The Scriptures say that when John saw Jesus coming to the river, he tried to stop him. Repeatedly. (Matthew 3:14) Of course, Jesus told him to go ahead with the baptism, and he did. He did it for the same reason that he didn’t want to do it in the first place – Jesus was greater. It didn’t make sense for someone like John to baptize someone like Jesus, but when someone like Jesus spoke, someone like John listened.
It’s a basic principle of life.
The lesser listens to the greater, while the greater teaches the lesser.
It’s why cable news shows interview “experts,” why ex-NFL players get commentators’ chairs, and why rich people can fill stadiums with “How to Be Like Me” seminars. We’re convinced that certain people know more than we do and that we can learn something from them.
I mean, I wouldn’t attempt to teach my father – an engineer – anything about fluid dynamics.
I wouldn’t try to teach his father about anything with four wheels and a gasoline engine.
My other grandfather? I’d just shut my mouth if he wanted to say something about the Air Force, stellar navigation, horsemanship, silver mining, trout fishing, big game hunting, dynamite, Native American lore, mineralogy, or the San Antonio Spurs. (Of course, there’s no telling how much he’s just making up these days, but still…)
We’ve got people in our church that could school me in computers, photography, and organic farming. We’ve even got two or three students who’ve forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know.
Like I said, it’s a basic principle of life, and it tends to be a basic principle in the church.
Except when people get it wrong.
The Principle Is Sound
The greater teaches the lesser. In the church, this usually means that the pastor teaches the congregation.
Now before I’m accused of something horrible, let me clarify what I mean by greater. The pastor is not greater in the sense of being infallible, more precious to God, or in possession of absolute powers. However…
He ought to display a greater degree of spiritual maturity. (1 Timothy 3:6; 4:16; Titus 1:7) This is the basic meaning of “elder,” which the Bible uses far more often than “pastor.” (“Pastor” appears only once in most English versions.)
He bears a greater responsibility for the church. (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2)
He should have a greater teaching ability. (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9)
He could have a greater opportunity for honing his ability, exercising his responsibility, and growing in his maturity. (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Timothy 5:17)
And he may have a greater spiritual endowment for all of this. (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11)
Of course, like probably everything else in life, there are ditches on both sides of the road. People who understand the role of the pastor in the church can be guilty of either overestimating or underestimating it. But those who don’t understand can make one of two enormous errors.
Only the Best
The first agree with everything I’ve said and conclude that only the best will do. So they turn to the best preachers / teachers in the world. Sermons, books, podcasts, conferences, YouTube videos – whatever they can find, they will swoon for their favorite celebrity preachers and megachurch pastors. Some of these folks remain committed to their local church, some don’t.
Unfortunately, they don’t realize that an absent celebrity has no responsibility for their spiritual care. Don’t think about the fact that they know nothing about his spiritual maturity, don’t care that they can’t actually follow his life as an example of Christ. (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3) They have no idea whether their favorite preacher is simply preaching a message written by a committee, or a research assistant. He may be little more than a skilled pulpiteer with a great PR department.
This is not to discount faithful teachers with large ministries, but to point out that the folks who want only the best preachers may not be getting everything they need.
Only the Rest
Then there are those who disagree with everything I’ve said and have no use for pastors at all. Some of them use an approach to the Bible that negates the interpretation I’ve used above. Unfortunately, they may not realize (or they may!) that their method generally allows the Bible to agree with whatever that they happen to be thinking at the time. The Bible will ultimately be little more than a closed book to them.
Others read and respect the Bible and argue that the same Holy Spirit who uses pastors also uses everyone else in the congregation. And if the Spirit empowers everyone equally, then pastors are superfluous, perhaps even dangerous.
They’re half-right, and it’s that half that upends our principle. And then rights it again.
Standing On Our Heads
Normally, the greater teaches the lesser. But only a fool fails to learn from others regardless of their position. Wisdom requires humility, and the humble realize that they can learn something from everyone.
Sometimes, the lesser can teach the greater.
I probably know more about science than my fifth grade son, but he frequently surprises me with new facts that he finds in books I’ve never read. That’s as it should be.
Our church, Central Baptist, has taught me more than I know. I have little doubt that I know more Bible, theology, and homiletic method than probably anyone in our congregation – again, as it should be – but in almost 9 years, I have become a much better preacher, teacher, theologian, pastor, and counselor because of what I have learned from them.
Because I don’t know everything, and the Holy Spirit does.
And he’s greater than all.
And Over Again
Central Baptist Church has taught me because every member is a new creation of God with the Holy Spirit living in them.
Teaching them. Using them. To teach me. And one another.
So when a member of our church comes to me with an idea, a suggestion, even a criticism, I need to remember that the Holy Spirit may be using them in that moment to teach me something. He does that.
It’s not the lesser teaching the greater – and no, I don’t think of our church members like that – it’s the Greater teaching all of us. (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Which Is It?
It seems, then, that we have an interesting situation.
Some Christians believe so strongly in the Spirit using every Christian that they neglect his normal means of using uniquely-qualified people to benefit the rest. (Ephesians 4:12) They love small group discussions but avoid anything resembling a sermon.
Other Christians believe so strongly in the Spirit’s gift of the pastor that they neglect his use of other Christians. They’ll only attend the pastor’s Sunday School class, Bible study, or small group. And when an intern or visiting missionary is scheduled to preach, they’ll be somewhere else.
With their black-and-white, either-or thinking, both miss out on a huge offering of God’s grace.
So which is it? Pastor or people?
Who’s good enough to teach you?
Only God. And those through whom he is pleased to work.