By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, Baptist and Reflector
The word “pastor” appears only in Ephesians 4:11 in all the KJV New Testament. And It appears just eight times in the OT — all in Jeremiah (2:8; 3:15; 10:21; 12:10; 17:16; 22:22; 23:1, 2). Both in the OT and the NT, the word “pastor” translates the word for “shepherd.” Of course, the word “shepherd” appears numerous times throughout the Bible. Further, “elder” and “bishop” are used as synonyms in the NT for pastor. The role and function of pastor appear in writings of Paul and Peter and John.
You can find qualifications for a pastor in I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; I Peter 5:1-4 and other related passages. But I’ve chosen to focus on the role of a good pastor as Jesus gave it in John 10. Every church needs a good pastor, as Jesus defined it. And every good pastor needs a good church too.
How “From Both Sides of the Pulpit” came about. Fifteen years ago, I quit writing a secular Gannett chain weekly news column entitled “Words & Things.” I felt called to write about “Both Sides of the Pulpit.”
You see, I had pastored 11 years in Texas, mostly during college and seminary days. Then I also had served as interim pastor in half a dozen churches or so — some of them twice — during my 22 years of work at LifeWay (when it was the BSSB). Baptist to the bone, I got taken to church all my life from birth to college. Then in my calling to ministry, I have spent about half my life on both sides of the pulpit. So, I had experience in the subject I wanted to write about. And when I shared that proposal with B&R editor Lonnie Wilkey for a once-a-month column, he liked it and I soon began!
Learning more from Both Sides of the Pulpit. I don’t know how I would rate on your pastoral qualification scale if you wanted me to become your pastor. But during my interims, a number of churches felt led to ask me to become their pastor. I didn’t feel led to leave my Christian publishing ministry and become their pastor.
However, a number of other churches got my name somehow and sent me questionnaires and requests for materials. They wanted to check me and my preaching out to see if I merited an invite to come in view of a call. Pastor-search committees wanted videos of me preaching sermons on the pulpit side. I didn’t have any videos and wasn’t inclined to make one or send one.
On the academic qualifications, I met their criteria. On the theology side, I seemed to be a good fit for committees interested in me. It was a time during denominational controversy and varied theologies. I always replied to their questions: “Fundamentally, I consider myself to be an enlightened conservative, liberal-minded Baptist.”
One ole boy wanted to know when I got enlightened. I told him at age 7 when I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, made a public profession of faith, got baptized, and covenanted to become a member of my local church.
What I didn’t get asked about. In my journey on both sides of the pulpit, folks didn’t ask me if I was a good pastor “after the model of Jesus in John 10.” Jesus cut to the chase in John 10 when he identified Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14). Jesus explained that the good shepherd knew his sheep, loved them, and would die for them.
He also explained that they knew His voice and would follow Him but wouldn’t follow a shepherd whose voice they didn’t know. Jesus defined bad shepherds as hirelings and, in essence, those who didn’t show great love and display it toward the sheep. I could have answered all those questions in the affirmative.
Whether I could have preached my way out of a paper bag or not, I don’t know. Actually, I think my preaching is pretty good because it’s biblical, trained, compassionate, and plans to make a difference for our Lord every time I stand behind the pulpit. But that’s a little egotistical, maybe; so I would let others judge. In one early seminary pastorate, I was downhearted over some picky criticism. I told the postmaster about it in the small East Texas town. She said, “Well, brother Johnnie, not even Jesus pleased everyone.” I thought about that for a minute; and I told the helpful church member, “No, Jesus didn’t try to please everyone; He only tried to please the Father.” That gave me a new perspective; and I tried to follow Jesus along that line too.
Being a good pastor involves what Jesus said in John 10. Being a good pastor involves a lot more than I can write about. And I could add some things I learned in college and seminary. But I’d just like to focus on a thing or two I picked up on both sides of the pulpit. One pastor-search committee asked me — their interim pastor — to call a prospective pastor and talk with him. I felt it was a little strange; but it was my second time as their interim, and I agreed to do it. When I called the prospect, we hit it off well; and he sounded good over the phone. I didn’t ask much, but he volunteered. “Now, I’m not a door-knocker!” Well, he could have said a lot of things without saying that. I didn’t bad-mouth the fellow, but I did suggest to the chairman they might want to query the prospect about the role of visiting in homes, hospitals, reaching out, etc.
When pastors become former pastors and are invited back for some occasion, they tend to learn they were the greatest thing since sliced-bread when they pastored that church. Some of the most contrary, obstinate church members I ever had told me they wish I was still there and was their pastor. I just nodded politely and gave thanks that I wasn’t.
Seriously, I loved pastoring; and I loved my six jobs over 22-and-a-half years at LifeWay. I love the numerous books and over one million published words God has led me to write in retirement.
But despite what I’ve written and you may have read, I’m not ready to hang it up at 81. When God called me to preach, I understood I was saying “Yes!” to Him for every occasion and for a lifetime.
I still have that sense of calling. And I try to do what I can for Him.
Conclusion. I enjoy writing “From Both Sides of the Pulpit” and working with editor Lonnie Wilkey (who’s done well for 30 years or more). But when my space is gone, don’t worry about it; that just means God called me to my better place on the “other side.”
In the meantime, keep on reading! Oh, and also call a good pastor if you call a pastor. Make sure he matches John 10, besides all other criteria! B&R — Copyright 2018 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write: firstname.lastname@example.org