Excerpted From Soul Shepherding’s “Spiritual Leadership” Manual (TLC Training)
In the Bible Paul says of his pastoral ministry, “I magnify my office” (Rom. 11:13, KJV). Pastor, do you magnify your office?
Paul’s example and instruction is not just for professional church pastors — though it’s especially for them! — it’s for all of Christ’s ambassadors. So let me re-ask the question. Bible teacher, small group leader, elder, counselor, leader, parent, or other spokesperson for Christ, do you magnify your office?
Do you make a big deal over the greatness of the work that God has given you to do?
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:13-14, 16) Your neighborhood of influence needs the God-flavor that only you can bring. It needs the shining light, warmth, color, and knowledge of God that you have learned and experienced.
Pastors as Teachers of the Nations
Some of the most impactful words that Dallas Willard has written are in the last chapter of Knowing Christ Today. This article features some key thoughts and quotes from that chapter. (All Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless noted otherwise.)
In Knowing Christ Today Dallas writes to pastors and all spokespersons for Christ as “Teachers of the Nations.”
“Who me, a teacher of the nations?”
That was my response too! But that’s actually what Jesus himself calls us to be in his Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).
But that doesn’t mean that every disciple of Christ is called to be a missionary in a far away land. His call to be his witnesses in Acts 1:8 begins with a focus on our city, then our state and country, then the next country over from us, and finally to “the ends of the earth.” (That’s the equivalent of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.)
Furthermore, you don’t need to be a man or woman of high status in society to be a teacher of the nations. Dallas writes, “The early disciples, like Jesus himself, were totally without ‘power’ in any sense that would be humanly recognized. They were a bunch of first-class ‘nobodies,’ and they had no organization behind them. And yet they were to extend his presence and his work (the kingdom of God) throughout the earth.”
The disciples were able to do this supernatural work because they weren’t acting in their own power. “Those abilities came from the presence of God (the Holy Spirit) with them or ‘upon’ them, just as had been the case with Jesus himself (Acts 10:38).” (pp. 194-195)
Silas became a teacher of the nations by helping the Apostle Paul. I have friends who are mothers and they do this by serving their neighborhood school on the PTA or a mom’s prayer group. Others in business are Christ’s ambassadors in their office through a Bible study or inviting co-workers to join them in feeding the hungry or building houses for the poor in Mexico. Pastors I know carry out Jesus’ call by partnering with city leaders to offer the people and resources of their church to meet local needs.
Kristi and I have accepted our calling to be teachers of the nations and we do this by caring for pastors in our city and increasingly they come to us from farther away. We also travel to pastors, including the ones we’ve adopted in Mexico who are trapped in poverty. Furthermore, we reach people around the world by offering a website with hundreds of free resources for “soul shepherding.”
It’s Tough to be a Pastor Today!
“A hundred years ago,” Dallas says, “Sunday’s sermon or a special lecture by a pastor might be reported on or even printed in Monday’s newspaper. The pastor was routinely thought of as one of the most knowledgeable persons in the community. No longer!” (p. 202)
He adds that today it is “almost universally held that being a follower of Jesus Christ is simply a matter of what one believes and feels, a ‘personal preference’… not something essentially involving knowledge of truth and of a reality that everyone must come to terms with.” (p. 208)
In one study of how people felt about a long list of professions “pastor” was ranked second to last, just above “used car salesman”! In the public arena today we’re more likely to seek knowledge from a scientist, yoga instructor, psychologist, Oprah, or even a famous athlete or movie star than a pastor. Pastors represent outdated religion and rigid morality.
According to Dallas Willard, “The worldview answers people now live by are provided by feelings. Desire, not reality and not what is good, rules our world.” This carries into our churches. People “judge Christian activities and their own religious condition according to their feelings. The quest for pleasure takes over the house of God. What is good or what is true is no longer the guide.” (p. 199)
Rather than simply being witnesses for Christ, pastors and Christian educators are under pressure from the culture to be entertainers. It’s as if having the risen Christ as our Teacher in our midst isn’t exciting enough! We want our church services to be like a rock concert, comedy routine, and shopping mall!
We need to follow Peter’s admonition to the second wave of disciples of Christ: “As aliens and exiles… abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Dallas says, “Certainly that is an accurate picture of the frenetic and fractured lives we live today.” (p. 199)
Pastors are Called to Offer Life-Giving Knowledge
All of us who are pastors and ambassadors for Christ are called to live according to the ancient prophecy of the Lord through Jeremiah: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15). You need to understand that “knowledge” in the Bible is not merely getting answers right or learning academic things — it’s relational and practical, it’s about about real life in the world today.
