Pastoral Theology constructs a theological framework for pastoral ministry that is biblically derived, historically informed, doctrinally sound, missionally engaged, and contextually relevant. By using traditional theological categories the authors explore the correlation between evangelical doctrine and pastoral practice. Through careful theological integration they formulate a ministry philosophy that defines the pastoral office and determines its corresponding responsibilities in light of theological truth.
The authors provide a theological understanding of the pastorate that will equip aspiring pastors to discern and pursue their calling, challenge younger pastors to build on ministerial truth instead of ministerial trends, and inspire seasoned pastors to be reinvigorated in their passion for Christ and his church.
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Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does
By Daniel L. Akin
B&H Publishing GroupCopyright © 2017 Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace
All rights reserved.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. TITUS 2:1
Every parent knows what it is like to be blasted by a barrage of why questions. Typically, it begins when a child's curiosity is stimulated by random observations. It quickly transitions into a perpetual cycle that resembles the nauseating spin of "tea cups" at an amusement park. Often their inquisitive onslaught of "But why?" results in a rational stalemate that leaves them disappointed by our lack of omniscience and leaves us frustrated by our inability to offer a satisfactory response to a four-year-old.
Pastoral ministry has some frightening similarities. We often find ourselves answering (and sometimes asking!) seemingly endless why questions. Why did we not grow and baptize more this year? Why did we construct this building? Why did we not celebrate this national holiday in the service last Sunday? Why are we ending Sunday night services? Why did we not meet our budget?
We may be prepared to answer these kinds of questions and similar ones about church health, ministry programs, or the latest situation that needs our attention. If we do not have an answer, we might seek to dodge the question, delegate the responsibility, or dismiss the issue altogether.
But sometimes the questions we ask ourselves are more personal, more difficult to avoid, and much more penetrating. They are questions that, when we are brave enough to ask them, are probing, uncomfortable, or even painful. Why did we move here? Why did we leave our other church? Why do I feel like such a failure? Why did I become a pastor? Why does ministry often seem contrived and routine?
Our lack of answers for these more meaningful questions is not so easily dismissed or delegated. Failure to answer these questions can lead to personal discouragement, family strife, job resignation, abandoning the ministry, or all of the above.
This is the reason for this book. While many pastoral ministry books focus on the pragmatic how-to of pastoral ministry, rarely do they address the why of pastoral ministry. But answering the why questions is crucial to our survival and success as pastors. Like curious children, we cannot be satisfied with placating answers and superficial responses. Our answers to these deeper questions must derive from a more reliable source than our intuition or experience. In the Christian life, and certainly in ministry, our rationale must be based on biblical truth. Likewise, our ministerial responsibilities should be determined according to sound theology rather than according to our gifts, talents, and congregational expectations. But many times our lives and ministries lack the theological roots that provide the stability and nourishment necessary to sustain us, much less our churches. When we lack a sound theological basis for pastoral ministry, we can struggle with everything from improper motives and misplaced priorities to emotional volatility and personal insecurity.
In some cases our understanding of pastoral ministry is based on a deficient theology, either in depth or in substance. But in most instances it is based on an irrelevant theology, one that may be orthodox but is largely detached from our ministry philosophy and practice. In both scenarios, our ministries are destined to collapse as a result of a poor theological framework. Honest reflection can reveal cracks in our own ministerial foundations. Let's consider what the pastorate can look like when detached from theology.
Theologically Detached Ministry
Ministry that is defined and driven by a theoretical, traditional, or practical basis is ultimately a ministry that is detached from sound theology. When we lose sight of how theological truth forms the foundation for ministry philosophy and practice, we run the risk of several ministerial pitfalls: pragmatism, moralism, egotism, and cynicism.
It is not uncommon for a pastor's role and responsibilities to be determined entirely on a pragmatic basis. Our approach to the pastorate may be driven by observations of other pastors, congregational expectations, and/or our own abilities. As a result, pragmatism becomes the driving force behind a pastor's view of himself, his vision for the church, and his barometer of success.
