The more I move around the more depressing it gets as I see the number of churches (and there are a lot of churches) without a pastor. Every Sunday these churches struggle to find a pastor who can preach at their Sunday Worship Service. As well as this many of these churches are led by ill equipped lay leaders who often don’t know what they are doing and often have very little support or direction .
Well for those who know me, they know that one of my passions for nearly two decades has been to challenge people to think seriously about full time ministry. Yet as I look around, I’ve come to discover that no matter how hard I push and pray, the workers are still so few and the harvest is still so plentiful.
Given this, if you’re in a small struggling church without a pastor to teach you his precious and life saving Word what do you do?
Well I’m no great church historian (I hated history) but I do remember one small thing - one of the key turning p0ints in the history of Christianity was when the bible was translated into the language of the common people for them to read for themselves. For the first time in their lives people could see with their very own eyes what God was saying. Underlying this was the strong and clear conviction, known as the “perspicuity of scripture” otherwise known as the “Clarity of scripture” It was a truth the reformers held to for dear life and many died with this conviction.
The doctrine itself simply means that the bible is not a mysterious book that only a few can understand. Rather it is an open book for all to read and understand for themselves. This is not to deny the need for teachers and scholars. There is a place for these guys. In the reformation tradition what teachers and scholars have over and above the rest of us, is not a hot-line to God. What they have is time to study , the ability to digest things quickly and to communicate these truths to others. I think I could be a world class New Testament scholar. The only problem is that it would take me a life time to get pass Greek 101, let alone my Hebrew and I think I would need to be reincarnated to finish off reading Calvin and a third reincarnation to finish reading Luther. On the other hand I have friends who could probably blitz’s the Greek, Hebrew, Calvin and Luther while travelling on a bus to the beach. You see in the reformation, teachers and scholars did not have hot-line to God – they just had time, brains and a good mouth. That aside that are just like you and me.
OK back to the topic. You see the perspicuity of scripture reminds us that the bible was for all and not just for some, which is why the reformers were so committed to translating the bible into the language of the common people and determined to see as many people could get a hold of the scriptures.
This conviction was certainly a major attack on the Catholic church which believed that no one could understand the scriptures except the church and her bishops and priest. Yep, they were special because in their eyes, they had a hot-line with the special number straight to God himself. So not surprisingly only they could work out what the bible was saying. Well given how corrupt people are, and the Catholic priests, Bishops let alone the big man himself – the Pope were no exception, for many many years the pe0ple were held in bondage to sin and Satan because what people heard, without knowing it, was merely the word of men rather than the Word of God. But when, for the first time in their lives they could read the Word of God for themselves, they could distinguish between what was the word of men and what was the Word of God. The result – Life and freedom.
Putting the bible back in the hands of the people for them to read had a major impact on people and the church. Lives were turned upside down and churches renewed.
When I look back at the many churches struggling to find a pastor to teach them God’s word, I fear that we have forgotten our reformation roots and the simple doctrine of the “Perspicuity of scripture”. I fear that we, in part, have returned back to our pre-reformation roots and think that the bible is somehow a book that is hard to understand, mysterious and something only the super spiritual can understand. And so in many churches the bible is very seldom read. For some it is because they are too busy and the reading of scripture is not important. But for others, there is a perception that it is too hard and mysterious.
For this reason I think we need to remember our reformation roots and this invaluable doctrine “the perspicuity of scripture”. We need to assure people that when they read the scriptures humbly and obediently they will be able understand it, encouraged and equipped to serve. Maybe not at first, but over time, if they are persevering and prayerful they will understand it. Certainly not everything, but enough that will grow them in Christ likeness.
So what does this mean for the small struggling church with out a pastor?
Well here is one simple idea we can try out – read the scriptures. It seems so simple and yet history and the word of God testifies that it is life transforming. So in all our meetings if you don’t know what to do, give a major part of your time to slowly reading and meditating on the scriptures. In your worship service if you can’t find a preacher don’t worry about it. Instead pull out the bible and read the scriptures publically. In our bible study groups, if we don’t have a bible study leader, then don’t worry about it. Pull out the bible and make it a point to slowly and thoughtfully read through the scriptures. And when you meet up with people make it a point to read the scriptures, meditate on and prayer about one or two things you learnt from. In your family life, if you don’t know what to do why not simply read through the scriptures slowly and thoughtfully. It certainly won’t hurt. If anything it will certainly help.
Ok this might seem simplistic but is it really? Scripture reminds us, most profoundly in Psalm 119, that to read and to meditate on the scriptures is life giving.
Yes we need our pastors and our preachers and our teachers, but we mustn’t forget that many have gone before us and died gruesome death to do one thing for us – to translate the scriptures into our language so that we can read it for ourselves and be encouraged by it. Why? Because they believed that the bible was an open book for all to read and if people would simply read his word with humble and prayerful hearts their minds would be expanded, their hearts encouraged and their hands equipped to do his work.
So if we don’t have a pastor, I think the best thing we can do is to encourage people to simply read his Word, individually, in small groups and publicly.