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The 4 Pillars of Pastoral Work

Don’t be pushed around by others’ expectations for your ministry. Instead, follow Paul’s advice and focus on the four pillars of pastoral work. This is the sixth installment in an eight-part series called Preparing to Lead.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a pastor is the lack of a clear job description. The Bible just doesn’t contain such a thing.

Worse yet, most of the people you serve have very clear expectations of you. So as a pastor, you run the risk of lacking conviction about your work while being pushed and pulled by the assumptions of others.

I have found real help through the Apostle Paul’s instructions to young Pastor Timothy as recorded in Scripture. Here are what I believe to be the four pillars of pastoral work.

1. Practice self-watch

The weightiest of Paul’s instructions to Timothy is found here: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).

Jesus alone saves sinners. People can’t save themselves. A pastor’s most important work is pointing people to Jesus so that they will be saved. And the best role a pastor plays in Jesus’ saving work is paying close attention to his own life and understanding of doctrine. He is to root out his sin through repentance. He is to study long and hard to head off potential error that will hurt him and others. This is job one!

2. Preach the Word

From the careful work of self-watch springs the critical ministry of preaching the Bible. When Paul wants Timothy to feel the heaviness of his exhortation, he reminds him that Jesus is watching him at work. This is exactly what Paul does in 2 Timothy 4:1-2: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

When a pastor does this work well, the church flourishes. When he doesn’t, the church flounders.

3. Produce other pastors

Pastors are to do more than make disciples. If Paul’s instructions to Timothy apply to pastors today, then pastors make other pastors.

Paul instructs his young charge, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2, and you will understand that Timothy is raising up men to serve as elders.

In the modern church, a pastor wanting to see the church he leads grow deeper and broader will devote some of his best energy to the important work of producing more pastors.

4. Proclaim Jesus to the lost

Pastors and evangelists have different roles, according to Ephesians 4:11. However, Paul instructs Timothy to do both jobs. Paul writes, “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).

While any pastor may have greater strengths in shepherding or evangelizing, he must do both to the best of his ability in the power of the Holy Spirit. It would seem the work of pastoral evangelism has sadly been outsourced from the local church. But a healthy church makes Jesus known to Christians and non-Christians. So should a healthy biblical pastor.

Weight-bearing structures

While there are likely more than four pillars of pastoral ministry, I have found through personal experience and coaching others that these four functions are very reliable in bearing the total weight of pastoral ministry. When they stand strong and equally tall in the ministry of a pastor, the church seems to benefit the most.  

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Pastor Dave is one of three Executive Elders at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Pastor Dave earned a masters degree in Theological Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. His Acts 29 church, City On A Hill, in Albuquerque, NM became the first out-of-state Mars Hill Church in 2009. He currently serves as the Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Church, where he overseas all 15 Mars Hill Church locations and the Lead Pastor Residency Program.