Pragmatism leads us to evaluate success or failure in ministry by baptisms, attendance, budgets, buildings, or other tangible criteria. While these things can be valid health indicators for pastors and churches, it is only when they are evaluated on a theological basis that they become meaningful. Large crowds can be attracted by secular means as much as by spiritual. Emotional or superficial decisions can be manipulated or manufactured. But the theological premises of these assessments determine their validity. More importantly, a pastor must never use these factors to evaluate his worth or establish his identity. When he does, he has swallowed the baited hook of pragmatism.
When a pastor views himself through the lens of performance and responsibilities, he becomes vulnerable to personal insecurity and emotional instability. If performance is the measuring standard, pastors will be susceptible to self-consciousness, doubt, and discouragement. Rather than maintaining a healthy dependence on the Lord, we grow self-reliant and attempt to be spiritual superheroes. Instead, we become comical in a sad and different way.
Pragmatism also leads us to become task oriented rather than people oriented. Performance deceives us, and we mistakenly believe that God's will hinges on completing our to-do list. When this happens, we can become aggravated when our plans and schedules are frustrated. We feel continually and consistently overwhelmed. We begin to view people as interruptions and nuisances. Sadly, people become a burden and a bother instead of a blessing.
This subtle shift in our view of people can also unwittingly lead us to diminish the Great Commission vision for our churches (Matt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). Regarding people as burdensome will jade our perspectives of those in our society and around the world. Moreover, it can influence our church members' view of the global community because of what they observe in us. As a result, we become calloused to the lost world around us and fail to embody the compassion of our Savior that leads to a passion for souls (Mark 6:34).
A theological approach can help us avoid the tragic fallacy of pragmatism. Pastoral theology leads us to evaluate our ministries and ourselves by God's standards. Sound doctrine helps us focus on faithfulness and trust the Lord for fruitfulness. It offers the proper motivation for ministry and frees us from the performance merry-go-round that defines us by humanistic standards, buries us under unrealistic expectations, and sours our love for others.
Another common pitfall for pastors who divorce theology from ministry is moralism. While pragmatism esteems performance, moralism values compliance as the highest virtue. A pastor trapped in moralism begins to measure his own spiritual life against a works-based righteousness. While none of us would endorse this in principle, many of us are guilty of living this way in practice.
Paul confronted the Galatians with this issue: "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3). Jesus repeatedly indicted the Pharisees for the same superficial measures of spiritual maturity. He unmasked their works as vain appearances of personal piety (Matt 6:1–2, 5, 16). He exposed their efforts as counterfeit attempts to buy salvation (Matt 7:21–23). He revealed their motives as self-serving incentives that masquerade as a heart for God in order to manipulate the heart of God (Matt 15:8–9). Sadly, pastors can be guilty of this same moralistic deism.
Contemporary forms of moralism, or legalism, are most obvious when we begin to equate spiritual maturity with acts of righteousness. We evaluate ourselves and others using scriptural commands and principles to measure spiritual growth. We conclude: If I check off the right boxes, God must be pleased with me and bless me. Paul alerted the Colossians that moralistic precepts "have indeed an appearance of wisdom" but in reality "they are of no value" in the spiritual enterprise (Col 2:23).
The worst part is that we use the ruler of compliance to gauge behavior and to make believers feel guilty when they fail to measure up to our expectations. Ultimately, we pervert the gospel, ignore or minimize the theological truths of renewing grace, diminish the work of the Holy Spirit, and misrepresent the process of sanctification. When we operate by moralism, we spiritually dehydrate and lose our passion for Christ. Because grace is largely absent in our own lives, we become unwilling to share his grace with others. We focus on correcting culture from a distance rather than engaging it with the gospel.
