To be clear, I am incredibly thankful for the gifted evangelists that God has given to his church. My parents came to Christ as part of the Canadian Revival, led in large part by the twin evangelists, Ralph and Lou Sutera.
So I am maximally thankful for evangelists.
I just don’t think that they should pastor local churches.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. A pastor is primarily a teacher
When Jesus restored Peter to the ministry he told him:
“Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 ESV)
“Tend my sheep.” (John 21:16 ESV)
“Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17 ESV)
Apparently the job of a pastor is two parts teaching and one part tending. Peter was commissioned to a job consisting largely of feeding the sheep. Sheep by definition are part of the flock. Peter was told to feed the little ones and he was told to feed the big ones. A pastor must have an eye on the new believers and the young, and he must have an eye on the older and more mature. He must know how to give all the sheep the food they need to grow to health and full maturity.
The Apostle Paul prioritized the gift of teaching in his list of qualifications for the pastorate. He told Timothy to look for men who were:
“above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (1 Timothy 3:2–3 ESV)
Most of that list has to do with character but the one competency that is mentioned is the ability to teach.
The pastor is primarily a teacher.
He will want to do as the Apostle Paul did during his long tenure in Ephesus. Near the end of his life he met with the elders from Ephesus and was happy to be able to declare:
“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27 ESV)
A pastor preaches it all – he preaches the whole counsel of God. If he can’t do that – if he won’t do that – then he isn’t qualified for the position.
An evangelist is often most passionate about particular aspects of that commission. He is a specialist. He loves to serve as the doorman but isn’t as invested in the things that take place deeper on inside the house.
To be clear – there is nothing wrong with that!
Just as we are thankful for gifted deacons and gifted counsellors without necessarily wanting them to serve as pastors – so too we are thankful for evangelists. Lots of people need help making their way to the Door. We thank God for gifted evangelists who go and find lost people and bring them to the cross of Christ! We are thankful for their passion for apologetics and the effort they put into understanding the worldview and condition of lost people.
Thank God for gifted evangelists!
But if a church is served a steady diet of apologetics or entry level, invitational preaching, they will slowly begin to whither and die on the vine.
Christians need the whole counsel of God!
And therefore, evangelists, probably shouldn’t be the pastors of local churches.
2. A pastor must be committed to the health and well-being of the church
While a pastor is primarily a teacher, he is not exclusively a teacher. When Jesus restored Peter to the ministry he said:
“Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 ESV)
“Tend my sheep.” (John 21:16 ESV)
“Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17 ESV)
Two parts teaching, one part tending.
A pastor is supposed to tend the flock of God.
The word translated as “tend” in verse 16 is often translated as “rule”. It can also be translated as “feed” but the fact that Jesus chose a different word than the one he had just used in the previous verse suggests that he was emphasizing something slightly different. The Apostle Paul seems to have picked up on the nuance. He says in 1 Timothy 5:
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17 ESV)
So some elders “rule” but don’t “teach” while some do both.
Obviously, pastors do more than teach – they are also, and sometimes exclusively, called upon to lead. Again, we can see that concern in evidence in the list of requirements for elders and pastors in the church. Paul says that a prospective candidate:
“must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4–5 ESV)
So leadership in the church is analogous to leadership in the home. We assume that implies an ability to manage a budget, an ability to maintain a building and the strength of will to execute discipline when required.
All such abilities must be present, to some degree, in a pastor of a local church.
Such abilities are not required – and often not in evidence – in gifted evangelists.
Most of the evangelists I’ve known have not been primarily interested in the household business of the church. Such things often annoy them. If they are not careful, they can even, accidentally, act as if such things are not entirely spiritual and not worthy of a great deal of time and attention.
But they are.
And any church that lacks leaders who are attentive to such things will suffer.
And that is why evangelists – while being a wonderful gift and blessing – generally ought not to pastor local churches.
3. A pastor must be concerned with the entire process of Christian growth
Peter was told to feed the lambs and feed the sheep of Christ. His was a mandate that was to stretch from cradle to grave as it were. Like the various forms of dog food available from the local pet store, a good pastor has something for the pups, something for the adults and something for the very old.
All of those “somethings” should come from Holy Scripture.
The Word of God is sufficient for the entire process.
Paul said in Romans:
“faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 ESV)
Jesus said in John 17:
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 ESV)
The same word that is effective in getting people through the narrow gate is effective in moving people further down the narrow way. The same word works for all.
