The Pastor-Teacher’s Task

October 22, 2011

Yesterday, I made a case for reclaiming teaching ministry in the PCUSA. Our focus is on current church members who need equipping, and on not-yet-disciples who need basic information about the faith. But what do people need to know? What sort of learning experience, from our vantage point, should we be providing? Members of the congregation may have some idea of what they want to learn, but their input is only one data point when deciding what to teach. There is a body of information from which to choose, passed on from generation to generation, and now in our hands. It should be the goal of every pastor to cover this ground in a matter of years serving within a congregation.

Ideally, a pastor begins instruction the minute he or she walks in the door of a church. One’s total ministry provides opportunities to teach: session meetings, congregational meetings, weekly worship, interactive Bible studies, town hall meetings, pastoral counseling, retreats, church picnics. One never knows when a teachable moment will appear, but it is closer at hand than most pastors and congregations appreciate.

My readers will blanch when they read my outline below. Impossible! Too much! This is why I went to seminary! And I agree with all those comments. I imagine the people of Geneva reacting similarly in the 16th century when John Calvin purposed to preach through the entire Bible, chapter by chapter, daily in the auditorium adjacent to the church sanctuary. He did not complete the project, but he made a huge contribution as evidenced by his commentaries and sermons.[1] So I am emboldened by his example to provide here the scope of the pastor-teacher’s task. This outline tidies my mind and gives me some kind of boundary within which to navigate as time goes on and a “need to know” emerges with my people.

So, here is my list of topics for church leaders:

The Content of the Faith

The Narrative Arc of the Bible (Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, The Church, New Creation)

The Redemptive Purpose of God that could be accomplished only by Christ (Reconciliation of humankind to God through the one mediator, his Son)

The True Condition of People without God

New Life in Christ, Generated by the Holy Spirit

The Nature of faith, what we are to believe, and to what end?

The Essentials of Reformed Faith (in Systematic Theology categories if you want: God the Father and Creator of All, Divine Revelation, Theological Anthropology, The Person and Work of Jesus Christ [Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension], The Kingdom of God, The Work of the Holy Spirit, The Church and Its Mission, Worship and Sacraments, Eschatology)

The Conduct of the Faith

Practicing “Good Manners” within God’s Household (Ten Commandments unto Obedience from the Heart)

Living into Kingdom Values As an Extension of God’s Household
• The Great Commandment (Love God and Neighbor)
• The Great Commission (Make Disciples by Baptizing and Teaching)

Blessed to Be a Blessing (Gen 12:1-3; Isaiah 49:6; Matthew 25:34-46);

The Competence of the Faith

Every Believer a Minister

Ministry Adequacy Empowered by the Holy Spirit

“Good Works”—we are created to do them; faith without works is dead

Spiritual Gifts: what they are, why God has imparted them, and how to discover yours

How to Become an Independent Learner (how to study the Bible, etc.)

The Clarity and Confusion of the Faith

Sola Scriptura, Sola fide, Sola gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo gloria.

Contemporary Areas That Misuse, Misinterpret, or Misappropriate the Bible’s Teaching.

Current Apologetics Topics (depends on the year and your circumstances)

The Communication of the Faith

Skill: Giving your own testimony of faith in Jesus

Skill: Informative conversation with unbelievers

Skill: Listening for the heart of another person

Skill: How to teach others the faith at an appropriate developmental level

Skill: How to apply biblical faith to decisions the session makes

The current debates in the PCUSA give ample motivation to unpack foundational theological concepts of the Christian faith. Seize the moment while you and your people are curious and challenged, and embrace the rich heritage of our faith through systematic study of the Bible and Christian doctrine.

[1] An excellent book on the teaching and pastoral ministry of John Calvin is Randall C. Zachman’s John Calvin: Pastor, Teacher, and Theologian (Baker, 2006).


6 Responses to “The Pastor-Teacher’s Task”

  1. Do you have an opinion on D. McKim’s book, Introducing the Reformed Faith? I like its organization and clear presentation – is it enough for a good start?

  2. Jake Horner Says:

    I might also recommend:

    What is Reformed Theology, R C Sproul
    Faith Alone, R C Sproul [Doctrine of Justification]
    Calvin’s Institutes, D McKim, Ed. [Highlights of the Institutes]
    Encountering God, A Purves, C Partee
    The Crucifixion of Ministry; The Resurrection of Ministry, A. Purves [theology of T F Torrance applied to ministry,] this is more advanced

  3. Jake Horner Says:

    I’ve also been thinking a lot about what I might teach elders vs what I might teach in a general Adult Ed class. I would probably set the bar higher for Elders.

    • revmary Says:

      Jake, it has always been my practice to invest in the lives of my elders through teaching at any “teachable moment.” Bite-size pieces, month by month at the monthly meeting; in a concentrated format at the annual Session Retreat; during the preparation time between election and installation (the most ideal time for a class of a few weeks’ duration. Then we expect the elders to show up for classes that are offered to the general church population when they can.
      Elders also get special 20 minute ministry skills input: how to foster healthy communication, how to share your testimony, how to approach a problem from a biblical perspective, that sort of thing.

  4. Yes, I’d recommend some kind of introductory training for elders, and then sandwiching it in to many gatherings involving them as possible. If you can do deacons as well (we do joint training), in most congregations over time you get more of the core of your membership.

    On the overall point: you can make a good case that the Reformation was at its heart an exercise in Christian adult education. We should still be doing that.

  5. revmary Says:

    Charles, I agree with you completely! And from a strategic standpoint, gathering deacons into the teaching/learning fold is wise as well. Thanks for the good reminder.

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