Legalism also leads us to be Pharisaical in our treatment of others. We replace loving guidance and correction with suffocating guilt and criticism. Our sermons become behavior-oriented lectures to guilt people into doing better and trying harder. This squelches transparency and a spirit of openness among our people. Our churches become filled with exhausted and exasperated believers who are weary of our impossible standards of perfection and the intense pressure of fitting into the Christian mold.
Such things have a smothering effect on our personal lives as well. Due to the legalistic climate we cultivate, we often feel the pressure of expectations from our congregations and our communities to be the prototype for Christians. Sadly, in doing so, pastors perpetuate a false stereotype of Christians. We fail to meet our own idealistic standards and thus qualify as hypocrites, living with logs in our own eyes while attempting to remove sawdust from others' (Matt 7:1–5).
A moralistic understanding of truth produces these dynamics that characterize the relationships between many pastors and their congregations. But pastoral theology helps us disarm the landmines of legalism. It protects us, and our members, from the crippling blasts and piercing shrapnel of moralism. Theological truth reminds us that we are not defined by all that we can do for Jesus, but by all that Jesus has done for us.
Sometimes pastors avoid a deep theological understanding of their life and ministry because they falsely believe that doctrinal truth necessarily leads to pride. While theology, like any field of study, can result in knowledge that puffs up, a lack of understanding can have the same ego-inflating potential.
Scripture prohibits recent converts from occupying the pastoral office because one who lacks a strong doctrinal foundation can easily "become puffed up with conceit" (1 Tim 3:6). Paul emphasized this correspondence between deficient theology and pride when he cautioned his young pastoral protégé Timothy about false teachers. He warned, "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing" (1 Tim 6:3–4). In other words, Paul said those with a misinformed or an uninformed theology are prone to, or guilty of, egotism.
Pastors can fall into the same trap of minimizing the importance of doctrinal truth and becoming conceited. This spiritual pride can take the form of spiritual elitism and personal favoritism ( Jas 2:1–7). These are both strains of this same virus that infect our hearts and ministries. But the spiritual vaccine is theological truth that translates into humility and produces a reverent submission to the Lord and gracious treatment of others (Phil 2:1–5).
A pastor who fails to grow in his knowledge and understanding of God will likely become guilty of the highest form of idolatry: self-worship. Our hearts are often blind to its reality, but when we define pastoral ministry by our role and our responsibilities we become seduced by the flatteries of egotism and hypnotized by self-absorbed ministry that pursues our own glory instead of God's (John 5:44).
When this happens, practical consequences quickly begin to surface in a pastor's ministry. For example, preaching becomes a performance that is more focused on making an impression than making an impact. We begin preaching for personal compliments instead of personal commitments ( John 7:18). Jesus confronted the spiritual leaders of his generation for this same error, accusing them of being lovers of praise instead of lovers of God ( John 12:43). Paul defended his own ministry by drawing this same sharp distinction, contending, "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal 1:10).
Egotism diminishes pastoral leadership as well. Conceit manifests itself in the way a pastor manages the church staff. A pride-filled pastor becomes overbearing and autocratic, believing his way is the only way. He refuses to partner with fellow elders. He is unwilling to delegate because he does not trust anyone to do a job the way he would, so he micromanages. In addition, self-absorbed pastors feel threatened by the success of other pastoral staff members. As a result they impede the ministry of others instead of empowering them.
Pastors struggling with egotism also exchange the promotion of the good news for self-promotion and opportunities to make their own headlines. Selfish ambition becomes the driving motivation as they seek recognition in their community or their denomination/convention, much like the scribes whom Jesus rebuked (Mark 12:38–40). Ultimately, conceit in the pastor's heart contaminates the atmosphere and destroys the spiritual unity of his church. But we can diffuse the deadly aerosol of egotism that permeates many churches by allowing theological truth to humble our hearts and honor our Savior.
