Friday, October 27, 2006

The Pastoral Rule

Does Gregory the Great’s sixth century Pastoral Rule have value for evangelical pastors today?

Generally, yes, evangelical pastors today struggle with the same set of divine and human expectations, aspirations, ambitions, and temptations as did those Gregory addressed in the sixth century. Gregory’s Rule speaks to the realities of the human heart in every culture and era.

Several passages should be pasted to the desk of every seminarian, such as the prologue’s warning to those who are “covetous of teaching what they have not learned; who estimate lightly the burden of authority in proportion as they are ignorant of the pressure of its greatness.” Then, as today, some know just enough to be dangerous, and in the same vein, Gregory’s injunction against neophytes and self-appointed preachers speaks to our era of independent churches, mail-order ordination, and self-named ministries.

Also unrelated to culture, is the calling of God to ministry. Then as today, those who are God-called are those who respond to Him in humility, whether borne of a volunteer spirit of love for one’s neighbor or under compulsion from love of the Savior, what Barney Fife calls a “compelsion compulsion.” Others refuse to serve the Lord vocationally, and some are motivated to leadership by self-love, ambition, or a covetous desire for leadership. In fifteen centuries, the human heart has not changed.

Gregory derives his qualifications for leadership and his disqualifying factors from Scripture, and the Word of God and its principles have proven themselves supracultural worldwide in its extension to the ends of the earth. Gregory’s advice on a pastor’s conduct, his thought life, his living example to the congregation and his tongue are high standards also derived from the Word, and are thus has much value for pastors today. Gregory salts every chapter with verses of Scripture and seeks to prove his point by them, albeit with a heavy mixture of moral and allegorical interpretation that becomes quite imaginative in places and frankly humorous, e.g.,. in the prophetic siege-laying of Jerusalem, Gregory’s imagination of the “holy preacher” with forts against vices and camps against “ambuscades of the cunning enemy,” with battering rams to “make known the darts of temptation encompassing us on every side.” Perhaps he mixed a metaphor, but he makes his point that pastors must protect their flocks, just the same as in the internet age.

One cultural concern that works well in Western culture but does not have the same effect in the non-Western Majority World is the Greco-Roman dichotomous thought pattern which Gregory explores in his section on spiritual versus secular concerns. Balancing spiritual and secular pursuits, personal devotion and pastoral care, being domineering as opposed to being too lax with the congregation, people-pleasing and being loved enough to have the message heard, all these are examples of Western dichotomy. Non-Western peoples have a much more holistic worldview that does not separate the secular and the spiritual at all. In this sense alone, Gregory’s Rule fails for majority world pastors, but the pastoral principles and exhortations remain important in their ministries.

Gregory ends with a most important and timeless priority for the pastor of any era, denomination, or clime. Every pastor should be first and foremost deep in the Word of God regularly, because it gives clarity, stability in the pastoral ministry, and deepens the exposition of the Bible. Toward the end, Gregory cites a truth that resounds to evangelical pastors today, “It is surely necessary that those who attend upon the office of preaching should not recede from the study of sacred lore.”

Outline of The Pastoral Rule (Gregory the Great, 6th Century)

1. Prologue: Exploration of four areas of pastoral work, viz., how one should become a shepherd, the life of a pastor, his teaching, and his cultivation of humility.

2. Warnings to Presumptives:

    1. 1.1: The self-appointed or neophytes should refrain from pastoral work.
    2. 1.2: The same for those who do not live what they have learned through study.

3. Warnings regarding Pastoral Work:

    1. 1.3: The dangerous privileges of leadership.
    2. 1.4: The distractions of leadership in doing too much.
    3. 1.5: Those who will not serve though called to ministry.
    4. 1.6: Those who consent to leadership through humility that is obedient to the Lord’s calling.
    5. 1.7: Some volunteer out of love for their neighbor. Some are compelled to leadership by their love for God.
    6. 1.8: Some use Scripture to cover their covetous desire for leadership.
    7. 1.9: The motivation to pastoral work for some is a self-serving self-deception of the heart.
    8. 1.10: Qualifications for leadership.
    9. 1.11: Disqualifying factors.

4. Responsibilities of Pastoral Work:

    1. 2.1:A pastor’s conduct.
    2. 2.2: A pastor’s thought life.
    3. 2.3: A pastor’s life example.
    4. 2.4: A pastor’s tongue.
    5. 2.5: A pastor’s caregiving and confidence.
    6. 2.6: The pastor as a people person and disciplinarian of sin. The danger of pastoral pride. The need of humility in discipline of sinners. The danger of a domineering and being lax with the flock.

5. The Dichotomy of Pastoral Work:

    1. 2.7: The pastor’s management of secular versus spiritual concerns, including business against church and devotion versus care of the flock
    2. 2.8: Being a people-pleaser versus being loved by the congregation.
    3. 2.9: The pastor’s discernment.
    4. 2.10: The pastor’s wisdom in knowing how to pick his battles.
6. The Top Priority in Pastoral Work:

    1. 2.11: The pastor as a man of the Word.
How to preach to different groups in the church
The pastor's need for humility