Portrait of a Godly Pastor

Romans 15:14-21

August 19, 2007 | Ray Pritchard

In 1978 Michael Hart wrote a book called “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential People in History.” In it he ranked the most important people in the history of the world, taking into account the people they influenced, they movements they started, the impact they made, and the legacy they left behind. Needless to say, the book was controversial from the moment of its publication, which no doubt helped increase its sales. In 1992 the book was reprinted with a few revisions made to the list, although no one in the top ten changed positions.

When I perused the list, I noted that three of the top fifteen came from the Bible—Jesus, Moses, and Paul the apostle. Paul came in at 6th place, just below Confucius and just above a Chinese man whose name I did not recognize who is credited as the inventor of paper. That Paul should be considered one of the most influential men in history is what you might call a no-brainer.

He wrote at least 13 books of the New Testament.

He was the apostle to the Gentiles.

He more than anyone else brought the gospel to Europe.

He was the first great international evangelist.

He was the first Christian theologian.

He may have been the greatest preacher in the history of Christianity.

Two thousand years later scholars still debate the meaning of his words. And Christians everywhere know his name. Above all else, he wrote the book of Romans, arguably the greatest book in the New Testament, perhaps the most important book in the Bible, and one of the foundational texts for the Christian faith.

Everyone agrees that Romans contains a remarkably clear statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What people don’t always recognize is that it also reveals the heart of the great apostle. Here is a man whose life changed the course of world history. What was he like? What made him tick? What were his priorities?

Our passage contains an answer to those questions. As Paul nears the end of his letter to the Romans, he opens himself to his readers and gives them a glimpse of his heart. And that glimpse tells us that Paul had a pastor’s heart I am drawn to these words because for 27 years I served as a local church pastor. Every day I receive emails that address me as “Pastor Ray.” I know what it is like to lead a congregation, to live with them, pray with them, laugh with them and cry with them. I don’t claim any special expertise except what I have learned “in the saddle,” so to speak.

What does a godly pastor look like? That question is easier to ask than to answer, but we can safely say that you know one when you see one. Godly pastors are a great gift from the Lord. They come in all shapes and sizes, they wear different clothes, they speak different languages, and they do different things. They don’t all preach alike or act alike. Some are funny, others are very serious. Godly pastors differ in so many ways as to defy clear definition. But they all share certain traits. Romans 15:14-21 gives us a window into Paul’s ministry, and through that window we can see clearly the portrait of a godly pastor.

I. The Pastor’s Heart

I love how Paul exposes his heart in verse 14. “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” He says this after writing the greatest doctrinal treatise in the New Testament. I think any of us would like to pastor a church of people who are

Full of goodness,

Filled with all knowledge, and

Able to instruct one another.

Yet he has just spent many chapters laying out the saving gospel of God in vast detail. And in chapter 14, Paul makes an eloquent plea for the strong and weak Christians to live together in unity. Clearly the church at Rome was a mixed multitude of young and old believers, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, wine-drinkers and total abstainers, people who observed special days and those who observed no special days at all. And sometimes they didn’t get along very well. The church at Rome was filled with problems because it was filled with people, and wherever you have people, you have problems.

How, then, can he say such nice things about the church in verse 14? He can say it because his heart is for them and not against them. He says it because it is true in spite of their human weakness. He says it because he loves them and longs to see them grow to full maturity. Most of all, he can say it because he has enormous confidence in God’s grace at work in their midst.

If they are full of goodness, it is because the God of goodness is at work in them.

If they filled with all knowledge, it is because God himself has filled them with knowledge.

If they are able to instruct each other, it’s is because God has equipped them by his Spirit.

It is always easy to criticize and pick fault with others. But the faultfinder is like a spiritual vulture, flying over the landscape, looking for the failures of others so he can pounce on them. How much better to be like Paul and believe the best and not the worst. As John Stott says, “He is simply assuring them that he knows and appreciates their qualities.”

God bless the pastor who loves his people for they will surely love him in return.

God bless the pastor who speaks well of his people for they will speak well of him.

God bless the pastor who believes the best and not the worst even in hard times.

II. The Pastor’s Plan

It is not easy to say exactly what a pastor does. Recently I heard about a church that prepared a job description for the pastor that was 35 pages long. I guess they wanted to cover all the bases. Or maybe they had some problems with their last pastor and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. I am all for job descriptions even though I never had one during the 27 years I served as pastor of three different churches. First of all, most job descriptions are so vague as to be nearly useless. Or they go into so much detail that you can’t figure out what the people really want. Wise is the church that realizes that if a pastor stays for any length of time, what he does at the beginning is not what he’ll be doing at the end, especially if the church grows during his ministry. Needs change, the congregation changes, the community may change, the staff comes and goes, and his own plans will probably shift somewhat across the years.

