A Call to Sound Doctrine: The Pastor’s Job Description


The apostle Paul’s ministry offers an ideal model for today’s pastor, but I fear it’s one many churches today have lost sight of.

Consider Paul’s goals: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every person and teaching every person with all wisdom, so that we may present every person complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28, nasb).

He sought the spiritual maturity of every believer—Christlikeness. To this end the apostle employed Christ-centered proclamation and the teaching of biblical wisdom, of which Christ is the embodiment (Col. 2:3). So should we.

Sadly, evangelical churches today don’t share these priorities. Instead, there’s a noticeable shift away from theology toward something closer to therapy.


According to the Bible, pastors must prioritize teaching doctrine so that congregations learn to think theologically. Jesus commands us to make disciples by “teaching them to observe all that [He] commanded” (Matt. 28:20). “Teaching” comes from didasko, meaning “to give instruction.” [1] The noun form simply means “doctrine.” [2] Paul likewise says that elders possess oversight in order to protect against wolves “speaking twisted things” (Acts 20:30). They’re to equip the saints for the building up of the body, less church members be “tossed to and fro by the waves and caried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).

And so, teaching doctrine was a high priority in the early church. The believers described in the early chapter of Acts were “continually devoting themselves to . . . teaching”—that is, to doctrine (Acts 2:42)

The Thessalonians, too, responded to the gospel with eagerness and applied it to their lives. Paul writes, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:6–7).


Evangelical pastors today, however, have shown less interest in teaching theology and more interest in offering therapy. One scholar studied thirty years of the periodical Christianity Today, particularly its column “A Layman and His Faith,” and then offered this conclusion:

In these three decades [1959–1989], the laity had apparently moved from a doctrinally framed faith, the central concern of which was truth, to a therapeutically constructed faith, the central concern of which was psychological survival. Christian truth went from being an end in itself to being merely the means to personal healing. Thus was biblical truth eclipsed by the self and holiness by wholeness. [3]

This shift has had disastrous effects on the lives of God’s people and their families. Any time the rock-solid foundation of the Word is displaced believers will be washed out to sea. Theologian David Wells even noticed this thirty years ago:

I have watched with growing disbelief as the evangelical Church has cheerfully plunged into astounding theological illiteracy. Many taking the plunge seem to imagine that they are simply following a path to success, but the effects of this great change in the evangelical soul are evident in every incoming class in the seminaries, in most publications, in the great majority of churches, and in most of their pastors. It is a change so large and so encompassing that those who dissent from what is happening are easily dismissed as individuals who cannot get along, who want to scruple over what is inconsequential, who are not loyal, and who are, in any case, quite irrelevant. [4]

Throughout his book, Wells offers examples of the shift away from a doctrinally based faith to an experience-based form of Christianity.


When feeling good about oneself becomes a higher priority than knowing one’s soul is right with God through the application of sound doctrine, the systematic teaching of biblical doctrine becomes more important than ever. It’s indispensable to the disciple-making process because doctrine protects, builds up, and nourishes believers (1 Tim. 4:6; 1 Peter 2:2).

Os Guinness reminds us that “sound doctrine” in Greek literally means “hygienic” and “health-giving.” [5] It cleanses the mind and feeds the body.

Conversely, bad doctrine undermines faith and damages believers. Church shepherds must therefore be discerning and not allow man-centered, Christianized self-help theory to permeate the church and redirect the eyes of believers off Christ and onto self (see Acts 20:28-32).


Bad theology is like poison that invades the bloodstream and destroys the body. It kills the church from the inside out, whether it’s preached openly from the pulpit or shared subtly in the counseling room. The apostles warned of “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1–3) that hold undiscerning believers “captive through philosophy and empty deception” (Col. 2:8). Therefore, church leaders must instruct men “not to teach strange doctrines” (1 Tim. 1:3) because “their talk will spread like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:15–18).

Gangrene is a deadly disease. Spreading throughout the skin tissue, it leaves portions of the body dead and in need of amputation. The disease starts when there is a lack of blood flow, and the resulting shortage of oxygen to the body parts causes tissue to die. Once dead, the tissue becomes numb and turns black, leaving only one effective treatment—removal of all dead tissue and the exposure of infected areas to oxygen under high pressure, thus killing the bacteria that can only live in oxygen-free tissue.

Consider this as an analogy of theology in the body of Christ, the church. Sound biblical doctrine, like oxygen, is needed to sustain spiritual life. When there is a lack of sound doctrine, the poison of false theories begins to spread underneath the surface of the skin until the infected area of the body dies. Once dead, it becomes numb to any danger. To remove false doctrine from the church requires amputation, followed by intense doses of pure doctrine to force the error out.


Church shepherds must make the imparting of doctrine a significant part of our teaching ministry: “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” says Paul (Titus 2:1).

A basic requirement of being an elder, he instructs, is the ability “to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

As believers are grounded in the Word of God and taught to think about everything in their lives from a God-centered, biblical perspective, their minds will be renewed, and their faith nurtured (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Tim. 4:6). Gary Johnson’s comments are fitting:

A healthy Christianity cannot survive without theology, and theology must matter today, especially in our mindless and irrational culture. It should especially matter among evangelicals who confess saving attachment to Jesus Christ. But current challenges to the authority of the biblical gospel often come from within our churches, from practitioners who are increasingly uninterested in serious theology. [6]

If we’re committed to biblical shepherding, we must take doctrine seriously, since the ongoing spiritual health and growth of our disciples depends upon it.

Author’s note: This article is drawn in part from Paul’s book, Discipling the Flock: A Call to Faithful Shepherding (Shepherd Press, 2018).

[1] W. E. Vine, Merrill Unger, and William White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1985), p. 619.

[2] Ibid., p. 180.

[3] David F. Wells, No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 209–210.

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

[5] Os Guiness, “America’s Last Men and Their Magnificent Talking Cure,” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 15/2 (1997), p. 23.

[6] Gary Johnson, “Does Theology Still Matter?” in John Armstrong, (ed.), The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), p. 57

Paul Tautges

Paul Tautges is the senior pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

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