The Primary Function of Church-planting Pastors

Let me begin this article by making a glaringly obvious observation about church-planting pastors: Church-planting pastors are…pastors. While I’m not meaning to insult anyone’s intelligence, yet I do believe that it’s critical to emphasize this fact. Church-planting pastors are first and foremost - pastors. This means that what qualifies a man biblically to be a pastor (i.e., 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:6-9) holds just as true for a man who sets out to plant a church. So then, whether a man is serving a church-plant or an established church – in either case, what one must see is the evidence that he is a man scripturally credentialed with the gifts and graces to shepherd Christ’s church. He is thus not to be marked as an innovator or a shrewd entrepreneur, but as a man of God entrusted with a divine stewardship to which he will give an account at the judgment-seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:6-15).

So with stating the obvious about church-planting pastors, let me pose a question: What is the primary function of a church-planting pastor? In other words, what is a pastor called to do as of first importance to the church? In 1 Timothy 3:2 and in Titus 1:9, a pastor must be a skilled teacher of God’s Word, holding fast to the doctrine of holy Scripture through the means of both instructing the church and reproving those who contradict. A church-planting pastor then must be seen first as a faithful preacher of God’s Word. This is at the heart and core of his service as a pastor. This is what marks him and sets him apart from everything else he may be required to do as a pastor. Adding more layers to this fact consider how John Owen (1616-1683) explained it:

The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word…This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor, as unto the exercise of it; so that he who doth not, or cannot, or will not feed the flock is no pastor, whatever outward call or work he may have in the church…A man [therefore] is a pastor unto them whom he feeds by pastoral teaching, and to no more; and he that doth not so feed is no pastor. Nor is it required only that he preach now and then at his leisure, but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all other duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them as would divert him from this work, that he give himself unto it, - that he be in these things laboring to the utmost of his ability. Without this no man will be able to give a comfortable account of the pastoral office at the last day.[1]

Thus, if a church-planting pastor is giving himself to everything but the preaching and teaching of God’s Word – he is denying his call as a pastor. He is denying what Christ has entrusted to him as his principal duty. This is why when Paul the apostle was finishing out his final letter to Timothy, the climax of his epistle was captured in this one solemn charge: “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). There was no greater mandate the apostle could leave his protégé than this. But what’s more significant, there was no greater mandate which God the Holy Spirit deemed necessary for this young pastor to heed – thus, the Spirit of God breathed in Paul this decisive command. A command that would not only hold true for Timothy in his times, but holds just as much weight for every pastor in every generation till Christ returns.

Therefore, church-planting pastors must see themselves first as heralds of God’s holy Word. This means that whether they have a gathering of ten or twenty or forty people in their midst, they must preach the Word. And they must do this with a grave sense of urgency. Or as Paul told Timothy, as it pertained to proclaiming God’s Word, he was to “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2b). Whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, welcomed or unwelcomed – the pastor must press God’s Word upon the people he’s ministering as a matter of life and death. And for the church-planting pastor, as he ministers to typically but a few, yet he must guard against a listless or lackadaisical manner. He is handling the divine Word of God to souls that will enter eternity at any moment. It matters not if the number of hearers can barely fill his living room. They are people whose lives hang in the balance. They are people who may not even come back the following week! Church-planting pastors must be in dead earnest as they deliver God’s sacred Word. As Richard Baxter (1615-1691) said, “I preached, as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”[2]

So the primary function of a Church-planting pastor is giving himself above everything to preaching the Word of God. No work matters more than this in both planting a church and continuing to establish a church once it has been constituted. As Daniel R. Hyde wrote:

“What we must realize is that God has not called us ministers for nothing. We are ministers of the Word, His Word. The ministry is no place for ingenuity. We are not to create new measures – relevant, visual, and experiential methods of “translating” the gospel to a modern culture. Many cultures in America believe the gospel can be communicated well through drama and skateboard exhibitions or by having a large playground for children on the church’s “campus.” Yet the New Testament is clear that this is contrary to the way of the Word. We are called to speak what Christ says in the way Christ says to speak it! The message and method are inseparably intertwined. The method of Scripture is oral, verbal proclamation, for ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Rom. 10:17).”[3]       

 

[1] John Owen, The Church and the Bible: Volume 16 (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), pp. 74-75.

[2] Cited in Planting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), p. 109.

[3] Ibid., p. 108.

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