The Church and the Pastor
What is the Value of the Doctrine of the Church to Pastoral Ministry?

I attended a meeting once in which a pastor was explaining why his church embraced the philosophy of ministry it did. When he was asked to clarify, he simply stated, “This is what works.” In fact, he reiterated the same conviction time and again over the course of the meeting. The pragmatic dictated his approach to ministry and even its purpose. I left the meeting with a colleague, who had been concerned that this church’s ministry had begun laboring in his backyard. He was fearful, rightly or wrongly, about the impact this would have upon his own ministry opportunities. As we left the meeting, he sadly said, “I am no longer concerned about him competing with my ministry. He and I are doing and aiming at totally different things.” For my colleague and me, that was cause for even greater concern.

Without the Doctrine of the Church, pastoral ministry would not exist. Without a thoroughly biblical Doctrine of the Church, pastoral ministry will prove inadequate. We do well to consider how the Scriptures’ articulation of the doctrine of the Church informs pastoral ministry.

First, we must define what we mean by the Church. As we consider the Church as defined by the Scriptures, we must acknowledge both a visible and an invisible church. The visible church consists of all those who profess saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their children. The invisible church consists of those who are actually children of the Father and saved in Christ Jesus. Pastoral ministry is defined by this distinction. We do not presume that all within the bounds of the local church’s membership are also within the bounds of the invisible church’s membership. Of course, we hope and pray for such. But we know that there are tares alongside the wheat (Matthew 13). Therefore, the pastor of a local church must continue to call the congregation to saving faith and never presume that all are saved. In addition, he is to warn the church’s members of the need to persevere in the Christian faith. For though some labor in the name of Christ, He will say to some on that last day, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12).

In addition, we can add that the Church is the bride of Christ. She does not belong to the pastor or even the Elders. She belongs to her groom. The pastor ministers to his flock as a steward. He is to care, nurture, feed, and love her as Christ loves His bride. He is faithful as he points her to the groom. He is unfaithful as he points her to anything or anyone else, including himself. As a member of this bride himself, the pastor knows the importance of encouraging the church to embrace, know, and pursue Christ with all its heart, mind, soul, and strength. This informs his preaching, teaching, counseling, and leading.

Second, our doctrine of the Church informs our understanding of the authority the church holds. It is not a secular institution. It is spiritual. Therefore, its authority is bound to the spiritual realm. This informs a pastor’s exercising of authority. In the pulpit, he should not speak to secular concerns unless it directly intersects with a spiritual concern. His concern is the spiritual. In advising members of the church, he is only to speak authoritatively on spiritual issues. As a member of the Session, he ensures that the leadership of the church does not embark into realms not its own. The pastor is a man called by the Spirit of God to minister to the spiritual needs of God’s people. Let him not wander.

Third, our doctrine of the Church dictates our embrace of the mission of the Church. Why does the Church exist? For the salvation of men and the glory of God. It has been called out of the world to be sent into the world as a witness to lost and perishing people. Thus, the pastor’s ministry is shaped by this truth. His ministry is one of necessity. For how are people to hear unless one preaches (Romans 10)? How can people know the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ apart from being told? It is the pastor’s calling to proclaim with boldness and fervency the Word of God to a people in desperate need. If he does not lead the church to embrace its mission, he has led it astray. And if this is the mission of the church and the church’s authority is spiritual, then one’s pastoral ministry will be suffused with prayer and proclaiming the Word. As a pastor, he must not give in to the mounds of administration, the onslaught of public invitations, the romance of political occasions, or even the hermit-life of study. He has been called by God to minister God’s Word to God’s people. This cannot be lost, but must inform everything about his pastoral ministry.

Every pastor would do well to consider the doctrine of the Church; and in its light to consider their own calling as a pastor. A biblical understanding of the Church will inform, equip, and free a pastor to serve as the Lord has called him. We need more such pastors laboring for the bride of Christ to the glory of Christ.