Today’s society is one in which the specialist plays an important role. In almost every sphere of labor one must have received a great amount of special training in order to be known as a professional in his field. As a result, much of the simple way of life as we once knew it has vanished. For example, instead of the one-room school house of long ago wherein could be found only one teacher who instructed all the grades, many schools today embrace a large faculty of teachers, each specializing in his own field. The same has become true in the area of doctoring. There are available today specialists of every sort: skin specialists, bone specialists, brain, heart, foot specialists, and so the list can go on without a seeming end. So specialized has this profession become that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a general practitioner who can be one’s family doctor.
A specialist, therefore, is one who devotes himself entirely to a special occupation and who is, because of intensified study in that field, considered by most to be the “tops” in his profession. He is a professional. Take him outside of that field and he is unproductive and sterile; he is at a loss for what to do. But within that field he is the best there is. He has amassed to himself a tremendous amount of knowledge, attained through specialized training, and he therefore knows all the ins and outs of his profession.
Now, the purpose of this article is not to criticize this development which exists within this compartmentalized society in which we find ourselves. In fact, in many cases this development is for the better and is used for the benefit of God’s Church. The purpose of this article is, however, to answer the question whether the minister of the gospel must be placed within this sphere of specialists. Must we say that ministers are specialists?
Such has become the attitude of many today, not only among the laity but also among the clergy itself. The minister is indeed a professional in a certain field of labor. And although those who possess this attitude have a hard time pinpointing exactly what that field of labor is, the general consensus emerges that the minister is a professional or a specialist in the field of preaching. He has received extensive training in the areas of doctrine, exegesis, homiletics, and languages, all of which equip him in his field of labor. He is therefore, as a result of this intensified training, a specialist in the sphere of preaching, teaching catechism, leading societies, and government of the congregation.
Those who take such an attitude, however, also will be, and usually are, the ones who feel that the minister is incapable of handling anything outside of his special field of labor. He is a specialist in the field of preaching and that is all. That is to say, any major problems which take place in the congregation outside of doctrine and government of the church must not be placed in the lap of the minister but must be taken to another professional who specializes in dealing with these problems. Therefore their reasoning is as follows. If I am having problems within my marriage I must not go to the minister but I must go to a marriage counselor who specializes in that field. If I have a problem child I must not seek the guidance of a minister but I must take him to a child psychologist. If I suffer under mental and emotional anxiety I must go to a professional who specializes in psychiatric help and not to a minister who is ignorant of these matters. There is no way a minister is able to specialize in all these fields. Perhaps he receives a little training in Seminary so that he is able to deal with the little problems which occur in the everyday life of a congregation, but he must leave the major problems well enough alone. Let him stick to preaching and let the rest be placed into the hands of other capable specialists.
Because of this clamor of many about us the child of God becomes somewhat reluctant to go to his minister with his problem. He becomes confused. Which way should he turn? Where should he go? It is such a hassle to go to a specialist and pay big money for only a few moments of his time. But on the other hand I am told not to bother the minister with these problems because he cannot help anyway. Where is the answer?
The answer lies in a re-evaluation of the calling and work of the minister.
In a certain sense of the word it can be said that the minister is a specialist — not, however, according to the definition cited above. A minister is not a specialist because of the amount of intensified study he has done., He is not a specialist because of the courses of study he has followed in Seminary. Do not misunderstand this either. A minister must be trained in order rightly to divide the Word of truth. He must receive special training in order that he might be capable of handling the work of the ministry. Not just anyone can be a minister. God uses means to prepare one for the work of the ministry, and therefore training is necessary. But that is not what makes the minister a specialist: It is the fact that the minister is called by Christ and qualified by the Holy Spirit. He is a specialist because God himself calls and equips him to bring His Word. The minister is the special ambassador of Christ who comes in the name of Christ and speaks the Word of Christ Who has sent him.
