Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Reflections on a Pastor and His Congregation

Editor's Note: When a seminary sends its graduates into the fields and vineyards of the Lord, a unique relationship is created between pastor and congregation. The following was adapted from two articles written by Rev. Joel Smit, a 2008 Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary graduate, on the occasion of his call and installation as senior pastor at Smyrna Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Smyrna, Ga. He previously served at Midway Presbyterian (Powder Springs, Ga.) for eight years as pastor of families & outreach (2008-2016). Pastor Smit also currently serves as a volunteer police chaplain for the Cobb County Police Department. He graduated from Simpson University (Redding, Calif.) in 2002 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies. He attended Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, receiving his Master of Divinity degree in 2008. He and his wife Stefanie originate from California, and they have four children. 




By Joel Smit

The Call, Purpose & Duty of the Pastor to the Congregation


In April 2016, I had the privilege of being installed as the pastor at Smyrna Presbyterian Church. The installation service was a joyous one for me – surrounded by the church family that I have been called to serve, as well as many friends and mentors that have been an encouragement and help to me along the way. The night included a robust worship service, a wonderful anthem from our choir, and a stirring message from the Rev. Carl Robbins of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. Included in the service were questions that were asked to me as I took this charge to this particular congregation. 


Here are the installation questions:
  1. Are you now willing to take charge of this congregation as their pastor, agreeable to your declaration in accepting its call?
  2. Do you conscientiously believe and declare, as far as you know your own heart, that, in taking upon you this charge, you are influenced by a sincere desire to promote the glory of God and the good of the Church?
  3. Do you solemnly promise that, by the assistance of the grace of God, you will endeavor faithfully to discharge all the duties of a pastor to this congregation, and will be careful to maintain a deportment in all respects becoming a minister of the Gospel of Christ, agreeable to your ordination engagements?

The first thing that you might think when reading those questions is, “Is that it?” It is true that they are rather brief, and they may not be all-encompassing of the duties and responsibilities of the pastorate. However, when you examine them they are much more complete than upon first observation. These questions lay out the call, purpose, and duty of a pastor to a congregation.

Call


The call of a minister is much more than agreeing upon the terms of the hire. Calling is a spiritual term with a spiritual function. The Scriptures are very clear that a man should not take the office of teaching elder unless he is called by the Lord to do so (James 3:1). There is the strict Scriptural standard for being an elder (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1), along with a seminary degree and a theological and doctrinal requirement laid out by our denomination. But even when all of those are met, the most important requirement is that the Lord is calling one to do so and that call has been tested and proven by the Church. So this question of installation is asking: "Are you willing to take this position (this charge) because you believe that the Lord is calling you to do so?" Without that specific calling of the Lord to a specific congregation, one should not be installed to that position.

Purpose


We cannot know the intentions of one another’s heart, but we should examine the intentions of our own hearts. The second question asks about the intention of the pastor being installed – is he taking this charge out of the right motivation and purpose so as to make sure there are no alternative motives other than promoting the glory of God and the good of the Church. For this simple, yet overarching purpose, is indeed the great purpose of the pastorate – indeed of all Christians. The pastor should be leading the other officers and the congregation in this grand purpose.

Duty


The third question is the one that probably comes to mind when thinking about what a pastor should agree to when he becomes a pastor – that of duty. The question seemingly leaves it open-ended when it says “all the duties of a pastor,” but we know from the rest of the Book of Church Order (from which these questions come), as well as our doctrinal standards of the Westminster Confession, these duties are to be the ones laid out in Scripture. The pastor has a Scriptural duty and mandate to care for, shepherd, lead, and feed the flock of Christ Jesus that has been given to his charge. Whereas many within the church would like to add to these duties, this is the mandate that should not be neglected. It is why a part of the question asks whether one will do it faithfully. Also the last part of the question asks the pastor being installed whether he will be a model of faith and faithfulness, demonstrating by one’s example what a disciple of Christ should look.

