In the early New Testament times, when the church came into existence after the ascension of Christ, there was a real proliferation of church groups that met in homes and spread the Gospel message throughout the region. In fact, the disciples scattered to the countryside and eventually Paul, who had a passion for starting churches in the Gentile communities, raised up pastors and others who helped to solidify the church bodies in various areas of the civilized world. In fact, the churches at Galatia, Ephesus, Corinth, Colossi and many others were all started by Paul.
But Paul was not one who wanted to stay in the same place for very long. After each church was established, he would shepherd it for a short time, then move to another location and appoint elders to oversee the church in his absence. Sooner or later, other pastors would step up to take over the church and continue to grow it in the New Testament tradition. In fact, the apostle John, who was called the disciple that Jesus loved, eventually became the pastor at Ephesus, the most mature church at the time in the entire area.
This pastor was the same disciple John who wrote the Gospel of John, the three letters near the end of the New Testament called the Johannnine Epistles and the book of Revelation. The others churches in the area had similarly gifted pastors; men who had been around during the time of Christ and knew the faith. But not all leaders were called to preach or lead congregations.
The Bible is quite clear that there were several different offices that needed to be filled in order for the church to expand and spread the Good News throughout the land. There were those who were called to spread the Word throughout the region and carry the message of God to new areas. These folks were called apostles – or messengers, from the Greek. Others were prophets – those people who had been uniquely endowed by God with the ability to speak on behalf of God and provide instruction on what the future would bring. Then, of course, there were evangelists – think Billy Graham here. They were the ones who would travel great distances to speak to people in an effort to bring them to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
We also have the church office of elder, which was designed to assist the pastor in the performance of his duties in the church. Finally, we are told there there are to be pastors and teachers. Now here, there is a little confusion. Because many people believe that pastors are to be “under-shepherds” of Christ. Let me explain. I think we can generally agree that Jesus was the ultimate shepherd. The Scripture is full of references to taking care of the sheep and the analogy brings to mind that Christ’s role is to take care of His sheep – that means us. After Christ returned to heaven, shepherds were appointed to take care of the people of Christ. These pastors were, and still are, accountable to Christ and have an awesome responsibility to provide spiritual direction for the members of their congregations.
Many folks also believe that others were called to be teachers. Teachers were to instruct people in the doctrines of the faith, help them grow in their spiritual understanding and answer questions about God brought by members of the congregations. But in reality, when we read the Bible, the office of pastor and teacher is the same thing. In other words, we are to get our spiritual direction and our teaching from pastors. In the Greek, there is no distinction between the roles in the church. The people who shepherd us are the same people who are to teach us.
When you think of this, it makes total sense. Don’t we turn to our spiritual leaders in times of trouble? And don’t we ask them the tough questions that we have no idea how to answer? And even those of us who have spent years in seminary have people in our lives who act as pastors to us, so everyone can be cared for and taught by somebody who has been anointed by God to watch over part of His flock.
The verse this evening is from Ephesians, the book written by Paul to his most spiritually mature church. In this passage, Paul tells us about the various way people are called. In Eph. 4:11-13, speaking of Christ, Paul tells us, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
By the way, did you notice that there is no comma between pastors and teachers? That’s because they are to be considered together, as one. My encouragement this evening is that you will become more knowledgable in the faith by sitting under the teaching of a pastor. And my prayer is that God will grant you His divine protection and care as the ultimate shepherd as you endeavor to enter into a deeper relationship with Him. Grace and peace…