When someone begins to talk or write about the organization of the church, eyes often begin to glaze over and attention wanders. Church organization is not thought to be the most practical or ministry-minded topic. After all, who is excited to learn about committee structures or meeting minutes? But the reality is that the organization of the church is a means that King Jesus uses to disciple His people and to bring the gospel to a lost and needy world. When Christ ascended into heaven, He did not leave His children as orphans (John 14:18); rather, He established a structure by which the Holy Spirit would work through men to build up the church. This involves the calling, equipping, and ordaining of pastors (Eph. 4:11), elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), and deacons (Acts 6) in the church. The Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to bring the gospel of grace to the world (Matt. 28:18–20) and the path of every Christian culminates in the corporate worship of God for all eternity (Rev. 21). Thus, we need the gifts that Jesus has given to the church, including pastors and teachers, to fulfill this mission. There are three main reasons why we need pastors: first, pastors bring us the Word of God; second, pastors encourage us in our walk with Christ; and third, pastors equip us to do ministry. It should not surprise us that each of these needs corresponds to a provision from Christ.

Pastors Bring Us the Word of God

The first and most important reason we need pastors is because Christ has commanded them to be heralds of the Word of God. It is foundational to the office of pastor to deliver, expound, and explain God’s Word to His people. This task is so foundational that it is common to refer to a pastor as “preacher.” As our Mediator, Christ reveals to us by His Word the will of God so that we might be saved (John 20:31) and grow in grace as children of God (Acts 20:32). In the present age, Christ does this through the foolishness of preaching and preachers (1 Cor. 1:21). In a way that is similar in many respects to the role of the Old Testament prophets, pastors bring God’s Word to His people through preaching. The main difference is that pastors do not bring forth direct, new revelation from God. Instead, they study God’s Word and teach it to God’s people so that God’s people will know who God is and how and why they should obey Him. In this way, pastors are like the leaders in the book of Nehemiah, who not only read the law of God but also “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). We have examples throughout the book of Acts of pastors teaching God’s Word, including Peter before the crowds and Paul in Ephesus. This preaching and teaching role was not confined to the Apostles, as Paul directed Timothy and Titus to this task (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:15) and encouraged hearers of the Word to provide for their teachers (Gal. 6:6). Paul understood that it was critical for pastors to bring God’s Word to His people, and he gave an example for all pastors who have followed him. The pastor must never “shrink from declaring . . . the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and must speak “not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [the people’s] faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:4–5).

As our Mediator, Christ reveals to us by His Word the will of God so that we might be saved and grow in grace as children of God.
Pastors Encourage Us in Our Walk with Christ

The second reason we need pastors is that they are given to help us in our Christian walk. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gives a picture of the Christian life as a journey to the Celestial City. During Christian’s journey, he has several companions—some good (Faithful and Hopeful), others not so good (Talkative). His good companions encourage him along the way, keeping Christian moving forward and on the road to the Celestial City. This is a good picture of the role of a pastor in the lives of God’s people. One example of this in the Bible is Tychicus, who is described by Paul as a “beloved brother and faithful minister” (Eph. 6:21). Paul sent Tychicus to the church in Ephesus and the church in Colossae for exactly this reason: to “encourage your hearts” (Eph. 6:22; Col. 4:8). Paul knew that believers need more than to be taught the Word of truth; they need to be reminded that the Lord loves them and has provided for them. In this sense, pastors are a gift from Jesus to His people (Eph. 4:8–11). They are a tangible reminder of Jesus’ care for us in a world that is marred by sin. Does it encourage you when your pastor calls you to learn more about what is happening in your life? Are you comforted to know that your pastor is praying for you, your family, and your particular needs? Just as Paul reminded each of the churches to which he wrote that he was remembering them (Phil. 1:3), never ceasing to pray for them (Col. 1:9), and thanking the Lord that their faith was growing (2 Thess. 1:3), so the calling of a pastor is to walk alongside God’s people and lift their eyes to Christ. I often tell my own congregation that the main job of a pastor is to remind them of God’s truth and promises that they already know.

Pastors Equip Us to Do the Work of Ministry

The final reason we need pastors is so that we may be trained and prepared to do the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). It is far too often the mind-set of Christians that pastors are the “professional” Christians; that is, the ones who must do all the work of ministry in the local church and community. After all, this mentality asserts, “I don’t know nearly as much about the Bible as my pastor.” The most extreme approach seeks out the pastor to pray not just for me but instead of me, because he is “so much closer to God.” The Bible is clear that all Christians are to be involved in the ministry of the kingdom of God, and that in the broadest sense we are “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) who are to “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). The equipping of all Christians to be involved in ministry is no accident or even a pragmatic response to a pressing need. It is the design of Jesus Christ for His church. In Ephesians 4, the central passage about the gifts that Christ gives to the church, Paul writes that Christ has given shepherds (pastors) “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). If we think about this, it makes perfect sense in connection with the first two reasons why we need pastors—pastors bring us God’s Word so that we might grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ, and they encourage us in our walk with Christ so that we see the work Christ has placed before us.

Pastors are an important part of the church of Jesus Christ, not because they are the only ones connected to the Lord and able to do all the work of ministry, but because they are a gift from Jesus to equip His people to grow in their knowledge of God and in their usefulness in His Kingdom. Thank the Lord for your pastor.

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on December 26, 2018.

Growing in Grace

The Forerunner