The Essence of the Pastoral Task

After serving for 21 years as a local pastor I spent 19 years as a general administrator of our denomination. During that time I was regularly involved with committees that determined if persons who wished to become pastors were prepared and qualified to enter the office.

In the Free Methodist church the final body to affirm an ordination is an annual conference and it is to an annual conference that all ordained personnel are accountable.

For that body, therefore, the selection process leading to ordination is prayerful, long and complex. It involves interviews, supervised summer assignments, questionnaires, recommendations, a check on educational achievement, psychological tests and more.

What are the qualifications an ordination committee is looking for? First, does the candidate manifest a clear sense of God’s call? That is primary. Then a good grasp of the Scriptures, a solid work ethic, the ability to speak well, honesty, intelligence, skill in relationships, a sense of humor, and on and on. The expectations are high.

It was not until nearly two decades ago when I was preparing the Staley lectures to be given at Roberts Wesleyan College that I was able to simplify these diverse criteria to my own satisfaction under two heads: GODLINESS AND COMPETENCE. The insight came from a careful reading of Paul’s First letter to the young pastor, Timothy

Godliness is a personal attitude of respect and moment-to-moment accountability to God that underlies all attempts to serve him and his people. We might say that the godly person is marked by “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Godliness shows in a piety that is genuine, not affected.

It is not, however, a once-and-forever gift, so the Apostle Paul exhorts the young Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7) and “pursue godliness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Godliness is a dominant word in the pastoral epistles, representing a never-ending goal.

But to godliness must be added competence. Competence involves a broad knowledge of the pastoral task and a developed skill in carrying out its diverse responsibilities. Godliness without competence leads to blundering and ineffectiveness. On the other hand, competence without godliness will show itself as efficient but lacking authenticity.

I saw while I was pondering First Timothy in preparation for the lectures that at the core of competence is an insightful recognition of sound doctrine. In fact, Paul’s first issue in his letter is doctrinal competence in countering those who teach false doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3).

Paul reminds Timothy that he himself had been appointed by God to be “a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles” (1 Tim. 2:7). He exhorts Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim.4:13). The proclamation and enforcement of truth is at the core of competent pastoral ministry.

Competence also includes skill in relating to parishioners. “Do not rebuke an older man harshly… treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1,2).

And it includes caring for administrative matters such as seeing to it that believers’ special needs in the family of God are met (1 Tim. 5:9-16).

Let there be competent preaching, teaching, pastoral care and careful administration in a godly pastor’s hands, and you have the essence of the pastoral task in all ages.

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