Pastors and Teachers or Pastor-Teachers?

Paul, in discussing the gifts that God gives the church, tells us in Ephesians 4:11-12 ‘And truly He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (MKJV)’. There is little debate regarding the first three gifts, each representing a distinct role. However, there is a question over whether “pastors and teachers” denotes one spiritual gift or two.

Those who ascribe “pastors and teachers” as one gift tend to argue δὲ is repeated before each individual gift yet this article appears only once before the last two nouns. Grammatically, this signals a change and suggests “pastor and teachers” is a unit distinct from the preceding series. However, the discussion does not revolve around this grammatical rule, over which there can be no debate, but the nature of this distinct unit.

Bill Mounce argues:

The use of a single article with multiple plural nouns indicates a single unit, but it does not necessarily mean the two nouns are identical. This same construction occurs earlier in 2:20 and joins “apostles” and “prophets,” but these are not identical gifts.

Hoehner suggests that the distinction is that the prior gifts are expressed in an itinerate ministry and the later two are gifts for a local ministry. Harold’s discussion of this is excellent and worth reading (Ephesians. An Exegetical Commentary published by Baker).

Hoehner goes on to quote Wallace’s argument that the grammar suggests that the first (“pastors”) is a subset of the second (“teachers”). Everyone who is gifted to shepherd a local flock of believers is gifted to teach, but the gift of teaching does not necessarily mean the person is gifted to shepherd (e.g., administration, exhortation).

This leads us to the view that “pastor” and “teacher” are somewhat distinct gifts. Whilst all pastors must be able to teach (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2), not all teachers are gifted to pastor. Mounce comments:

God has gifted some people to do everything. These are the wonderful pastors who have a small enough church that they can care for everybody and everything. I have a friend who does this. He loves smaller churches. He pastors them for about ten years, takes a sabbatical, and then looks for another small church to love and care for. He is just now headed for his third church as their pastor. And he will pastor them, and that by definition includes the calling to teach them. Ultimately churches are to be led by their teachers, which is why every pastor and elder must of necessity be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). 

But there are other people who are gifted to teach. They may not have great administrative gifts, and may not be very good and sitting down with someone and listening to their issues. But they still love their God and their people just as fervently, and they show that love by spending a vast number of hours in preparing their sermons.

The interpretation of “pastors and teachers” as one gift often leads to the view that preaching and pastoral ministry amount to the same thing. On this view, church members with complex pastoral needs are often left high and dry as preaching alone is considered the remedy for all ills. Alternatively, this view can lead to a culture in which the preacher is expected to do everything – even handling complex pastoral matters outside his area of gifting – in direct conflict with both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. In the worst cases, it can lead to ministry appointments based solely on teaching ability by churches expecting a pastoral worker despite failing to seek any evidence of such ability. As a result, preaching is viewed as the the solution to all pastoral matters because the minister is uncomfortable doing anything else and the congregation insists on a pastoral element to his role despite appointing him based on his teaching gift alone. 

Church ministers with both teaching and pastoral gifting are a rarity indeed! However, this should come as no surprise if we understand Ephesians 4:11 as denoting two distinct gifts. Moreover, Bill Mounce’s comment, to which I would subscribe – everyone who is gifted to shepherd a local flock should also be gifted to teach but not everyone who is gifted to teach is necessarily gifted to shepherd a local flock – should lead us to conclude that we are more likely to find gifted teachers than gifted pastors within our congregations. 

Therefore, as title would suggest, we should be seeking to appoint pastors based predominantly on their pastoral gifting, as opposed to their teaching ability. Of course, as expressly stated in 1 Timothy 3:2, pastors must be able to teach; however, this is not the overriding qualification to the detriment of all else. For how is the full-time ministers time predominantly spent if not dealing with pastoral issues? Preaching is but a part, though a nonetheless important one, of the wider role. Indeed, it is possible to have continued sound ministry from lay members or itinerate speakers but pastoral ministry cannot be outsourced. Yet how often are pastors appointed based on pastoral ability over and above their teaching gift?

Perhaps a plurality of elders is required to meet this need as every elder must be able to teach. If we have elders who are able to teach, and this is a scriptural criteria for eldership, to appoint a full-time minister predominantly for his teaching ability – though, of course, he should have such a gift – seems rather to miss the point. Instead, although able to teach, we should be appointing full-time ministers on the basis of their pastoral gifting in the knowledge that we have other elders who, by definition of the role, can teach. Perhaps it is because preaching is viewed as the summum bonum, though that is not to say it is unimportant, that we have emphasised it in such a way that our churches may be full of people ‘able to teach’, with fewer who are able to pastor and even less who can do both.

3 comments

  1. We've chatted about this before Steve and I thoroughly agree with you. I've heard people express the rather simplistic view that as long as the preaching of God's word happens, everything else will take care of itself. There's only one problem: it won't!

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  2. Really interesting, Steve …

    A question for you, (which occurred to me while reading this) …

    How would you define “pastoring” in this respect? What does it look like or involve?

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  3. Joe: That is a great question; one that probably requires a post of it's own and for which I am likely to only give a poor answer!

    In the first instance, it's worth noting both Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5:1-2 bring together the words Poimēn (Pastor/Shepherd), Presbuteros (Presbyter/Elder) and Episkopē (Bishop/Overseer) and seem to use them interchangeably to refer to the same role – the office of elder.

    The above is relevant for two key reasons. Firstly, our concept of a full-time pastor – though evidently not wrong and for which there are many practical and useful reasons – is not strictly a biblical concept. There certainly doesn't seem to be any difference drawn between 'pastors' and 'elders' in scripture. Secondly, it means that the qualifications for eldership are the same qualifications for the pastorate and thus inform what it means to be a 'pastor'.

    Now, I am not suggesting having a pastor is somehow unbiblical (though there are some denominations, such as the Brethren, who would make that argument). I believe there are many good and useful reasons to have a full-time minister. However, it is probably more helpful (if perhaps semantically picky) to see them as full-time elders. This denotes them as having the same function as other elders but, as those employed by the church, are in a better position to invest their time in the shepherding of the congregation.

    I guess that brings me to the nub of the question: what does that actually entail? I suppose the qualifications for eldership are informative, if not exhaustive. The role clearly involves an ability to teach and guide but it cannot be confined to that function because there are other 'teachers' in the church who are most certainly not qualified to be overseers/elders.

    As one who is to pastor/shepherd the flock it involves a care and concern for the wellbeing of those within your congregation. Whilst teaching would no doubt form part of that, and certainly a significant part of the 'guidance' aspect, care and concern for an individual is rarely measured in preaching ability alone. For example, elders must be hospitable which in itself shows a level of care beyond preaching.

    I think, though it's perhaps something of a cop out answer on my part, is that an elder/overseer/pastor should have genuine care and concern for their congregation. Exactly how that works out will no doubt differ according to the people and congregation they oversee. However, I think most people would be hard pressed to say they felt particularly loved and cared for if their only contact with a minister was through his preaching.

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