That the minister is equipped by the Holy Spirit applies first of all and primarily to the preaching. Such is the emphasis of Romans 10:13-15. But the minister is called and qualified not only publicly to proclaim God’s Word, but also privately to apply that Word to the lives of the individual saints. That is an integral hart of the minister’s calling. As the Form of Ordination of the Ministers of God’s Word, found in the liturgical section of the Psalter, when enumerating the duties of the minister, states, “First, that they faithfully explain to their flock, the Word of the Lord, revealed by the writings of the prophets and the apostles; and apply the same as well in general as in particular (emphasis mine, W.B.), to the edification of the hearers; instructing, admonishing, comforting, and reproving according to everyone’s need.” It is part of the minister’s calling then to apply God’s Word in particular to the saints in need. He must lead, comfort, admonish, and guide those believers who are in need, whatever that need may be.
That is why it is preferable to say concerning the minister that he is a pastor or a shepherd. A minister is one who shepherds his congregation. He applies God’s Word to every one of their needs, whether they be physical, psychological, or spiritual. To deny that would be to cut man into segments and to deny the unity of man’s being. To deny that would be to claim that there is some part of man’s existence which dwells outside the sphere of Christ’s care for his people.
That this also is a part of the calling of a minister is evident from certain passages of Scripture. Jesus Himself Who is the Great Shepherd of His people gave direct command to His disciple Peter with the words, “Feed my sheep” and “Feed my lambs.” Peter, and through him all office bearers, are called therefore not only to nourish God’s people through the preaching but also to take the spiritual- oversight of God’s people. That this is the calling of all ministers and not just of the disciples is clear when Peter himself, in his first epistle chapter 5, exhorts the elders to “feed the flock of God which is among you.” Paul too makes it abundantly clear in Ephesians 4:11 and 12 that Christ has given “pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Therefore to deny or even to belittle this official work of the minister — the undershepherd of Christ — is to deny or belittle the work of Jesus Christ Himself. Christ is pleased to care for His sheep through the officebearers He has ordained in the midst of a congregation.
Despite the clear testimony of Scripture to us we are still somewhat in doubt as to the ability of a minister to deal with any major problem. What about the arguments of those who contend that a minister is a specialist only in the field of preaching and that he has no learning or valuable experience outside of that sphere? Is it not true that the minister’s knowledge is far too limited to treat such matters as marital problems or mental depression? Besides, it seems as if the minister is one who is not really all that much in touch with the nitty-gritty of life. He sits in his study with his nose stuck in books all day, leading a somewhat sheltered life. Dare I trust my problems to him?
In answer to these doubts let it be established in the first place that the minister is called and qualified to bring God’s Word. If he came with his own advice then indeed he would be unqualified and poor judge in these problems. But the minister comes with the Word of God. Through the minister Christ speaks to His people in need. Who will dare to say that the advice of Christ is poor advice? Christ knows the needs of every one of His sheep, whatever the problem may be, and He must guide and direct them. That He does through His undershepherd who is equipped by the Holy Spirit to bring that Word. Secondly, let it be established too that we may not make a separation between preaching and pastoral care. When a minister works with the sheep of his congregation he is applying specifically what he has proclaimed publicly. In fact, the more the minister is involved with the needs of his congregation the richer and more meaningful his preaching becomes.
Finally, let one more fact be established. The minister understands the needs of the child of God first of all because he himself is a sinner and has many needs too. But secondly, he understands because Christ understands. Christ loves His people and will care for them out of that love. The world may need all of these different specialists because they have nowhere else to go. The child of God on the other hand has his faithful Saviour to whom he can turn. We experience what the Psalmist experiences, “The Lord my Shepherd holds me within his tender care, and with his flock he folds me, no want shall find me there.” The minister experiences that with his congregation. And when he deals with problems he does not do so with a cold, professional air, but with the love and concern of another believer and with the love Christ places within his heart.
The minister is not a specialist. He is a shepherd who is called to know the needs of God’s people and who is qualified to bring God’s Word to those saints in need. Christ Himself, therefore, will see to it that we suffer no want.