God is calling “shepherds” — those who care for people who are hungry or in need — to feed them with an understanding of the reality of the presence and goodness of Christ and of God in their life.
People are suffering for this lack of real life knowledge. They don’t know how to be faithful to their spouse or to love their children well. They don’t know how excel at their job for the glory of God. They don’t know how to be kind to someone whose religion or lifestyle is at odds with what they believe to be right. They don’t know how to set aside anger and lust. They don’t know how to speak the truth in love or bless the one who curses them.
They don’t know how to do all that they do in Jesus’ name (Col. 3:17), loving the people around them with “an indescribably and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:8) and a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
People die for a lack of this knowledge on how to live a good life (Hosea 4:6). We who are Christian pastors, leaders, and soul shepherds are the ones to bring this knowledge!
We’re to Witness For Christ
Sadly, “witness” is a word that has been ruined in our Christian world today. We think it means convincing people to believe what’s right or getting them converted, probably by giving them a trak or ringing their door bell. But really to witness means “to give wit” or “cause to know.”
Along these lines, Jesus explained to Nicodemus how he and his followers witnessed: “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen” (John 3:11).
“The task of followers of Christ,” Dallas indicates, “is to know Christ and, in knowing him, to make knowledge of God and of life in God available to those around them.” (p. 195)
To share important knowledge is how we care for people. This is what your doctor or car mechanic do for you. It’s what you do for a friend when you know about a great restaurant or movie.
But if your doctor, mechanic, or friend pushes their knowledge on you then you won’t want it. We don’t like it when people try to get us to do things! It’s an insult to our free choice and dignity. Even if it’s valuable knowledge that’s being offered, if you feel manipulated you’ll likely find someone else to help you. This is a main reason why people don’t go to church today.
Pastors now are mistakenly seen, and perhaps even see themselves, as teaching what Christians are supposed to believe… not what is known and what can be known through fair inquiry. And upon that supposition… Pastors then must exhaust themselves trying to get these people to do things they “ought” to do, but have no serious vision or motivation for. Religion then is experienced by everyone involved as a drag on life. “Getting people to do things for the church” becomes a pastor’s or leader’s de facto job description. Boredom, burnout, and dropout are at hand. (pp 203-204).
That’s like you’re friend giving you an advertisement flyer for a restaurant and saying you should go, yet she’s never been. You’re not likely to eat there. But if your friend recommends it because she ate there and found it delicious and had a great experience you’ll probably try it.
It’s the same if someone says, “You should be patient with difficult people.” You’ll smile and nod, but not behave differently. Even if the person says, “The Bible says you should be patient with difficult people.” Still you are not likely to learn how to do that. But if you see your parent or teacher be unhurried and kind with irritating people time and again — and is happy serving them — then you’ll want to learn how to do that.
It’s not enough that pastors identify what the right doctrines are and that they believe them or are committed to them. They must know them to be true and must be living according to the realities they represent. They must have firsthand knowledge (“acquaintance”) with the existence of God, the resurrected life of Christ, and the reality and power of love, good and evil, the truth, and the Word of God. (pp. 200-201)
Jesus’ Way of Witnessing
Jesus never pestered people with the gospel. He didn’t chase people down to “make” them believe. On the contrary, he respected their free choice and he whetted their appetite for learning how to live the good life in God’s kingdom. It’s an unseen spiritual world, but he knew from his daily experience that it meant abundant and eternal living (John 10:10).
Our Lord preached from the life he learned to live. For instance, he teaches us to “give to the one asks you” (Matt. 5:42, NIV) and we see him constantly being benevolent toward other people, even those considered repulsive and obnoxious. Not only is he generous, but also he’s very happy in his giving!
We see Jesus’ joyful generosity and ask how can it be? We know how it feels to give and give and become exhausted and resentful! If we carefully investigate Jesus’ teachings and personal lifestyle then we discover that he also had boundaries and he took plenty of time for personal rest, prayer, friendship, and celebration. There’s a balanced inflow and outflow in his life. He’s always in tune with his loving Father, always acting in tandem with him, always empowered by Holy Spirit.
Jesus has proven in his own life the goodness of all of his teachings. He’s obeyed the commandments and practiced all of his advice and found this to be immensely profitable and enjoyable — even when he’s suffering.
This is why after Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount “the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying — quite contrary to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.” (Matthew 7:28-29, MSG)
The Message brings out what it means when the Scripture says Jesus spoke “with authority.” It doesn’t mean he talked loud or assumed a posture of superiority — it means he spoke with the calm confidence that comes when you have personal knowledge. Hence the wording, “He was living everything he was saying.”