When we examine these questions, we see them to be a very full picture of what one is called to when he is called to the pastorate. Like the Apostle Paul one can only say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Thankfully in the same book the Lord gives the answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). May God be pleased and glorified to raise up good and faithful pastors for His Church.

A Congregation's Call to Receive, Encourage & Provide for Their Pastor



The relationship between a pastor and a congregation is a God-ordained relationship. The Apostle Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus and Titus to Crete to minister the Gospel and “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). This relationship of a pastor and elders to a congregation is a special one. We have already looked at a pastor’s call, purpose, and duty. We now are going to look at the congregation’s relationship to their pastor. A part of the pastor's installation service included vows taken by the pastor to the congregation (see above), and also vows the congregation takes in regard to their relationship with their pastor.

Here are the questions asked of the congregation:
  1. Do you, the people of this congregation, continue to profess your readiness to receive your pastor, whom you have called?
  2. Do you promise to receive the word of truth from his mouth with meekness and love, and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline?
  3. Do you promise to encourage him in his labors, and to assist his endeavors for your instruction and spiritual edification?
  4. Do you engage to continue to him while he is your pastor that competent worldly maintenance which you have promised, and to furnish him with whatever you may see needful for the honor of religion and for his comfort among you?

These questions lay out how a congregation should receive, encourage, and provide for their pastor. Let’s take a look at each one.

Receive


The first question that is asked of the congregation is similar to the first question asked of the pastor. The pastor is asked if he accepts this call to this particular congregation. Calling is a spiritual term with a spiritual function. Believing that God has called him particularly to the pastorate and specifically to this congregation. The congregation in turn is asked to receive this man believing that this calling and relationship is of the Lord. Having already voted to accept him, the congregation is now asked to keep that spirit of acceptance and readiness throughout his ministry. It is easy to receive a pastor when the pastor and the congregation are in the “honeymoon phase.” But as with all new things, the newness eventually wears off. However, since this relationship is ordained of the Lord, the congregation must have a continual receiving of their pastor if the ministry is going to continue forward.

The second question is very much tied to the first: Do you receive the word of God from your pastor? Notice that if there is bitterness or despising in the heart of the congregation toward their pastor (no longer “receiving your pastor” as it states in question one), then the result is that they will not receive what he has to say. Even if it is true, if there is not respect for the pastor, then the member’s heart is not in a place to readily receive the word of God “with meekness and love” and will not “submit” to it. The message and the messenger are very much tied together. The congregation must continue to respect their pastor so that they may receive the Word of God from him for their own edification. Likewise the pastor must remain respectable in his godliness and character.

Encourage


Most professions can be performed with competency regardless of one’s spiritual life. Not so with the pastorate. A pastor’s calling/vocation is directly tied with their spiritual health. This makes it a very challenging calling because pastors are mere men – prone to fatigue, discouragement, and temptation in their spiritual walk just like everyone else; yet they are called to minister week in and week out. That is why question three is so helpful and my favorite question asked of the congregation — Do you promise to encourage him in his labors? Encouragement is such a needful gift in the church. Joseph was called Barnabas which means “son of encouragement” (Acts. 4:36) no doubt because he was an encourager. Pastors need encouragers – both with their words and also with their actions. Through their thoughtful words, along with their faithful attendance and participation in the church and its ministry, the congregation very much encourages its pastor; and he is thus strengthened for the work ahead.

Provide


Since the pastor is called to this congregation, he will not be able to have other worldly employment to make an income for himself and his family. Thus the congregation is asked to provide for him so that he is able to give himself to this work fully. Paul was a “tentmaker” (had a second profession) for a time while in Corinth, but this was only temporary; and he tells Timothy that “a worker is worthy of his hire” (1 Tim.5:18) and that a pastor should be given “double honor” (respect and pay). Just and equitable compensation for work performed in ministry is a part of a congregation’s provision for their pastor.

The relationship between a congregation and its pastor is a unique one. But as in a good marriage – when both are doing their duties, there will be good harmony and blessing of the Lord. May this be true among all of God's people and their shepherds.