And the pastor is concerned for all – and for their progress all the way from the wicket gate to the celestial city, to borrow imagery from our friend John Bunyan.
The Evangelist, however, is primarily concerned with getting people started on the right way.
While we must be thankful for his (or her) frequent forays into the city of destruction to summon and quicken sinners on their journey to Christ, we must admit that this is a slightly different passion and gifting than that which best befits a pastor of a local church.
The pastor is a guide for the entire journey.
His job is to feed – and to lead. His job is to go out before them and to also walk behind them, carrying when necessary, the sick, the weak and the lame.
He is a generalist while the evangelist is a specialist. Both are necessary – but they are not the same and that is why evangelists, generally speaking, ought not to pastor local churches.
4. A pastor must be capable of discipline
In the list of requirements for pastoral appointment that Paul gives to Titus there is an obvious emphasis on the need for the candidate to be capable of discipline, should it be required. In addition to being the husband of one wife he says that:
“his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” (Titus 1:6 ESV)
This is generally understood to refer to the children in his home, as opposed to adult children outside his authority. The point appears to be that if a man cannot maintain discipline with his own children, how will he be able to maintain discipline in the house of the Lord?
On rare occasions a pastor must have the necessary resolve to participate and likely lead in cases of church discipline. The Apostle Paul was quite critical of a church that thought itself too loving to excommunicate a public and persistent sinner within its membership. He said:
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1–2 ESV)
The church needs people who have the gift of mercy (Romans 12:8) but such people, if that is their primary and dominant gift, likely ought not to be in charge of church discipline. Similarly, the church needs people who are dominantly passionate about bringing people into the church, but again, if that is their primary and dominant gifting and concern then they likely should not be in charge of church discipline. And that means that they ought not to be serving in pastoral oversight ministry.
A pastor must be willing and able to “put people out”. Pity the church with a pastor who enjoys such a responsibility! But pity the church with a pastor who is incapable of it. It is strange work; it is alien work, but it is occasionally required work and a pastor must be able to engage it with the resolve and fortitude it demands.
5. A pastor ought generally to be planted in one location
In the early days of the Baptist movement, the relationship between pastors and congregations was considered analogous to the relationship between a husband and wife. It was assumed to be exclusive and permanent in nature. In rare cases, a pastor might move from one location to another, but this was only undertaken after much prayer and after the permission of the holding church was petitioned for and received.
Whether for good or ill, this has long ceased to be the norm in most Evangelical traditions. Nevertheless it remains true that a pastor must take a longer term approach than the typical evangelist might be inclined to do. A pastor’s heart is best expressed in passages like Colossians 2:2-3 where Paul expresses his desire for his people to:
“reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2–3 ESV)
It takes a while for people to reach “all the riches of full assurance” and to appropriate “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.
The Canadian Revival in which my parents were saved lasted a little less than a year. It began as an evangelistic crusade in the city of Saskatoon that was scheduled to last a week but because of the response was held over for an additional 6 weeks before ultimately moving on to other cities across the Canadian West. Hundreds and thousands of people were truly and gloriously saved. It impacted a lot of families – I am so thankful that my family was one of them. As the momentum of the crusade began to ebb the key leaders moved on to other work. The Sutera twins, presumably, went back to their native Ohio and on from there to other evangelistic crusades.
Happily, a follow up worker connected my parents to a Gospel preaching church in Toronto when my dad was transferred back east the following year. There they were faithfully shepherded through the ministry of Bible preaching, Christ exalting local churches for the next 50 years. It was my particular joy to see both of my parents sitting side by side under the Word of God preached last Sunday in the church that I now serve as pastor.
Those 7 weeks in Saskatoon began something that totally transformed our family. I am forever thankful to those two evangelists for their faithful ministry to my parents.
I am also thankful for local pastors that no one will ever hear about who preach verse by verse and book by book through the Bible, exalting the Christ of Scripture so that people like my parents may attain all the riches of full assurance and appropriate all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
One blessing isn’t better than the other – but they are not the same.
Pastors must do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5) but they must be capable of doing more than that – and the best ones do. They are shepherds, stewards, mothers, fathers, teachers and guides. They are in it – with us for the long haul; thanks be to God!
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast visit the TGC Canada website; you can also find it on iTunes.