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Archives / 1992 / December

 

The pastorhood of all believers

Rex D. Edwards

 

The pastoral office is an acted parable. It is a gracious likeness to the life of the church in its calling to unite the Word of God and the work of God. It is a lively reminder of the inseparable wholeness of the church's mission. In person and office the pastor combines both the declaration of God's reconciling love to the congregation in worship, and the active ministration of that love to the congregation according to its several needs.

However, this symbolic nature of the pastoral office is frequently obscured, if not obliterated, in our churches today. The size and dispersal of the typical urban congregation has led increasingly to multiple ministries with specialized functions. A senior minister cares for preaching; another, visitation, with primary responsibility for pastoral care; another, youth and educational divisions of the church or the administrative duties of a busy and complex congregational life. Thus, Word and work have been sundered, and the symbol destroyed. We cannot, of course, wish away the difficulties or pronounce irresponsible judgment on those who are honestly attempting to create an effective ministry. We can, however, encourage them to combine specialized function with pastoral wholeness and commend the whole church to an earnest grappling with the problem. Thus, the church may be helped to restore a proper image of itself.

In yet another way the pastor serves a representative function. The New Testament directs those in Christ to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). To bear one another's burdens means, in part, to bring to bear upon them the resources of the divine life in Jesus Christ. Such resources are not the possession of any individual or the natural endowment of an ecclesiastical elite, the "spiritually gifted" persons the church has acknowledged by the bestowal of the pastoral office. On the contrary, the re sources of the divine life are given to the church as the body of Christ. As such, those resources are the endowment of all Christ's faithful by virtue of their own faithfulness.

The church as the pastor

In one important sense, then, the church is the pastor. The church has created the pastoral office for ministry in its own behalf. The pastor gives such attention to this ministry only as the congregation, with its other vocational preoccupations, cannot give. The pastor gives such guidance as the congregation, for lack of training and experience, can not give. The pastor, without invitation, seeks out those in need in ways that would seem presumptuous to other professionals. The pastor stands in places where, for reasons of delicacy, the congregation neither can nor ought to stand. But the pastor always does these things, not in his or her own behalf, but in a representative capacity. The church has created the pastoral office to minister in its own behalf, to bear each other's burdens, and to admonish and encourage in all things ac cording to the mind of Christ.

Yet it should be clear that there is no genuine bearing of one another's burdens when the church is present only in a representative sense. The congregation may not assume that it has dis charged the whole of its pastoral responsibility simply by virtue of investing in that office able men and women of learned piety, personal sympathy, and apparently endless energy. Just as the lay apostolate means "the priest hood of all believers," so it also means "the pastorhood of all believers." The members of the congregation, both individually and corporately, will seek, through the exercise of a devout imagination under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to discover afresh what new demands and opportunities are present to its burden-bearing ministry.

 

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