"An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…" (1 Timothy 3.2)
It is very easy to put pastors on pedestals. This is in part an evidence of our American attraction to success stories and celebrity. We see this phenomenon with humble and proud pastors alike. Perhaps though we don’t understand completely what is the authority and role of the pastor. As we look through the list of requirements for the overseer of the church (which is another word for pastor), it is almost too evident that most of the requirements would be expected of any mature Christian. We should hope that many in our congregation are these things, not a drunkard etc. So what sets the overseer apart? At least in the requirements it is that he is able to teach.
As we read through 1 Timothy, we realize that this stands out as the central thing that Paul is urging Timothy in: equip the saints especially through your teaching, even though you are young. In other words, Paul was reminding Timothy that the basis for his authority within the church derived from his teaching the word, and that this ought to be central as he serves the church. Now there are many responsibilities as an overseer, pastor, and elder (as a church we think that the Bible talks about pastors with each of these words pointing to different responsibilities), but the most important way that he leads is by his teaching of the word. It isn’t by his personality or by his organizational finesse.
So perhaps there are a few points that we should consider based on this. First, we should remember the importance and centrality of the word and teaching to our own spiritual growth. Paul reminds Timothy in 4.16, to persist in watching himself and his teaching and by doing this he will save both himself and his hearers. It is always a temptation to be attracted to put something else first as the basis of our spiritual growth like serving others in need, showing hospitality, etc. We base our spiritual growth on the word and teaching, however, and those things will be the fruit of our growth; they are a flimsy foundation.
Second, we ought always to be considering how we can raise up teachers who might one day become pastors. To be able to teach is a not usually something you are born with. It is a combination of a gift with training and practice. So we ought to give opportunity for training and refinement of training for those who might be called to teachers.
Third, we ought to be careful not to appoint a pastor who is unable to teach. This is the flip side of the second point. It can be a difficult thing to say no, but it essential that they begin as pastor with this gift and not that they grow into it because there are many other things which the pastor will devote his time to in being the overseer, elder, and shepherd.
One of the most important roles of the pastor is to be faithful to the word which has revealed to us our triune God. So what we really ought to place on a pedestal is our God and knowing him through his word and through teaching. This is why in older protestant churches the pulpit is raised pointing to the centrality of the word of God in the life of the congregation. May this be so in our lives as well as we gather to worship.
--J. Andersen, 4/23/16