It is hard to improve on the job description found in Acts 6:4, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Paul says the same thing in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Preach the Word.

Do it all the time.

Do it in many different ways.

Be patient as you do it.

Pray as you do it.

But be sure you do it.

So what was Paul’s plan? He says in verse 15 that he wrote boldly in order to remind them of certain truths. There is a good sermon here to be preached on the “ministry of reminding.” God’s people need to be reminded of what they already know.

“Now I would remind you, brothers” (1 Corinthians 15:1).

“For this reason I remind you” (2 Timothy 1:6).

“Remind them of these things”(2 Timothy 2:14).

“Remind them to be submissive” (Titus 3:1).

“I always intend to remind you” (1 Peter 1:12).

“It is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live” (2 Peter 1:13 NLT).

“I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).

“Now I want to remind you” (Jude 5).

Why do we need to be reminded of basic truth?

Because we are forgetful.

Because we are easily distracted.

Because we think we know more than we do.

Someone has said that repetition is the first law of teaching. Few of us master a truth the first time we hear it. We do better if we hear it a second time. Repetition in a sermon is like jogging in place. By rephrasing a point, it gives people a chance to catch their breath. Then you can move on to new truth.

But this is more than a preaching method. This is God’s plan for spiritual growth. We must tell people the great truths of Scripture, and then we must tell them again. Once is never enough.

We must tell them who God is. Then we must tell them again.

We must proclaim the truth about Jesus. Then we must tell them again.

We must show men their sin. Then we must show them again.

We must tell them that they are hopelessly lost. And we must tell them again and again.

We must let them know that God loves them. This we must say many times.

We must proclaim the wondrous news that God sent his Son to save us from our sins. And tell it again and again and again.

We must call men to faith and repentance. And call them again.

We must show them how they can be saved and find assurance of forgiveness. And then we must show them again.

We must proclaim the great truths over and over again, in many different ways, from many different texts, proclaiming all the doctrines of grace with all the power and strength and wisdom and winsome courage that God gives us.

And then we must do it again!

Here is the pastor’s plan. He reminds his people of great gospel truth over and over again so that their hearts may be established in grace so that they might become strong in their faith so that they know what they believe and why they believe it so that they can tell others who don’t know these things so that they can bring some to Christ so that God may be glorified by a church full of people who live to the praise of the glory of the One who saved them because they had a pastor who day in and day out, in season and out of season, preached the Word, prayed to God, and reminded them of things they already knew so that they might be fully established in all things.

This work is never fully done. Some people need more reminding than others, and the pastor will find that some are spiritually dull while others grow quickly in the faith. And even when the work is done well, there remains much land to the conquered for the Lord.

God bless those pastors who do not endlessly chase after new ideas and the latest fads but faithfully and creatively and repeatedly, with love and courage and wisdom, remind their people of those great gospel truths that save the soul, nourish the heart, and renew the mind so that the church is full of transformed people.

III. The Pastor’s Desire

Paul uses an unusual word in verse 16 to express his desire. He calls himself a minister who makes a priestly offering. That’s a phrase that most of us don’t associate with the work of a pastor. Evangelicals particularly tend to shy away from any conception of the pastor as a priest. But the word he uses clearly has Old Testament connections to the work of the priest in the temple. Just as the priest brought animals to sacrifice before the Lord, even so the pastor labors to bring his people as an offering to the Lord. But there is one huge difference. The priest presented dead animals to the Lord. The pastor labors to present his people as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) to God.

We all know that the ministry is about people. It’s not about buildings and programs. Those things are secondary means to help us minister to people. But we live in a world that tends to give much credence to outward things. Size matters. If the pastor is not clearly focused, he can begin to use his people as a means to building his own name. This happens so subtly.

“I go to Pastor Ray’s church.”

“I go to Ryan Whitley’s church.”

“I go to Paul Barreca’s church.”

But the church does not belong to me or to Ryan or to Paul. In my case, I am very clear about that because I was the 12th pastor of the church in Oak Park, and when I left, the church didn’t close its doors. The church was there before I got there, it is still there now that I am gone, and by God’s grace it will still be there a hundred years from now.

