The Most Important Task of a Minister (Part One)

I, of course, speak from a Reformed context where “Minister” is an office, not a role and where pastors are ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament.  However, not all Ministers are pastors of churches, some are in other specialized ministries (i.e. chaplaincy, counseling…), and therefore I use the broader term of Minister.

Ever since I was ordained and I began my time as a pastor of a small urban church, I have been working on redefining and reformulating what I view as my most important task as a minister as well as the pastor and teacher of the congregation.  If someone who didn’t know anything about me or my inner thoughts observed me, they might say that responding to emails, making agendas, and organizing papers might be my most important tasks, after all, those are the things on which I spend a good deal of my time.

However, I don’t think that this at all qualifies as the most important task of the minister.  In thinking about the most important task of a minister, I think it is beneficial to look at sources within my tradition.  The Book of Church Order [BCO] (which I view as much a theology book as a book of church government) refers to ministers as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1.I.1.3).  The next section reads as follows:

The Office of Minister of Word and Sacrament is one of servanthood and service representing Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit.  Ministers are called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the ministry of the Word of God (1.I.1.4).

Here, it is clear that the main function of ministers is to proclaim the Gospel and the ministry of the Word of God, which I will assume is faithful exegesis and exposition of the sacred scriptures in preaching, teaching, and individual conversations.  The church order continues:

In the local church the minister serves as pastor and teacher of the congregation to build up and equip the whole church for its ministry in the world.  The minister preaches and teaches the Word of God, administers the sacraments, shares responsibility with the elders and deacons and members of the congregation for their mutual Christian growth, exercises Christian love and discipline in conjunction with the elders, and endeavors that everything in the church be done in a proper and orderly way.  As pastor and teacher the minister so serves and lives among the congregation that together they become wholly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ in the service of the church for the world (1.I.1.4).

Here, there are a few tasks identified: preaching and teaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), sharing responsibility with the consistory and congregation for mutual Christian growth, exercises discipline in conjunction with the elders, and endeavors that the work of the church be done in a proper and orderly way.  Now, these are the tasks of the minister in the local church as “pastor and teacher of the congregation”.  As you see, there are more items here than the description of the office, above, but there is one commonality: preaching and teaching the Word of God.

The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America is one third of the Constitution (Doctrinal standards, Government and Disciplinary Procedures, and Liturgy), and in the order for the Ordination of a Minister of Word and Sacrament, an exposition is given by the presiding officer after the candidate for ordination has been presented.  This exposition gives the tasks of a minister:

Ministers are called to build up Christ’s church.  They are to proclaim God’s Word, to declare forgiveness through Jesus Christ, to call publicly on the name of the Lord on behalf of the whole congregation, to celebrate Christ’s holy sacraments, baptizing and presiding at the Lord’s Supper.

They are to be pastors and teachers, sharing people’s joys and sorrows, encouraging the faithful, recalling those who fall away, helping the sick and the dying (p. 148).

The first paragraph we see similar things as above: proclaim God’s Word and to administer the sacraments.  However, the second paragraph, particularly in referencing the role of pastor and teacher includes many pastoral tasks: sharing people’s joys and sorrows, encouraging the faithful, recalling those who fall way, helping the sick and the dying.  These pastoral tasks, while certainly a part of the role of pastor, are not the exclusive domain of ministers.  Returning to the BCO, the Board of Elders is charged with determining whether any in the congregation are: “in need of special care regarding their spiritual condition and/or are not making faithful use of the means of grace, i.e., attending worship and participating in the sacraments and shall provide the means of extending Christian ministry to such persons” (1.I.5.3).  Additionally, “The deacons shall minister to the sick, the poor, the hurt, and the helpless, shall aid the victims of the world’s abuse, and shall express the social concerns of the church” (1.I.6.2).  Additionally, when discussing the role of the Classis (regional assembly and judicatory consisting ministers and elder delegates from the churches within its bounds) in the superintendence of the churches the question is asked: “Is care and visitation faithfully performed in your congregation by i. elders?  ii deacons?  iii. minister/s?” (1.II.7.1e).  This all goes to support the idea that care is definitely a part of the role of the pastor, but it is not the exclusive domain of the Minister of Word and Sacrament.

The Belgic Confession (one of the foundational doctrinal documents of the Reformed Church in America and one part of the Doctrinal Standards, which is part of the Constitution), Article 30 reads: “There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments.” Again, there are commonalities with the statements above: the purpose of the minister is to preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments.

The Ecclesiastical Ordinances of the church in Geneva, Switzerland (of which John Calvin was the major theologian) listed four orders (or offices), of which the minister/pastor was one.  The description of pastors reads as such:

With regard to pastors, whom Scripture also sometimes calls overseers, elders, and ministers, their office is to proclaim the Word of God for the purpose of instructing, admonishing, exhorting, and reproving both in public and in private, to administer the sacraments, and to exercise fraternal discipline together with the elders or delegates (Hughes, p. 36).

Again, we see common tasks: proclaiming the Word of God, administer the sacraments, exercise discipline in conjunction with the elders.  Now, we have seen that discipline is the task of the elders of the church, and the minister is an elder of a special order (BCO, Preamble p. 4) but it still remains that two tasks are continually given specifically to the minister: preaching of the Word of God and administration of the sacraments.

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