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New Horizons

The Pastor as Prophet, Priest, and King

Jeffery A. Landis

It is Monday morning (or Tuesday, if your pastor takes Monday off), and your pastor is wondering where to begin. There are sermons to write, committee meetings to plan, visits to make, and things left over from last week's list that he was never able to get to. He may already feel overwhelmed, and the week has not yet even begun.

Where should he begin? What should he be doing? Most Orthodox Presbyterian churches do not have a written job description for their pastor. We expect them to know what to do. But with the lack of a clear job description comes the problem of our expectations—unwritten, but as firm as if written in stone—of what our pastor ought to do. Pastors face the same problem: what should their priorities be?

In this article, I want to suggest that the pastor's job description can best be defined by aligning it with the job description of Christ as our mediator. The Shorter Catechism reminds us that Christ, as our mediator, executes the offices of prophet, priest, and king (SC 23). Since pastors are Christ's representatives, serving as undershepherds of their flock, it is helpful to think of their calling in terms of the same three categories. I have found that I cannot be a faithful pastor if I am not actively involved in all three areas.

The Pastor as Prophet

It is probably in his role as a prophet that the pastor is most valued and receives the greatest recognition in our circles. The calling of the prophet is to speak the Word of God, much as the Old Testament prophets spoke God's Word to his people. Paul instructed Timothy that the pastor is to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). This prophetic task is so central to the work of the pastor that many denominations refer to their pastors as "ministers of the Word and sacraments."

The seemingly simple task of preaching requires enormous effort if it is to be done properly. Good sermons are not prepared in a matter of a few short hours, but are developed over many hours of serious study and prayer. The sermons that you hear from faithful pastors are the result of not just that week's study, but years of study. The pastor as a prophet must be a student—a student of the Word, of culture and the times in which he ministers, of theology, and of both classics and modern literature. This requires time—extended time—alone.

In addition, the prophetic work of the pastor involves the administration of the sacraments. We rightly understand that the sacraments are part of the ministry of the Word. As part of his role, a pastor ought to spend time with families prior to baptisms to be sure that they rightly understand the meaning of the sacrament. He also needs to prepare for the worship service, so that he can explain to those in attendance (often including unsaved family members) the gospel and the sacrament in a simple and clear way.

The prophetic work of the pastor can be time consuming; there is so much that must be done. Some pastors fail to get much accomplished beyond this work. But we are only a third of the way through what God intends pastors to do.

he Pastor as Priest

Just as Christ was called, not only to be a prophet, but also to be a priest, so pastors have priestly duties that must be attended to as well. In the old English tradition, when a pastor was sent to a parish, he was given a "cure" or "curacy" (that is, a responsibility) to care for the souls of that area. Every pastor is entrusted with souls by the Lord and is responsible to see that they are cared for. This is part of his priestly role.

As a priest, the pastor is called by God to love his people. The greatest example of a pastor is seen in John 10, where Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd. There is a love and an intimacy between the shepherd and his sheep. He knows his sheep and calls them out by name. The sheep respond to their shepherd and follow him. The shepherd's love is exemplified the most by his willingness to lay down his life for the sheep. This is the kind of love that must be the foundation for the pastor's ministry to his congregation.

It is this love for his flock that compels the pastor to fulfill his priestly role for his congregation. As the Old Testament priests bore the names of the tribes of Israel on their garments and came before the Lord on behalf of his people, so the modern-day pastor has a responsibility to pray for the people the Lord has entrusted to him. The pastor should pray regularly and systematically for those in his "cure." In addition, the pastor as a priest must spend time with his flock. Visits and other times spent with the members of the congregation are essential for a pastor to be able to do his work effectively. These visits and times spent with God's people not only aid the members of the church but also help the pastor to know what the needs of his people are.

This priestly role of the pastor is very important. Many of you can recall a godly pastor who truly shepherded you in a time of great need. Through him, you experience the love and grace of Christ. This kind of ministry is vital for the work of the pastor. But there is still more.

The Pastor as King

The final office of Christ that gives direction to the pastor in his labors is the office of king. In discussions with people (including other pastors), I find that they often like the analogy of the pastor to a prophet or priest, but become visibly disturbed with the idea of a pastor functioning as king. Yet there is clear teaching in the New Testament that a pastor has a kingly role. Titles for pastors, including "overseer" and "leader," are used to describe this role.

The kingly role of the pastor involves several areas of work. First, the pastor has leadership responsibilities. Many pastors dread hearing such things because they believe that they lack leadership gifts. Some members of the congregation may even think (wrongly) that leadership is un-Presbyterian. In most situations, it is the pastor who has the time and insight to provide leadership for the session, in order to help the elders agree on direction and goals that they believe God would have them pursue. This requires time—extended quiet time—to think, analyze, and pray. And, because it is usually not urgent, it requires the discipline to set aside time in the midst of everything else he must do.

But the pastor's kingly role not only looks into the future (leadership), but must also focus on the present (management or administration). Contrary to some people's thoughts, administration is not a necessary evil; rather, it is a vital part of biblical ministry. "Administry" is an old English word that referred to all the tasks that contribute to ministry. Preparing bulletins, overseeing staff and volunteers, and attending a budget committee are all spiritual works of ministry that must be done to keep the work of Christ moving forward. The ministry of the church will suffer greatly if these kingly roles are not taken seriously and ministry time is not given to them.

There are other obligations and work in which every pastor has to be involved. I have listed just some of the major categories. Can you see how it can be overwhelming for a pastor to begin his workweek? Can you understand how, when a pastor is faced with all of these responsibilities, he could be tempted to focus on the role or roles in which he feels particularly gifted or comfortable to the detriment of other roles? There is no pastor who is well gifted in all three areas. Most pastors have strengths in one or two of the three areas. But if the pastor focuses on only one or two of these roles, his ministry will suffer.

When we think of the offices of Christ, we recognize that all three offices are distinct, but no single office can be properly understood apart from the other two. For example, we cannot properly understand Christ's office of king apart from his office of prophet or priest. The offices of Christ intersect each other and fill each other out.

In this same way, the roles of the pastor can never be divorced from one another. Effective ministry requires the biblical pastor to devote time and attention to all three areas. I cannot preach well if I do not know my congregation and what their needs are. Apart from that context, my sermons become theological lectures. If the ministries of my church (king) are to prosper and be effective, it will be because they are tied into the ministry of the Word (prophet) and the needs of my people (priest). Otherwise, the work of the church becomes disjointed and disconnected from the needs of the people. When the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices are working together, the ministry is balanced and biblical.

The work that your pastor does is usually very satisfying, and I believe that most of our ministers would not consider doing anything other than serving as a pastor. But the work can also be overwhelming. There is never a week in which a pastor's to-do list is all completed. Pray for and encourage your pastor as he serves as your church's prophet, priest, and king.

The author is pastor of Covenant OPC in San Jose, Calif. New Horizons, July 2011.

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