Analysis and Interpretation of the Pastoral Role

By Rev. Ernesto Bathermy

As we analyzed and interpreted the images of a shepherd/pastor from the Old and New Testaments in the previous article, those texts shed light on our work and responsibilities as pastors:

  1. Feed the flock

When we speak of feeding the sheep, we refer to teaching and instructing the believers in the Word of God and in Christian doctrines.  The Lord himself affirms that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). This declaration shows us clearly that the Word of God is spiritual food for the soul of a believer.

The apostle Peter referenced the Word of God when he wrote to Christians of the diaspora, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (I Peter 2:2)

The writer of Hebrews also referred to the teaching of the Word as spiritual food for the believer. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

It is evident, then, that when the Bible speaks of the role of a pastor as the one who should feed the flock, it is referring to the pastor feeding the believers with the Word of God.

  1. Care for the flock

To care for the flock has a broader connotation than to simply feed them. Likewise, a pastor’s role is not only to feed the congregation with the Word of God, but also to care for them. Isaiah speaks of a shepherd that carries the lambs in his arms against his breast.  The lamb is one year old or less, so it is by definition young and inexperienced.  In the same way, a pastor should shepherd new believers and care for them with special attention.

Another aspect of caring for the flock is clear when the prophet writes that Jehovah will gently lead the newborn lambs.  It is a picture of the care that a pastor must have for the Lord’s flock.

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  1. Guide the flock

According to John 10:4, the shepherd rescues his sheep and later goes before them while they follow.  The shepherd guides his sheep not by staying behind them, but going ahead of them.  In the same way, the pastor guides the church by being an example to the flock. (I Peter 5:3)

  1. Restore the flock

As we saw in Ezekiel 34:4, there will be weak, sick and injured members of the flock.  At times they will stray and get lost.  The same happens in the church.  Some brothers and sisters are weak in the faith, and those are the ones the pastor must seek to strengthen.

Some believers, at any given moment, can become spiritually ill.  The pastor has the responsibility to aide in curing them. Other believers will wander, and the pastor must seek to guide them back to the correct path.

Though the pastor must care for the entire flock, some brothers and sisters require special attention.  The ones who are lost need to be helped to return to the fold.

Conclusion:

A study of both the Old and New Testaments shows that the Bible says the role of the pastor is to feed, care for, guide and restore the believers.  This understanding allows a pastor to develop his or her ministry with greater responsibility and awareness, but with less frustration about basing all “success” on tangible results.

*Rev. Ernesto Bathermy is the pastor of the Celestial Vision Church of the Nazarene in Los Alcarrizos, Dominican Republic. He is also the Dominican Republic Central District Superintendent and Rector of the Dominican Nazarene Seminary.

The Image of a Pastor in the Old and New Testaments

By Rev. Ernesto Bathermy 

The Bible teaches that God calls individuals into different ministries for the benefit of the community of faith, which is the Church, and for building up the Kingdom of God.  This calling is obvious in the close relationship between the spiritual gifts and the One who gives them.  Nevertheless, we must ask, if it is God that calls and if He is the one who gives the spiritual gifts necessary to develop our ministry, why are many of us serving in ministries that seem to fail to accomplish His divine purposes?   

Many ministers become frustrated to such an extent that they abandon the ministry.  A true understanding of our responsibilities as pastors can free us from paralyzing and destructive frustrations.  In the next two entries, I will try to guide us to a better understanding of the pastorate and provide some fundamentals for a more rational pastoral practice.

The image of a Pastor in the Old Testament

The concept of a pastor that we find in the New Testament comes from an image or metaphor of a shepherd that is rooted in the Old Testament.  God used this image to describe his relationship with Israel, his people and the religious leaders in the time of the prophets.

The prophet Isaiah presented the Lord as a shepherd when he wrote, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

The prophet Jeremiah, like Isaiah, tackles the subject in a general way when he writes that the role of a shepherd is to find land for his sheep to graze and care for his sheep.  These two ideas are quite broad.  Though grazing focuses on feeding the sheep, caring for them emphasizes his protection.

The prophet Ezekiel tells us that part of the work of the shepherd should be to strengthen weak sheep, heal their sickness, bind up their wounds, bring back the strays and search for the lost. (Ez. 34:4)

In Psalm 23, the psalmist talks about Jehovah as his shepherd, while he presents himself as a sheep.  A shepherd supplies all of his needs. Verses 1 and 2 show a shepherd that meets the nutritional and material needs of his sheep.  Verse 3 appears to refer to socio-emotional needs, while verse 4 apparently refers to spiritual needs.  All of these elements demonstrate a picture of a shepherd that feeds, consoles, cares for, guides, and is present with his sheep.

