For nearly 20years I’ve been actively challenging people to consider full time ministry, particularly as a pastor. If we’re going to reach the world with the gospel, invariably the church will be the key instrument by which God will do this. It is through the church that God’s people are nurtured and equipped with the gospel and given skills to do the ministry. However, it will also be the church that will receive new believers who need to be cared for, nurtured and then equipped to further the mission of God. Yet the reality is that many churches throughout the world do not have biblically solid, gospel centred, spiritually humble and mission minded pastors. Many of these are struggling to just survive let alone think about mission. For this reason I believe raising up more pastors for the churches throughout the world is a key strategy in reaching the world.
But that being said, I’ve worked out that no matter how hard I pray and push, there are still so few people entering into seminary. We are a long long way from filling these pulpits let alone raising up enough pastors to start new churches. However just recently I was directed to an interesting document written by the big daddy of the reformation, Martin Luther.
In his letter “Concerning the Ministry” written in 1523 addressed to the church of Bohemia and to the Senate and the people of Prague he writes concerning the calling and ordination of a pastor of a church. But before he explains the evangelical approach, he rips into the whole Catholic system of consecrating a priest and explains what the proper function of the pastor should be. He assures the senate that they have every right to dismiss a priest who is not teaching the word of God. In the Catholic System only the Bishop had the right to call and appoint a priest over the church without their approval. In response to this Luther assures them that they have every right to dismiss a priest who does not teach the word of God faithfully or is not a godly shepherd.
However what really caught my eye was his very novel approach to finding a pastor.
Then call and come together freely, as many as have been touched in heart by God to think and judge as you do. Proceed in the name of the Lord to elect one or more whom you desire, and who appear to be worthy and able. Then let those who are leaders among you lay hands upon them, and certify and commend them to the people and the church or community. In this way let them become your bishops, ministers, or pastors. Amen. The qualifications of those to be elected are fully described by Paul, in Tit. 1[:6ff.], and I Tim. 3[:2ff.].
In short what Luther is saying is that when a church is in need of a pastor the church should gather together humbly before the Lord and to pray as to who within their church should be appointed to be their pastor. And after much prayer they should approach the person whom they deem mature in the faith and suitable for the ministry. They should lay their hands upon him and appoint him to be their pastor.
This, can I say is very novel. It seems to me that today with the many churches that are empty, our default positions seems to be to advertise for a pastor in the seminaries and in the local Christian newspaper. In other words our natural tendency is to look outside for our pastor, yet Luther’s approach is novel in that he thinks we should be looking from within the congregation for our future pastor. Behind this lies his doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers. In other words all believers are qualified to teach the word of God and to administer the sacraments. Why then appoint a pastor to specifically teach the word and administer the sacraments? For the sake of order and peace. While everyone is a priest not everyone is able to do the public ministry. In short the pastor is the first amongst equals.
Now admittedly the context of Luther’s time probably demanded that it was best to look inside. There were no good evangelical seminaries at the time churning out a string of good evangelical pastors and so there was no one they could approach. But that being said in many respects we are no different. Everyone keeps thinking there is an ample supply of pastors out there some where just looking for an opportunity to serve. However I have to keep telling churches again and again that such is not the case. There are so few pastors around to fill the many empty pulpits. Worst still there are so few good pastors who will do the job faithfully. So what should we do? I think Luther’s approach is something worth considering.
I can tell you now that if every church, without a pastor, would stop looking outside, but instead gather together to humbly, prayerfully and with the scriptures open at 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 come before the lord and consider who amongst themselves should be their pastor, and appoint him as such, not only would we see our pulpits filled we might actually reduce our stress level.
Some personal reflections.