Years ago I heard it put this way. “Use your work to build your people; don’t use your people to build our work.” Paul says, “My only aim in life is to offer the Gentiles to the Lord as a sacrifice of believers who have come to faith in Jesus Christ.” He said something very similar in Colossians 1:28 when he declared that he labored to teach the Word faithfully to every man so that“that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Many years ago, when I taught through Colossians in a Wednesday night Bible class in Oak Park, a small group of people would come to the chapel for the lessons. That was before we had Awana and Wednesday night dinners and before we had lots of programs, so we often only had 20 or 30 people there. Someone would play the piano, I led the singing, we prayed for a while, and then I taught a Bible lesson. One year I spent a long time going through Colossians verse by verse. I can still remember the night I came to Colossians 1:28. I wanted to show that the goal of the ministry is not to build numbers but to build people so that one day they can be presented to the Lord Jesus Christ. My friend Bob Allen was there that night. Bob must have around 80 years old. He had come to Christ in a dramatic conversion many decades earlier. His faith was deep and genuine, and he was by nature a modest man who didn’t talk about himself very much. Because there weren’t many people there that night, I roamed up and down the aisle of the chapel, waxing eloquent about the true purpose of the ministry. At one point I had Bob stand up to portray the day he would stand before the Lord. I imagined myself saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, this is Bob Allen. I present him to you as complete in Christ.” A hush settled in the room as the magnificence of that day dawned on us all. And I will never forget that Bob whispered, “Thank you,” as he sat down. A few years later Bob passed from this life into life eternal, complete in Christ.

This is the true pastor’s desire, this is the goal of all his work, this is the reason for his labor. Compared to the honor of presenting men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ, this world has nothing to offer. We prepare people for eternity. That’s a lot more important than who made the most money last year or who had the biggest church.

IV. The Pastor’s Motivation

In our day pastors are measured mostly by the size of their congregation. We judge a man by how many people he preaches to on Sunday morning. Not along ago I saw a survey of the 50 most influential Christian leaders in America. Most of them were pastors, and all the pastors had enormous churches. I suppose that’s to be expected—and it isn’t necessarily wrong. A pastor of 10,000 will normally have more influence (or at least be better known) than the man who pastors a church of 75 out in the country or an inner-city congregation that meets in a storefront. I have no quarrel with shining the spotlight on the pastors of large churches because many of them are good men who serve the Lord out of righteous motives. If it is wrong to deify such men, it is equally wrong to assume that all of them are charlatans. Clearly, God gives some men unique gifts that enable them to lead thousands of people in a local church. It’s always been that way throughout church history as God has raised up men who influenced vast multitudes. Not everyone can be a Chrysostom, an Augustine, a Luther, a Whitefield, a Spurgeon, a Moody, or a Billy Graham. We ought to thank God for those men whose gifts allow them to cast a long shadow for the sake of the gospel.

But there is another side of the story. When you are young (and here I speak from experience) it is easy to think that bigness equals God’s approval. Coming out of seminary, I admired those men who led large churches and wanted that for myself someday. I was very impressed by numbers. Bigger is better. Something is wrong if a man pastors a small church for years. Or so I thought. But with the passing of time comes wisdom and a chastening of those competitive impulses. If a man conducts enough funerals, he will finally realize that we all come to the same end. The pastor of the megachurch and the pastor of the country chapel with a tiny handful of people, they both end up in the same place—in a box in the ground. Death is the great leveler.

And the great temptation is to think that the men who pastor large congregations are somehow better than those who faithfully minister in smaller places. But it is not true. I’ve already said that God doesn’t treat us all the same way. Some are called and gifted to minister to hundreds, some to thousands, some to tens of thousands, and a few minister to millions of people. But in the end all die, and after death we all stand before the Lord to give an account for what we did with what God gave us.

There will be no boasting in that day.

No parading of books and CDs and big auditoriums packed with people.

No listing of all the dignitaries who spoke at our conferences.

None of that will matter when we stand before the Lord. The only question will be, “Did the Lord Jesus Christ get glory from your labors, or did you build an empire for yourself?” And let it be clearly said that the temptation to empire-building has nothing to do with church size. Pastors of 50 are just as prone to self-glorification as the pastor of 50,000. That is why Paul said he would not glory except in what the Lord Jesus had done through him.

Fascinating how he puts it. “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (v. 18). Ponder that phrase–”what Christ has accomplished through me.” Eugene Peterson (The Message) paraphrases it this way: “I have no interest in giving you a chatty account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders.” A lot of pastors are good at giving “chatty accounts” of what happened last Sunday, how many they had in Sunday School, the size of their building, and how much money they raised in their stewardship campaign. Paul says, “I don’t have time for that kind of baloney.”

What difference does it make?

The only thing that matter is what Christ has done.

He doesn’t even say, “I won’t speak except of what I have done for Christ.” That’s not wrong, but he puts it even stronger than that—”what Christ has done through me.”

If Christ is not glorified in us,

If Christ does not work through us,

If Christ is not the source and goal of our ministry,

What are we doing anyway? And what does it matter? Without Christ, it’s all just wood, hay and stubble.

So here is the pastor’s motivation—to speak only of Christ. To give him the credit. To say to the world, “In Christ alone, by him and through him and for him, has this work been done. And if Christ had not done it, nothing of value would have been done.”

