I said yesterday that I am working through Nehemiah for my daily devotions and I asked you to read chapter 8. When you see how Governor Nehemiah and Priest Ezra together with the other spiritual leaders read the Word aloud whilst the people stood for at least six hours at a time. This was followed by times of worship and prayer as well as exposition. Notice the following sections extracted from the chapter.
Ne 8:2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
4 Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. …
5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
7 The Levites … instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.” …
13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. …
18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.
These men were gifted to read, preach, expound the Word and lead the people in prayer and worship, but notice the pastoral concerns in verses 9, 10 and 11. Obviously, these were men called and sent by God to serve the Body with the choicest spiritual diet! This leads one to think about the role and function of pastors today. It often seems to me that some want to be CEOs or limit their role to a strict ‘preach and pray’ ministry (Acts 6:4 will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word). When you read Acts 6, it’s easy to see the extreme limitations of the Early Church coupled to the volume of people (easily many thousands) plus the pastoral concerns such as poverty and hunger, especially amongst the widowed and possibly those without employment or those who were removed from their families because of converting to Christianity. I am certain that Paul did far more than ‘preach and pray’. There were times when he worked making tents to pay his way as a missionary. I would feel this to be true of many other early church missionaries, evangelists and pastor teachers. Today, in larger churches one understands the need for a bigger pastoral team … but should the pastor in any church limit his involvement to prayer (that mostly no one sees) and preaching and teaching (one or two sermons on a Sunday and maybe one or two Bible Studies per week)? What about administration, prayer meetings, counseling, meeting with and equipping leaders and a host of unexpected things that crop up on any day of the week?
My philosophy of pastoral ministry is far more than 40 hours per week. I always said that ministering full time as a pastor means, “doing whatever your hands find to do” … it might even mean mowing the lawns, doing maintenance, giving people a lift, visiting in homes and hospitals. You see, the congregation pay the pastor to do the work of ministry, and, especially in a small church, if he wants to “make the church work”, the pastor needs to work hard in addition to praying! May I be bold and say that too often these days the certificate/diploma/degree tends to ensure employment … but I would think biblical qualifications of a preacher need to encompass the following:
- Is he soundly converted?
- Does he hold to the doctrinal and theological position of the church (denomination)?
- What does his track record say? Can others provide a constructive and honest assessment of his gifts, ministry and character?
- Is he intentionally Christian and a hard worker?
- Does he have preaching & teaching gifts?
- Is he prepared to work outside of a job description if required?
(I have not spoken of health because at times one’s health is not one’s own doing … though health issues ought to be made known.) Once one is satisfied with those six points, I would return to the issue of character for compliance. Paul writes to Timothy saying:
1Ti 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
These fifteen issues take far longer to be exposed. One interview won’t cut it. The congregation’s responsibility is to look after the church by being cautious of whom they appoint as their pastor. It is God’s Church that they need to look after for Him. The Church is never the pastor’s!
Dear God, graciously protect Your Church by helping congregations to be spiritually diligent in their role. Amen.