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The image of a Pastor (Shepherd) in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the disciple Luke, the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, the writer of Hebrews and the Apostle Peter all speak to us about the work of a pastor.

In Luke 2:8, Luke writes about the shepherds who heard the news of the birth of the Messiah while they were “keeping watch over their flocks at night.” That detail demonstrates that shepherds were accustomed to spending the night with their flocks so they could care for them constantly.  

In John 10:12, Jesus says that when a hired hand sees a wolf, he will leave the sheep and run away, but the good shepherd will give his life for his sheep.   He helps us to understand that the shepherd is the one responsible to care for the sheep. It is work he takes extremely seriously.  

John 21:15-17 is a revealing passage.  Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times.  After Peter’s first response, Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs.” When he responds the second time, Jesus tells him, “Take care of my sheep.” After the third time, he adds, “Feed my sheep.”  In verses 15 and 17, the verb that Jesus uses is bόskw(bosko), which translates as “to feed,” and means “to feed or provide food.”  But in verse 16, the Lord uses the verb poimaίnw(poimaino), which translates as “to shepherd.”  It carries the implications of caring for, guiding, governing and  defending.

 In Acts 20:28, the Apostle Paul refers to the elders of the church as “overseers” who the Holy Spirit has placed “to shepherd the church of God.” In Hebrews 13:17, the writer says that church leaders keep watch over the souls of the believers.

It is plain to see that the image of a pastor is important in both Old and New Testaments.  Now that we have examined this biblical foundation, in our next post I will explore some principles and applications of pastoral ministry.

*Rev. Ernesto Bathermy is the pastor of the Celestial Vision Church of the Nazarene in Los Alcarrizos, Dominican Republic. He is also the Dominican Republic Central District Superintendent and Rector of the Dominican Nazarene Seminary.

Fire

By Frederick Buechner

FIRE HAS NO SHAPE OR SUBSTANCE. You can’t taste it or smell it or hear it. You can’t touch it except at great risk. You can’t weigh it or measure it or examine it with instruments. You can never grasp it in its fullness because it never stands still. Yet there is no mistaking its extraordinary power.

The fire that sweeps through miles of forest like a terrible wind and the flickering candle that lights the old woman’s way to bed. The burning logs on the subzero night that save the pipes from freezing and give summer dreams to the tabby dozing on the hearth. Even from millions of miles away, the conflagration of the sun that can turn green earth into desert and strike blind any who fail to lower their gaze before it. The power of fire to devastate and consume utterly. The power of fire to purify by leaving nothing in its wake but a scattering of ash that the wind blows away like mist.

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A pillar of fire was what led the children of Israel through the wilderness, and it was from a burning bush that God first spoke to Moses. There were tongues of fire leaping up from the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In John’s apocalypse it is a lake of fire that the damned are cast into, and Faithful and True himself, he says, has eyes of fire as he sits astride his white horse.

In the pages of Scripture, fire is holiness, and perhaps never more hauntingly than in the little charcoal fire that Jesus of Nazareth, newly risen from the dead, kindles for cooking his friends’ breakfast on the beach at daybreak.

This article was originally published at: Beyond Words

Taking Care of the Poor: The Most Ignored Command in the Bible?

By Tyler Huckabee

From cover to cover, a few consistent themes arise in the Bible. The idea of a creator God, the Messiah, and the afterlife are just a few of the Bible’s more frequently revisited topics. But any list of the Bible’s most commonly discussed subject must include this: the persistent, passionate, unwavering stance on the poor.

Whatever else the Bible may remain mysterious on — whatever its other intricacies and tensions — it could not be clearer on how to treat those in poverty. God loves the poor and commands us to give to them. It is as simple as that.

This is true of both Testaments.

“If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” (Deut. 15:7-8)

“He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.” (Prov. 19:17)

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:13-14)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Here’s the thing. I doubt many people reading this are terribly surprised by this. Chances are, you’re well aware of what the Bible says about the poor. You know the Bible says we should be generous in how we treat them. Very few Christians would argue that God wants us to be stingy around poor people or suspicious of them.

So here’s the question: why don’t we obey?

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EXCUSES, EXCUSES

A study last year by the Kaiser Institute and the Washington Post found that 46 percent of Christians are likely to blame poor people for their own poverty, as compared to just 29 percent of non-Christians. The divide is even stronger when you single out white evangelicals, 53 percent of whom blame poverty on “a lack of effort.”

In contrast, atheists, agnostics and “unaffiliated” persons are more likely to say difficult circumstances are to blame for poverty by a margin of nearly two to one.

So what gives? Why are Christians, whose own Bible is stuffed to the binding with instructions to care for and be gracious to the poor, so much likelier to consider them lazy?