V. The Pastor’s Ambition

What exactly is the pastor called to do? Paul gives his answer in verses 19-21.

He makes Christ known.

He preaches the gospel.

He tells the Good News.

In Paul’s case, that meant a call to preach Christ where he had not yet been preached, which is why Paul preached in Asia Minor, then in Greece, and finally in Rome. His was a unique ministry. It is the same with those who travel to the “10/40 window” to share Christ with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and with those who have no religion at all. Even after 2000 years, fully 1/3 of the human race—over 2 billion people—has never yet heard a clear explanation of the gospel of Jesus. And that is why we have Bible translators in distant lands, and pioneer missionaries bravely taking the gospel into “closed countries,” and that is why the Chinese believers feel called of God to take the gospel “back to Jerusalem” by spreading the Good News to the Muslim countries that lie between China and Jerusalem.

Our passage ends with a moving quotation from Isaiah 52:15, which is a prophecy of the coming of Christ who would “sprinkle many nations,” cleansing them with his own blood. That cleansing was not just for Israel but for all the nations of the earth. And when that happens …

“Those who have never been told of him will see,

and those who have never heard will understand” (v.21).

It was always God’s plan that the gospel should go forth to the ends of the earth so that every nation would hear the Good News. Here, then, is the pastor’s true ambition. He labors and prays and preaches so that those who have never heard will hear, and hearing they will understand, and understanding they will see, and seeing they will believe, and believing they will be saved.

Let me close with a story. Not long ago I received a note from a missionary in New Zealand who told of an amazing conversion.

Tracey is a university student in New Zealand. She claimed to be an atheist, but had some very unusual life goals. One of them was to attend a church sometime in her life. In February, a week before university started, Tracey advertised for a “flatmate” (someone to share the rented house with her).

Keren, a new student from Papua New Guinea/Australia, answered the ad. Keren is a Christian and invited Tracey to church. Since Tracey had this life goal of attending a church sometime, she went along with Keren a couple of times. This caused Tracey to reconsider her atheistic point of view and ask Keren more questions. Keren’s job hinders her from attending church every Sunday so Tracey didn’t go either. But the Lord kept working on her heart. One day Tracey went to a used book shop and bought a Bible and began to read it. But it didn’t make sense to her so she went to a Christian used book shop.

Eleanor, a lady in our church, volunteers at this Christian bookshop once a month. Tracey came in and said, “I’m new to this Christian stuff and want to know more about God and need something that will explain what I’m reading.” So Eleanor directed her to some Biblically sound materials and invited her to our church. She also gave Tracey my contact information and gave me Tracey’s. I arranged to meet with Tracey and Keren.

Tracey was a very excited seeker and said that she now believed in God and Jesus and wanted a relationship with him. I was not sure if she had actually made a decision to receive Christ as her Savior, so I set up a time to do a personal Bible Study with her. Our first meeting, I shared the Gospel with her and asked if she had ever received Christ as her Savior. She said, “No, but I’m in the process.” When I asked what obstacles were hindering her, she said she just needed to think about it. I gave her the list of verses to read and also gave her a copy of Ray Pritchard’s book “An Anchor for the Soul.” She came to church that next Sunday and said she was reading the book and things were making sense. A couple of days later I met with her again and asked where she was in the “process.” Tracey’s eyes lit up and she said, “I prayed that prayer at the back of Ray Pritchard’s book. I was afraid to pray with you because I thought I would ‘stuff it up’ and not really be a Christian, but it really was as easy as you said it would be and I’m so happy. God must love me a whole lot!” I said, “He sure does. He has written your name in the Lamb’s book of life!”

What an amazing God we have to seek out a lost soul! He used a flatmate from Papua New Guinea/Australia, a Bible from a used bookshop, a faithful bookshop volunteer, a missionary from America, a book from an American Preacher, and the faithful prayers of hundreds of people around the world.

As wonderful as that story is, there is yet one other detail. A few days later I received an email from Tracey herself. This is part of what she said.

It is a little strange but when you get to know, you can realize why the Lord chose to bring me to him that way :). And I want to thank you very much for your book. Reading it took me through everything and towards the end it asked some very good questions like “Why are you waiting”? And then I realized that there was no reason why I was waiting and after completing that chapter I made the decision to accept Jesus.

There are many wonderful things in that story, not the least being the many links in the chain the Lord used to bring Tracey to himself. And when the time came, it happened exactly as Paul said it would. Tracey knew and saw and understood and believed.

This is why we do what we do. This is the pastor’s true ambition—to make Christ known so that men and women everywhere will come to Jesus. There is nothing greater than this. Nothing the world offers can compare with it. God bless all the pastors who faithfully who serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Great is their reward. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?