What is a pastor, and what does he do?

During the twentieth century, the pastor was often stylized as a therapist, or even compared to the friendly sitcom bartender. In recent years, a myriad of metaphors, often borrowed from the business world, have been posited. The pastor has been called a “visioneer,” a “catalytic leader,” or even a “movement maker.” For consideration is a new metaphor: the pastor as signpost.

The signpost is planted along the way, where the sojourners pass. It is not by any means an end in itself; it merely points to the end. The signpost points to revealed realities. Is this not the goal of the pastorate, to be planted where the sojourners pass and point to the revealed realities of God? Is this not what we mean when we talk about “pastor-scholars” or “pastor-theologians”?[1] The pastor points to, or bears witness about, the unchanging God, as He has revealed Himself in Christ through the Spirit-inspired Scriptures.

If the pastor is a signpost that points to the revealed realities of God, what message does he primarily display? God’s Word presents an utterly comprehensive and cohesive worldview. How can anyone narrow its message down to any one point?

In Springfield, Missouri, a town of about 200,000, there is a major intersection. At this intersection there are traffic signs for smaller Cabool, Missouri, a town of about 2,000. There are probably ten comparably sized towns between Springfield and Cabool on Highway 60. Why specify this town? Because it is the where the next major highway intersects with Highway 60. The traffic signs in Springfield would be correct to display the name of any of those other towns, but they would be far less helpful. In the same way, the pastor must know which point of God’s revelation deserves the utmost attention and importance.

At The Gospel Coalition National Conference this year, Don Carson gave a lecture on evangelicalism, defining the term as “that movement that preserves, proclaims, and lives out the Evangel.” On what else can an evangelical pastor be focused? If a pastor, as a signpost, points to the revealed theological realities of God, he must point supremely to the heart of that revelation: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why must the gospel be the pastor’s primary message? For the same reason the Gentile mission, the Reformation, the Great Awakening, and a horde of other movements centered on the conversion of an individual by the grace of God through the finished work of Christ. What about apologetics? Paul presents the gospel as the heart of theodicy (Rom 3:21). What about wisdom? It is in Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 1:23,24). What about relationships? They are exemplified in and empowered by the willing sacrifice of the God-Man (Eph 5:25-27).

The pastor should not be lax about studying and presenting the whole counsel of God in Scripture (Acts 20:20). The gospel of God’s grace is a Narnian wardrobe through which we enter not a fantasy, but ultimate reality. Life through the lens of God’s revelation is not narrow, but abundant (John 10:10). Yet, there is only one narrow Way through which such life is entered, and few find it (Matt 7:14).

Not just the pastor, but anyone who opens the Bible and tries to explain it, ought to do just that – try to explain what God has already revealed, in light of the superior revelation of the Son, Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-4).

The pastor is no “guru,” and he is certainly not a mediator between his congregation and God – only Jesus can do that (1 Tim 2:5) – but his ministry is indispensable to the life of God’s flock. Not the pastor himself, per se, but his ministry. Any commendation of the signpost is a celebration of the destination to which it points. The pastor is a signpost – deflecting and directing all praise to the Destination, Himself. As John the Baptist declared, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

[1] As Drs. Owen Strachan and Kevin J. Vanhoozer have written in the top-notch The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming an Ancient Vision.