Survey the calendar of your church’s activities, and all of them combined do not outweigh the importance of a sound and vigorous ministry of Biblical teaching.
Too many churches today function chiefly as social centers. Their schedules are loaded with programs, recreational activities, concerts and various good-time gatherings. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, of course. They may encourage friendship and a sense of solidarity. But true Christian fellowship requires much more than that. And extracurricular events do not constitute the main business of the church.
The Apostle Paul wrote three pastoral epistles filled with counsel for Timothy and Titus on leading and instructing the church. All his words of advice about church leadership are summarized in a single verse near the end of the last inspired epistle he ever wrote: “Preach the word … in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
No duty on a pastor’s agenda is more important than that. Do all you can to protect his time in prayer and the study of God’s Word.
Over the years, I have spoken with more pastors than I could possibly number—most of them men who labor faithfully under difficult circumstances, doing their best to fulfill the expectations of their people. The typical pastor’s day is jammed with activities that preclude study, solitude and reflection. He is busy counseling people who are troubled or confused, visiting the sick, evangelizing the lost and socializing with church members.
People in the pews generally expect (and sometimes even require) their pastor to make such things his highest priorities. They seem to think study and preparation for preaching are luxuries—discretionary activities that the pastor can do in his leisure time, if he has any.
That is exactly backward. The pastor’s responsibility to teach his people is his first and most important priority. Other pastoral duties, though indispensable and often urgent, should never take precedence over a pastor’s teaching ministry or bury him with so much activity that he lacks time to prepare well for the ministry of the Word of God.
Scripture is clear about this. The earliest apostles, leading the church in Jerusalem, were laden with so much busy work that they had little time for prayer and the ministry of the Word. They said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2). They therefore asked the congregation to select capable, qualified men to do the work of serving so they could devote themselves to the teaching ministry.
One of the fundamental requirements for an elder or pastor is that he must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24; Titus 1:9). The expression denotes skill and special aptitude—a distinctive giftedness for teaching. Any man who lacks that ability is not qualified to fill the office of a pastor.
Pastor, of course, means “shepherd.” The most important way for an elder to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2) is by feeding and leading his people with doctrines and instruction from God’s Word. That is the very definition of the pastor’s teaching role.
In Ephesians 4, Paul lists some of the principal gifts Christ gave to the church. Unlike the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, the gifts named in Ephesians 4:11-12 are not individual skills and abilities. Here, the gifts are men. Specifically, they are leaders and officers in the church: “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
Those are four offices, not five. The original Greek text includes the word for “some” before each office—literally, “some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers.” If Paul were listing “shepherds and teachers” as two separate offices, the phrase would be “some shepherds and some teachers.” But he ties the expression “shepherds and teachers” together with a unique construction, indicating that he is speaking about pastors who are teachers.
In other words, your pastor is a gift from God to your congregation, and he is specifically commissioned to teach you. The apostle further underscores the fact that teaching is the pastor’s most vital and honorable task when he tells Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
Paul breaks down the elements of a sound teaching ministry in the familiar words of 2 Timothy 4:2: “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Every element of that command has a pedagogical, or teaching, purpose. Reproof, rebuke, exhortation and patience are all tools of teaching. Paul is directing Timothy to preach in a way that is both didactic and doctrinal. That is unmistakably clear, because he goes on to say, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (verses 3-4).
Clearly, “sound teaching” is supposed to be the main substance of a faithful preacher’s message and a guardrail against error in the church. Genial storytelling and clever narrative-building (myth-making) are the signature activities of false teachers. Scripture—“in season and out of season”—is the true shepherd’s only text; myths and ear-tickling topics are the favored themes of wolves and hirelings.
The business of a faithful church does not shift to suit the times. Paul was imploring Timothy to continue teaching the Word of God even when it seemed “out of season”—when people demanded instead to have their ears tickled. Paul knew there would be no end of sham teachers willing to deliver those ear-tickling myths.
“As for you,” Paul tells Timothy, “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (verse 5). How was Timothy to fulfill his ministry? As Paul had already said two chapters earlier, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
To ensure that the ministry of teaching would not die with Timothy, even when teaching God’s Word fell out of fashion, Paul told him, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Your pastor is in that line of succession. Encourage him to stay devoted to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Although the current generation is overflowing with people clamoring to have their ears tickled (and with false teachers willing to tickle them), the crying need today is for pastors who teach God’s Word diligently, church members who are hungry to learn, and churches where all our fellowship is (as it ought to be) focused on the truth of God’s Word. ©2022 John F. MacArthur
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and chancellor of The Master’s University and Seminary. His teaching is broadcast internationally through the Grace to You media ministry (gty.org).
Photo: David Torres/Courtesy of Grace To You