One of the subtlest pitfalls (but potentially the most perilous) of a life and ministry detached from theology is the fermenting poison of cynicism. When sound theology and doctrine are not the determining factors for pastoral ministry, pastors can understandably become cynical and lose hope. People, circumstances, relationships, and ministry may be seen as hopeless. For example, our pastoral perspective can become blurred as we are constantly disappointed by the struggles of our church members. Their lapses of judgment and relapses into sinful habits can curdle our optimism. When we invest in people and do not see their spiritual growth, we grow disheartened.
Other sparks can ignite our cynicism as well. The hesitance or resistance of a congregation to buy into a pastor's vision can transform dreams into disappointment. Sometimes our most loyal supporters can betray our trust or sabotage our leadership. An honest mistake on our part can be leveraged against us or our family. Ministry can quickly become synonymous with misery.
As a result, we begin to live and serve with bitterness and resentment. We start to view everything and everyone through skeptics' lenses. We become dismissive toward our church members, defensive in our posture, and discouraged in our spirit. We isolate ourselves and feel personally threatened by honest questions. Eventually, we feel trapped and convince ourselves that things will always be the same. We draft a resignation letter and escape through the first available trap door that opens, even chalking it up to the Lord leading us to move on.
When these things happen, our lives tragically begin to resemble the battered house that collapsed because of a faulty foundation (Matt 7:24–27). While we may not blatantly deny or disregard scriptural truth, the principle proves true. When we fail to properly build our lives and ministry on doctrinal truth rooted in the gospel, we will experience the devastation Jesus described. The theological truth of Scripture is the only reliable and stable foundation from which ministry must derive. Pastoral theology provides the insulated armor to protect our hearts from the tragic, but common, sickness of cynicism.
These four potential ministerial hazards are not intended to be a comprehensive list. Rather they are symptomatic and emblematic of the dangers of theologically detached ministry. Their prevalence and the shells of ministries they leave behind reveal the implications that result from a theologically truncated approach to the pastorate. Therefore, we must consider an alternate model that avoids and overcomes these traps.
Theologically Driven Ministry
Theologically driven ministry seeks to recalibrate the heart of the pastor and reorient his approach to ministry. But we must be clear that theologically driven ministry is not one that simply affirms orthodox doctrine. It does not pride itself on converting people to theological systems or on indoctrinating them with factual knowledge. It is also not some ivory-tower approach to ministry that is removed from the reality of broken lives and hurting people and from the labor-intensive effort of servant leadership.
Excerpted from Pastoral Theology by Daniel L. Akin. Copyright © 2017 Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace. Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Introduction,
SECTION ONE: TRINITARIAN FOUNDATION,
Chapter 2. Theological: The Pastor and God's Character,
Chapter 3. Christological: The Pastor and God's Champion,
Chapter 4. Pneumatological: The Pastor and God's Companion,
SECTION TWO: DOCTRINAL FORMULATION,
Chapter 5. Anthropological: The Pastor and God's Compassion,
Chapter 6. Ecclesiological: The Pastor and God's Community,
Chapter 7. Missiological: The Pastor and God's Commission,
SECTION THREE: PRACTICAL FACILITATION,
Chapter 8. Ministerial: The Pastor and God's Congregation,
Chapter 9. Homiletical: The Pastor and God's Communication,
Chapter 10. Familial: The Pastor and God's Covenant,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Pastor is a commonly known role both inside and outside the church. These people are generally described by and talked about in what they do. There are many important things that Pastors do, but what is behind the roles that Pastors fulfill? In their book Pastoral Theology, Daniel Akin and R. Scott Page go deeper and look at who a pastor is, what this leads to in terms of doctrinal formation and then what the pastor practically does. Akin and Page are correctly adamant that there is a need to understand the theological foundations of a pastor to then set up the what he does from that perspective. In reading this book, understanding the foundation biblically and then doctrinally before getting to the nitty-gritty so to speak of the day to day work that pastors do helps put things into perspective and also helps set up for my pastoral role, whether within my family, friends, or potentially one day in a vocational role. I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This review is my own, honest opinion.