Helen Rhee, a historian who studies wealth and poverty in Christianity, told the Washington Post that she thinks it has something to do with Christian eschatology. That is, as premillennialism — the theology that holds that Jesus could return at any moment — became the dominant end times theory in American evangelicalism, Christians grew less concerned with making the world a better place. From this perspective, Rhee told the Post, “the world is already lost. Things are going to get worse and worse …You’ve got to just focus on what is important – that is, salvation of the soul.”

This has led to an attitude that implicitly ties poverty to morality. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, described this attitude to the Post this way: “There’s a rightful Christian impulse to consider poverty a moral issue …[but] I think conservative Christians often have a very inadequate understanding of the structural dimension of sin.”

In other words, sin is the cause of all poverty, but not all poverty is because of individual sin. There is also communal sin that results in widespread poverty: greed and corruption that leave innocent people poor.

You can see this in the Bible, where the authors – far from condemning the poor — repeatedly identify them as blessed, even Christlike. Beyond Jesus’ famous “Blessed are the poor,” there are verses like Proverbs 19:17, which says, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.”

And then Matthew 25, where Jesus says that “the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

In these verses and many more, it’s entirely clear that God Himself identifies with the poor. Far from holding them responsible for their current state, He Himself is manifested in them.

GRACE

“They did this to themselves.”

“If I give to them, how do I know they won’t abuse it?”

“I’m going to wait until a better time to give.”

These are the excuses we often use for not being generous with the poor, but the more you look at the Bible, the lamer they sound. What if God dispensed His grace with the same cautious frugality we use in giving our money? “She did this to herself. If I’m gracious to him, how do I know he won’t abuse it?”

No. In God, we have a perfect picture of what generosity looks like, and it’s one we ought to follow. Perhaps there is some wisdom in making sure we’re not using our money to enable unhealthy addictions, but at this point, many of us have poisoned our generous spirit with so much suspicion that we tend to assume anyone who’s poor is just going to misuse whatever money we give instead of being giving to them the way God told us to: as if we were giving to God Himself. Do we really want to spend our lives suspecting God of being someone who will misuse our money on drugs and alcohol?

The Bible is clear. The need is clear. The mission is clear. And it’s also clear that the excuses Christians have invented to protect themselves from financial generosity don’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Commands about the poor may not be the most discussed subject in the Bible, but they could very well be the most ignored. It’s time to turn that around.

This article was originally published at: Relevant Magazine

What is Luther’s Legacy?

This entire month we have been celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Tomorrow will be 500 years to the day when Martin Luther sparked the Reformation by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Many of us know him for that epic act. Yet, what is the lasting legacy of Luther’s life and ministry five centuries later? Dr. Stephen Nichols see at least five main points of Luther’s legacy:

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  1. The solas. When we remember Luther, we cannot forget these foundational tenets of his theology. There is sola Scriptura, the doctrine that Scripture alone has final authority, and that Scripture guides and governs us. Then there’s sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus, in which we learn that salvation indeed is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Finally, Luther teaches of soli Deo gloria, that all is for the glory of God alone.
  2. Reform of church practice. Although we talk about his reforming of theology, we also must acknowledge Luther’s reformation of church “methodology.” Imagine showing up at church and feeling the desire welling up within you to sing praises to God. But you can’t—you have no hymns in your language, and there is no congregational singing in the service. Before Luther, this was the norm. So, when you stand up and sing a hymn and you join your voice with the other voices of the congregation in lifting praise to God, you can thank Martin Luther for restoring congregational singing and hymns to the life of the church.
  3. Preaching. Before Luther, the church service consisted mostly of the Mass, that is, the Lord’s Supper. There was an occasional homily during Advent or Lent, but preaching of the Word was not of central importance. Luther introduced the weekly sermon, where the pastor studies the Word of God and then brings that teaching to the people of God so they can be nourished and can grow as Christians. Sounds familiar, right? But what is widely accepted as obvious now was not 500 years ago.
  4. Family. Before the Reformation, there was not a high view of the family within the church, and Luther helped to redeem marriage and the family and helped to bring marriage and the family to a prominent place. Through his own family, his relationship with his wife, Katie, and to his children, he modeled what a Christian family looks like.
  5. Vocation. Luther had what we would call a “high theology” of vocation. He believed that whether you have some high church office or you have the lowest menial job, every kind of work can be viewed as a calling. Before Luther, it was only the monks, the nuns, and the priests who had a calling; everyone else simply worked in apparently “unholy” jobs. Luther helped us realize that all that we do can be for the glory of God as we serve Him through our vocations.

Those are the five points of Luther’s legacy that Nichols outlines. However, he says that there is really one, true, fundamental, and underlying point to Luther’s legacy, and that concerns the Word of God. He says, “There is a statue in Eisenach of Luther holding a Bible and pointing to it. I think Luther would prefer that the statue be of the Bible holding Luther, pointing us beyond him to pay attention to the Word of God. That is Luther’s legacy, because it is the Word of God that abides forever.”