You’re not telling people what to do or even trying to “model right behavior” as a lesson for them. Instead you’re relying on God’s grace to be a loving kind of person and letting God speak to people from your life. It’s a natural, organic way of being a witness, shining the light of Christ through your body and lifestyle so that people can know what is true and good.
Your day-by-day earthly life is being lived from the spiritual reality of being with the risen Christ in the Kingdom of the Heavens for the sake of the people around your body at any given time. That’s what Jesus’ apostles and all the “great ones” for Christ down through the centuries have done.
Pastors Following Jesus’ Way
As a teacher, life coach, worker, grandparent, or group leader who speaks for Christ “do not try to manipulate the hearers’ feelings or actions in any way.” Lay down the burden of trying to get people to do things. It offends the people you’re dealing with and it exhausts you! Instead, simply do your best “to help willing hearers understand and come to know the reality and goodness of life in the kingdom of God with Jesus.” (p. 204)
Paul is the great example for us. He was not attractive to look at and he was not an exciting speaker like Apollos. He wasn’t even seen as a legitimate apostle because he was not one of the Twelve. He wasn’t even one of the hundreds of others who knew Jesus in the flesh and followed him. And yet he acted in the power of the Spirit of Jesus.
“He worked with Christ to bring people to God — with amazing success. He spoke plainly to them, without manipulative devices of any kind, relying on the Spirt of God to give his words the effect they should have” (p. 204, based on 2 Cor 4:2). In Paul’s own words:
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5)
His disciples became like him, “a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tables of human hearts. Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God.” (2 Cor. 3:3-4)
“This ‘confidence’ makes pastors hopeful and transparent.” (p. 204)
Pastor, Magnify Your Office to Workers!
For you and I to say with the Apostle Paul, “I magnify my office” (Rom. 11:13, KJV) we need to be serving the Lord not just in our church, but also outside it’s walls.
“Unfortunately,” Dallas says, “‘discipleship’ as Christian groups now teach and practice it, where they do so at all, consists mainly of ‘special’ activities of various kinds, religiously characterized, motivated, and organized.” (p. 209)
But this excludes work, which Dallas defines as “the creation of value, of what is good.” He’s not speaking only of your job, but of all works of love that honor God and bless other people. God created us to be creators and rulers in this world, under him, with him, and for him (Gen. 1:26-28). We’re “to find in [our] work a divine calling and see the hand of God in [our] efforts to create what is good [in order] to serve others in love.” (p. 208)
He continues, “Discipleship is for the sake of the world, not for the sake of the church. It is carried out in those situations in which people spend their life. Above all, the ‘world’ is work, the realm of creativity for which human beings were created.” (p. 209)
The most important work that we who are pastors can do is to invite and teach others to join us in bringing all of our life’s work (all the good that we can do) into God’s kingdom of love.
Pastors, then, are the ones who guide disciples into their place in their world and show them how to ‘exercise dominion in life through the one man, Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 5:17). Real life, ‘ordinary’ life, is the place of disciples and the place of discipleship. There disciples ‘reign’ in the office, laboratory, farm, the schoolroom as well as in media, sports, the fine arts, and so forth. They reign for what is good in the home, the community, and in voluntary and involuntary associations of all kinds, even up to international organizations and relations…
Special ‘church’ activities involve the fellowship of disciples in worship, teaching, learning, and caring for one another. Those activities constitute a school of love. But all of that is for the creative life of individuals in their world and their work. There they will form and exercise the character that they will carry forward in eternity. (p. 211)
That’s a great work! That’s an office to magnify!
So I often say to myself and to the pastors I serve through Soul Shepherding, Inc, “The most important thing that is happening in your city is what you are doing from your church (or ministry) position.”
That’s a paraphrase from Dallas Willard’s last paragraph in Knowing Christ Today. Here’s the whole paragraph — may it ring in your ears and inflame your heart!
The most important thing that is happening in your community is what is happening there under the administration of true pastors for Christ. If you, as a pastor do not believe that,” Dallas continues, “then you do not understand the dignity of what you are supposed to be doing. Whatever your situation, there is nothing more important on earth than to dwell in the knowledge of Christ and to bring that knowledge to others.” (p. 211)
Encouragement For Your Leadership
This article is excerpted from Soul Shepherding’s manual in “Spiritual Leadership.”
Spiritual Leadership is a core topic that we cover in our two-year leadership training in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Ministry.” This program is experiential, featuring authentic community, spiritual disciplines, “TLC time” each day, and deep soul rest in a beautiful retreat setting. It’s heavily influenced by the personal mentoring that Kristi and received from Dallas and Jane Willard. You can learn more here: “TLC Retreats For Pastors/Leaders.”