Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Ep. 68 - Navigating Two Aspects of my Job (As a Pastor)

Episode 68 - Listen Here: 

For those that do not know: 

My name is Matt Harmless. I am in my 23rd year as a math teacher. All but one of my first nine years of teaching were in the private Christian School setting. The rest of my career has been in public education (with the last seven years at Danville High School in Danville, IL). I have also been a pastor at Edgewood Church in Danville since the summer of 2009. I share this information for those that might be new here, but also as an introduction to today's post. 

I am going to discuss two aspects of my job, but not my teaching job... my pastoral job. I may take some time to talk about aspects of being a teacher in another post, but I wanted to make some specific points about my job as a pastor. More specifically, I wanted to discuss two things that Paul the Apostle mentions in his letter to Titus. 

Right at the beginning of this letter, Paul tells Titus that he left him in Crete for a specific purpose. He says, in verse 5, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you."  So, Titus is on the island of Crete and appointing elders (pastors) in the churches that Paul has established. He then gives some qualifications for elders in verses 6 to 9. One of the final qualifications is given in verse 9, in that verse Paul states, "He [an elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught..." but then he gives a reason for this final qualification, which is also an instruction on what an elder is doing as a shepherd of a church. He says, "... so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

Give Instruction In Sound Doctrine

To "give instruction" is to exhort (parakaléō, παρακαλέω). It is a word that means to encourage or strengthen, with the concept of "calling to one's side" at the root of this word. It is a word that we can easily think of when we think of one preaching or teaching with the intent to impact a person's life. This encouraging, exhorting instruction is to be based on and found in sound (hygiaínō, ὑγιαίνω) doctrine (didaskalía, διδασκαλία).  This good, healthy, free-from-error (see Thayer's Greek Dictionary) teaching is what is used to guide and direct the Christian's life. The Elders/Pastors are to be giving this instruction in their respective local churches, based on the sound doctrine as they hold on to the trustworthy word as they were taught. 

This has been and always will be a key element of my job as a Pastor of a local church. My number one goal, each and every week that I am preaching or teaching is to prepare my lesson or sermon based on the inspired, revealed, and implanted word of God. My constant desire is to understand what a text says, comprehend what it means for me, work through what it means for us (Christians), and relay that information to the people at my church. This is done by the power and guidance and absolute dependence on the Spirit of God, but it is firmly anchored in the actual text of Scripture, the trustworthy word (the Bible). If I ever cease to do this, may God shut me up and may I never utter a word that is not in complete accord with this sound doctrine. 

But there was a second aspect of Paul's instruction to Titus. A second thing that he was to instruct the Elders to do. We are not simply to instruct with sound doctrine, we are to also "... rebuke those who contradict it."  This aspect of a Pastor's work is less clear to me -- especially as I consider who the word "those" is actually referring to.

Rebuke Those Who Contradict It.

First, what does it mean to rebuke (elénchō, ἐλέγχω)? Thayer's Greek Dictionary defines this word as "... to convict, refute, confute; generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted; and by conviction to bring to the light, to expose."  It can also mean, "... to find fault with, or correct..." by word or by deed. This is not always a pleasantly received or readily accepted process. Most people don't want to be "convicted" or "refuted" in a way that even slightly leads to a "suggestion of shame".  In fact, I would suggest that, unless you are speaking on behalf of the current acceptable and popular trends, this is not to be tolerated at all!

(Side Note: I worded that last sentence a particular way on purpose. Shaming someone, convicting someone, or refuting someone by bringing their deeds to light or finding fault with their actions for the purpose of correcting them is not unheard of in our society. If you are doing this in conjunction with the current accepted mainstream trends, this is completely acceptable and almost required. If on the other hand, the rebuking comes from a teaching or doctrine that is not currently being accepted by the modern arbiters of rightness, then this rebuking is considered evil and abusive.  To give an even more specific example, if I were to, oh, I don't know, as a man and a pastor, maybe state that a woman should not have an abortion because that is killing a baby -- I am a spiritual abuser and part of the patriarchy.  Alternatively, if someone were a, oh, I don't know, maybe a woman, speaking on behalf of the right to choose abortion, that woman could bring a megaphone in and scream and yell and make random accusations about anyone that disagrees. That one would also be applauded by others on her side for going the distance and making accusations against the very character of the persons on the opposing side... end side note.)

This rebuking that Paul is speaking of is to be done with those who contradict (antilégō, ἀντιλέγω) the sound doctrine.  These contradictors are the ones who are speaking against the instruction that Paul had given to Titus. There are some clues in the next few verses that may help determine a little more clearly who the pastor is to be rebuking and what this rebuking looks like. In its completeness, here is Titus 1:10–16. 

[10] For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. [11] They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. [12] One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” [13] This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, [14] not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. [15] To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. [16] They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:10–16 ESV)

Much could be said about this passage, especially concerning the "circumcision party" and the specifics of that particular false teaching. But consider for a moment the realities (or the fruits) of the ones in need of rebuke. They are talkers but not doers. "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works." (v.16) There seems to be a lot of talk, but the true state of their being is displayed in their disobedience. Paul's preliminary rebuke, which I can't help but think that Titus took direction from, is harsh, to say the least. Paul calls them "... liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." (v. 12)

Knowing who to deploy this aspect of the pastoral work on is not an easy task. I try not to forget, in my own attempts to do this, that Titus' rebuke is to silence them (v. 11) and "... rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith..."  (v. 13)  This isn't to simply put someone in their place, it is to shore them up, ground them securely, and develop in them a faith that is worked out in their deeds (see James 2:14-26). 

Navigating this...

I find it to be fairly simple and straightforward to tackle the one aspect of what I have been discussing - namely the instructional portion. In my attempt to give instruction in sound doctrine, I have adopted the expository preaching approach to my pastoral ministry. I will occasionally tackle some topical subjects, but I always try to do this in an expository fashion. (For more on this, read this post on expository preaching.)  

Determining who to rebuke, how to rebuke, when to rebuke, and what prompts me to rebuke is not as easy. I believe there is a clear call to do this within the boundaries of my own particular church, with those who have vocalized their commitment to this particular body of believers (that we call Edgewood). But what about those who are not a part of Edgewood?  What about those who claim the name of Christ and are in my circle of friends? What about other Christians that are in my area? More recently I've had to ask, what about pastors of other congregations in my town or in my county? What responsibility do I have to rebuke these others? 

What about the many who "lean to the right" and claim the name "Christian" but don't live like it? What about the ones who say they love Christ, but hate his church? What about the countless sheep, that are wandering as if with no shepherd? What about the brother who is abandoning his marriage? What about the one who claimed to be a sister, but is forsaking the teachings of our beloved Apostle Paul? When do I rebuke? How do I rebuke? What words of rebuke do I use? 

I am convinced that I have not done this as often as I should have. I pray that God gives me wisdom to discern the time and the place and the attitude to embark on this endeavor. And I pray that my words will be like apples of gold in settings of silver (Prov. 25:11) to those who need the word. I pray as well that I will not be alone in this endeavor. And finally that when my words of rebuke land me in prison, as they did with John the Baptist, that I will stay the course to the very end... or at least to my very end. 

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