Christian Ministry in the 21st Century Part 4: Ideals of Pastoral Ministry -- By: John R. W. Stott

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 146:581 (Jan 1989)
Article: Christian Ministry in the 21st Century Part 4: Ideals of Pastoral Ministry
Author: John R. W. Stott

Christian Ministry in the 21st Century
Part 4:
Ideals of Pastoral Ministry

John R. W. Stott

London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, London, England

[Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 3–6, 1987.]

One feature of the contemporary church is its uncertainty about the role of its professional ministers. Are pastors primarily social workers, psychiatrists, educators, facilitators, administrators, or what? Since the ministry involves all believers, are professional clergy superfluous and even inhibiting? Would not the church be healthier without them? Should someone establish a Society for the Abolition of the Clergy?

Throughout its long history the church has oscillated unsteadily between extreme clericalism and extreme anticlericalism. There has seldom been any clear consensus about what ordained clergy are for.

Huckleberry Finn was conversing with Mary Jane, the red-headed daughter of Peter Wilks. Huck told her that in the church of the Reverend Harvey Wilks, her uncle from Sheffield, there were “no less than 17 clergy.” But, he added, “they don’t all of ‘em preach the same day—only one of ‘em.” “Well, then,” asked Mary Jane, “what does the rest of ‘em do.” “Oh, nothing much,” said Huck. “They loll around, pass the plate, and one thing or another. But mainly they don’t do nothing.” “Well then, what are they for?” asked Mary Jane in astonishment, to which Huck replied, “Why, they are for style. Don’t you know nothing?”1

Against this background of contemporary uncertainty or malaise about the ministry, Acts 20, the valedictory address Paul delivered to the Ephesian elders, is an appropriate passage for consideration.

It was a memorable speech. For one thing, Luke was there to hear it (Acts 21:1). For another, it is the only speech Luke recorded in Acts which is addressed to elders, indeed to a Christian audience; all the other speeches are either evangelistic sermons or judicial defenses.

In addition this speech gives insight into the warm heart of the Apostle Paul. For three years he had labored among the Ephesians. Now, he told them, imprisonment awaited him in Jerusalem, and they would not see him again. So he reflected on his ministry among them and delivered a solemn farewell speech or pastoral charge. It was a very poignant situation.

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