Here is a piece of scripture with which every Christian should become familiar:
He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ. Eph 4:11-12 HCSB
Here’s the Christian timeline: Jesus died on the cross, was resurrected, spent some time building up the disciples, and then ascended into heaven. At Pentecost Jesus baptized the apostles (and a bunch of other people) in the Holy Spirit, filled them with His power, and gave them the gift of tongues – and the Christian church was born. Those power-filled people then went out and started telling people about Jesus, leading them into salvation and...Jesus now has a problem. Now He has all these people – thousands of new believers on that one day alone – who have chosen to put their faith and trust in Him. All these people who have chosen to claim His name as how they identify themselves, and every one of them desperately needs to learn more about who Jesus is and what kind of person He is. What is a Savior to do? Well, His solution was to give gifts, to His people. We call them the Fivefold Gifts and they are listed in the verse quoted above. Here’s the list again: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers. Of course, the first apostles were already in place – Jesus’ twelve disciples started teaching and preaching right from the start. He then called more individuals to step into each of these offices. Their job was to help God’s people grow in Him and to prepare them, not only for the kingdom-work God had planned for each of them but to also prepare them for the difficulties and persecutions that every Christian has to face. Fast forward 2000 years and all five of those gifts are still actively working in the church, building up the body of Christ. God still calls individuals of His choice into the types of ministry that each of the fivefold gifts provides to the body of Christ. When it comes to our efforts to study the Bible, pastors and teachers figure big, and this post is all about understanding where they fit in and how to implement into our lives the ministry those individuals offer us.
In this post, I’m really focusing more on the office of a teacher, but I have yet to meet a pastor who didn’t also do a significant amount of teaching. The word “pastor” is rooted in the concept of what a shepherd is and the work a shepherd performs. Shepherds guide the flock of sheep over which they have been given responsibility. Pastors guide the flock of people God has placed in the church they serve. When a sheep is injured or gets sick, a shepherd heals it and cares for it until it is well. When life knocks us down, beats us up, and throws us into a ditch, pastors drag us out of that ditch and carry us until we can walk again. In other words, the work of a pastor focuses around loving nurture and while teaching is definitely a part of that work, it is not the central focus of a pastor’s ministry. On the other hand, the fivefold gift of a teacher does have the task of rightly dividing the word of God as his central focus. A called and gifted teacher can take the word of God, tear it down into its tiniest detail, and then present it to us in a way that causes it to burst into life in the very center of our souls!
I guess I’m making the assumption that my readers have already taken the step of becoming part of a local church and already have a pastor you can turn to when you need him. If you’re a new Christian, finding a local piece of the body of Christ where you can fellowship is an extremely important step to take. You need the nurture of a pastor and the safety of belonging to a flock of believers. (Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to the church He wants you to attend, then look for a church that believes that the Bible is true. Stay away from churches that claim to be liberal in their theology. Oh, and smaller churches are usually better than big churches. :>) So, assuming you are already a part of a church, weigh the words of your pastor heavily. No, he’s not always correct in either his theology or his ways, but if God has placed you in that church, then He will speak to you through your pastor. That’s how He does things. So, listen to your pastor and, when you have questions about the word of God that you can’t answer, ask your pastor or one of the elders of the church.
Or you can ask a fivefold teacher to try to answer your question. Some congregations have fivefold teachers as part of their congregation and ministry team. Most don’t. However, in today’s world of diverse media and the internet, there are hundreds of Bible teachers available for you to learn from. Go searching the internet for Bible teachers and you’ll see what I mean. A word of caution, though: seek the Holy Spirit’s input as you sift through Bible teachers to whom you think you might want to listen/consult. There are a lot of false or misguided teachers out there and you need to discern which are of God and which you should stay away from. That’s why we are told to “try the spirits” to see if they are of God (1 John 4:1 KJV). Personally, I prefer using commentaries. A Commentary is a book written by a fivefold teacher that goes through a portion of scripture (usually a single book of the Bible), teaching on what it is saying. Here’s a little exercise: Type the reference I quoted above – 1 John 4:1 – into the command line of your browser. What you will get from this search is multiple hits on web sites designed to help people with their study of the Bible. I suggest you check several of those sites out until you find one that seems to work well for you. Then bookmark it. For now, click the link in the search returns that will take you to the site www.biblehub.com. Once that window has loaded, click the “Comment” tab near the top of the page and it will take you to a page containing a whole pile of public domain commentaries, written by fivefold teachers. All of those hits deal with the passage reference you entered (in this case 1 John 4:1). Read through some that seem to be written in a way you can understand them. If you need a discussion of the original language, some of those teachers do just that. If you just want a general discussion of the verse and its context, you’ll find a commentary that serves that purpose. What an awesome tool!
One mistake many Bible scholars make is to fall into the trap of treating Bible study as an intellectual exercise. Over the centuries many methods have been developed in an attempt to squeeze as much truth and knowledge out of every word printed in the Bible. In truth, I can’t think of a more worthy goal, but far too often the scholars miss the most important part of Bible study – the work of the Holy Spirit. If we treat our time in the word of God as if it were merely a cerebral task, we will miss out on what God is really speaking – especially the part that is deeply personal, God speaking directly to us. Remember, He has our learning tracked and planned. He is our teacher. Yet, He also expects us to use that cerebral capability that He built into us when we were first conceived in the womb. When we let Him guide us and speak to us as we dig into the Bible, when we use our intellect to weigh the pros and cons of our pastor’s or a fivefold teacher’s thoughts on a passage of scripture, all the while letting the Holy Spirit speak truth to us, peace and deep satisfaction will fill our souls.