Luther and the Bible

From 5 Minutes in Church History by Dr. Stephen Nichols

When it comes to the Reformation, one of the most important topics to discuss is Martin Luther on Scripture. There are a number of things that we could say about this topic, but let’s look at just a few.

The first is the authority of Scripture. We see this in Luther at the Leipzig Debate in 1519. One of the monuments to Luther, in Eisleben, has an etching on the side of a very angry-looking Roman Catholic official. That angry-looking official is Johann Eck. On the other side of Eck is Luther, and Eck is holding in his hand some bound-up documents, while Luther is holding a book—the Bible—and that tells it all. Eck at Leipzig appealed to the teachings of the councils, the teachings of the church, and those rolled-up documents represent that. He came at Luther and the Wittenberg Reformers from the context of the church and the church’s authority. And Luther said to Eck, “I have an authority that is older than yours,” and, of course, this astounded Eck and he said, “Name them.” Luther said, “Paul and Peter and John.”

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Luther appealed directly to the authority of Scripture at Leipzig and, of course, he did the same thing at Worms. So, at Worms he said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” When he said, “Here I stand,” he was standing on Scripture and standing firm on the foundation of Scripture. And because Scripture is authoritative, we should read it and we should study it.

Among the many things Luther said about the Bible, he offered a lot of counsel about how to read it and study it. One text in particular that helps us is a preface to a collection of his writings in German. He gives three steps for reading and studying the Bible. The first step is oratio, or “prayer.” The Psalms are especially helpful here. Luther was very familiar with the Psalms. As a monk, he would have been in the Psalms seven times a day. They took Psalm 119:164 very literally: “Seven times in the day I will praise Thee,” that text says. So Luther and his fellow monks would take seven periods out of their day to spend in the Psalms.

Luther loved the Psalms. Some contend that Luther had the Psalter memorized. This was a book he lived in, and it was a book that taught him not only that he should learn Scripture but that he should pray Scripture. So, the Psalms can be very helpful for us as we think about Scripture and as we seek to approach it prayerfully.

The second step is meditatio. Luther says the temptation is to push on, to rush on, to just simply read the text. Luther cautions us, he counsels us, he encourages us to simply pause, to meditate on God’s Word. Again, the Psalms are helpful here because the psalmists often call on us to meditate on God’s Word.

The third step in studying the Bible is tentatio, or “struggle.” Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, we wrestle and struggle with Scripture. The struggle, Luther says, comes from our unbelief, our doubt, our stubbornness; ultimately, it comes from our sin, and the Word of God confronts it all.

That’s Luther on Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and how to read and study and learn and labor in and even love this Word that God has given us.

Everywhere, With Everyone, All The Time

By Scott Armstrong

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 11:18-19).

(Read Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28)

As a missionary—and sports fan—who lived in Guatemala several years ago, I discovered that Guatemala hasn’t really found out that there are many other sports outside of soccer.  They love their soccer, and players for the national team are heroes after a big win.  After an especially big victory over Costa Rica, I listened to the commentator on the radio excitedly praise the player who had scored both goals.  I can still hear him encourage the listeners in Spanish to “Bring Juan Carlos Plata into your home!  He deserves a place in the kitchen!  In the living room!  Talk about him in the morning, afternoon, and night!  Tell your kids what he just did for Guatemala!” 

Although that seems a little bit ridiculous, our verses for today point us in a similar direction.  This time, however, it is God’s Word that we should think about and talk about during the day.  His words and commands should be “fixed in our hearts and minds,” talked about “when you lie down and when you get up.”  Both parents and kids should live and breathe his Word 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  We should all be familiar with what he did for us and how his Word instructs us in our daily life.

Does this mean we can’t talk about anything else but the Bible? Are we just supposed to walk around high school and chant memory verses? Of course not.  But it does mean that we’re not just getting into God’s Word every day; it’s getting into you.  Sometimes we hurry through our two minutes of devotions and ten minutes later can’t remember what we read.  According to today’s passage, that is pretty far from what God wants for our lives!

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Is God’s Word in you or are you barely getting into God’s word each day? Is it a part of you or is it the essence of who you are? With all of the pressures of being a teen, it might be hard to imagine yourself just soaking his word in like a sponge soaks in water.  But it will make a world of difference.  When Jesus experienced the toughest of times, God’s Word was so much inside him that he oozed Scripture (Luke 4:1-13).  What would happen if you took with you today the verses you just read and carried them in your mind and heart throughout all of the activities, stresses, and temptations of the next 24 hours? It might just change your attitudes, conversations, and the way you react to tough situations.  Why don’t we find out? Read those verses again and ask God to help put them under your skin and into your heart and life today.