Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ezra 7:9-10 - A Description of Pastoral Ministry

In reading through Ezra, I was once again struck by the summary description of Ezra's ministry to the returned exiles found in 7:9-10
"For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel."
This text presents several lessons for pastoral ministry:

1. The Call of God - In verse 9 it is stressed that Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem was the result of God's hand being upon him. A pastor needs to understand that his role is the result of the calling and leading of God, not his own ambition.

2. The Study of God's Word - Ezra "set his heart" to study God's Word. This expression involves both the will and the affections. A pastor must be a person who makes the study of God's Word foundational to his own life and ministry. Without this foundation pastoral ministry is doomed.

3. The Practice of God's Word - Ezra sought not only to gain knowledge when studying the Word, but to live it out. A pastor must be someone who not only excels in cognitive knowledge of Scripture but also applied knowledge of Scripture. Many a pastor's profound teaching from the Word is severely undercut by a failure to live out Scripture before his people in such a way that his actions match his teaching. Of course, no one does this perfectly, but it must be the intention of the pastor to apply his study of the Word FIRST to himself.

4. The Teaching of God's Word - Ezra fully intended to not merely gain knowledge of Scripture for himself or even live it out, but also to teach the Word to others. This commitment to the teaching of God's Word must be foundational to a pastor's ministry, NO MATTER WHAT CAPACITY HE SERVES IN. This is not merely for the "senior" or "preaching" pastor, but for every pastor/elder who serves in the church. Of course this will look different depending on the nature of his ministry, but it is the bedrock for all pastoral ministry.

In closing, I should note that the call to study, live, and teach God's Word is not limited to pastors, but to all of God's people. Are you committed to the study, application, and teaching of God's Word?

4 comments:

Mark Kelly said...

Dr.Harmon - these are some of my favorite verses from the OT, and challenging too. I never looked at them from a pastor's perspective, but rather a personal perspective (which you alluded to at the end of the post). They are a great reminder of the wonderful opportunity we have as students of His word! Thanks for the challenge & encouragement.

Marty said...

Thanks for posting this, Matt. A very good reminder, indeed. I hope you are recovered from that brutal game on Monday night.

One issue worth exploring and discussing more is the relationship between the "call" and becoming a full-time gospel worker (vocationally). Your wording is point 1 is spot on as our calling is a "result" of God's leading and not our own ambition.

If all people are called to do these things as you rightly say in your last paragraph, then how is it that someone is "called" into full-time ministry?

I am not disagreeing with anything here, just throwing the question out to see what people's thoughts are.

I know the traditional response involves circumstantial leading, the prompting and recognition by others, and the enigmatic "leading by the Holy Spirit". But, I am not entirely sure that doesn't end up being much different than someone's ambition to pursue full-time paid ministry.

Tony said...

Thanks for the insight Matt. I had not read this passage in that light before. The whole issue of call is a difficult one as it seems so often we, I, get to caught up in the specifics of a calling and overlook the general call to study, practice and teach God’s word as a regular course of life. The specifics will work out as God prepares the way and leads, in what ever manner that is. Maybe the realty of calling is to do what is obvious in our call; study, practice and teach, and let the specifics work out as God desires and when He desires.

With regard to the practice of the word if we were to take the passage to heart we would realize that it is not just about the doing but about the setting our hearts to “practice” what we study. Actually all three things are not simply things we just do but we are to make as priorities by setting our, as you say, “will and the affections” on them.

Anyway thanks for helping me think more about this area and also to further see how meaningful the Old Testament is to us daily.

Matt Harmon said...

Marty,

You've raised an important set of issues regarding the nature of calling and full-time vocational ministry (FTVM). All I can offer here are a couple of thoughts.

1. I agree that "circumstantial leading, the prompting and recognition by others, and the enigmatic 'leading by the Holy Spirit'" are all part of the equation. But one thing you did not mention (though I am sure you would agree with me on this) is a recognition of gifts consistent with FTVM. These gifts are usually revealed through opportunities to serve well before a person is being paid to minister in those specific capacities. There MUST be confirmation from others in the body that a person does in fact have the requisite gifting to help ensure that a person is not delusional in their own estimation of their gifts. Spurgeon in "Lectures to my Students" is particularly good on this subject.

2. Others in the body should also be involved enough in that person's life to ask challenging questions that probe a potential FTVM candidate's motivations for ministry. No one is perfect here; none of our motivations are 100% pure this side of glory. However, specific probing of a person's motivations for seeking FTVM at least forces the person to wrestle with potential pride, selfish ambition, desire for self-glory. A question I might suggest is "Would you be willing to carry out your FTVM in a context where you received little or no recognition of your service this side of heaven?" The examples of men like Jeremiah should be a sobering challenge to all who consider FTVM.

Hope this helps. There are simply no "tidy" formulas for discerning God's call to ministry, but this should not surprise us. We serve a living and personal God, not a mathematical algorithm.