavior modification” sessions and visitation as mere “fellowship.” Teachable moments occur in these settings. A pastor should be prepared to use them gently, intelligently, and effectively to increase a person’s understanding of the Word.
All such small settings add one further dimension to teaching: the ability of the learner to respond to, test, and refine what is being learned. That is why teaching only via the pulpit, which is essentially one way communication, will never be sufficient for pastors to fulfill their roles as teachers.
Indirect methods. Newsletters, pastoral letters, even input in the selection of materials used by the church, are indirect ways the pastor can educate and teach the congregation.
These are so obvious, they need only listing: scriptural content, the functions of the church life, ethical and moral issues of Christian lifestyle, and relationships.
Yes, the Lord equips, but He calls upon the pastor to use intentionally and systematically the tools He provides.
A study day. Teaching is so important that for the pastor to relegate preparations to the “holes” in his/her schedule is foolish, Although a congregation may not always be supportive of the time spent in the study, if the pastor does not discipline himself/herself to regular and adequate study time, the church will ultimately pay a price.
What to study. Obviously, the Word of God is foundational. But also important are development materials and books on the Church and Christianity. Printed materials or publications from society, such as newspapers, periodicals and current books depict concerns, issues and trends. How can a pastor relate the relevance of the gospel to today’s culture if he/she does not know what is being said in newspapers, literature, and other secular reading materials?
Prayer and reflection. A person who teaches must be teachable. Prayer, meditation, and reflection times are part of the equipping. Evaluation of personal Christian experience and commitment are invaluable to effective teaching.
Continuing education. Some pastors tragically make the mistake of believing that a degree or ordination marks the termination of their training. The world changes, the church grows, new methods of communicating God’s truth are developed. To remain effective, a pastor must continue training. The clergy must never be so narrow as to depend upon his/her own expertise, but to learn from others. The hectic pace of parish life often deters intensive preparation, study or experimentation in an area of ministry. Outside resources or resource persons give the benefit of obtaining insight and knowledge from those whom God has allowed such preparation and experience.
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