Mailbag #74: The Wisdom of Confronting an Older Pastor . . . Is It Biblical to Call Women “Ministers”? . . . How a Pastor Should Schedule His Week

Mailbag
02.15.2019

One of our elders—a man far older in the faith than us—has begun to regularly preach poor sermons. How should we respond? »
I’ve noticed some SBC churches give women on staff the title of “minister” in deliberate distinction from “pastor” or “elder.” Is this practice wise? »
What are some principles for how a pastor should schedule his week? »

Dear 9Marks,

I’d like to seek guidance and ask for prayer about a certain issue facing our church. We elders are rather young men with but one exception. This one older gentleman has been and continues to be vital to our church.

The problem is that his fairly regular preaching has begun to fall short of our church’s expositional standards (both in thoughtfulness and overall biblical accuracy).

We’re zealous for the right preaching of the Word but also adamant about showing due respect to our older brother in the faith.

Do you have any advice on how we might navigate these perilous waters?

Thank you again for your time.

—Belteshazzar

Dear Belteshazzar,

First, I commend you for your attitude. It shows that you’re being attentive to 1 Timothy 5:1: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father.”

As with all things, honesty wrapped in grace will be the medicine that you and this brother need to take.

You’ll need to consider honestly the qualifications for an elder. Look at 1 Timothy 3:2. Is this brother able to teach?

Now, you might conclude that he is not able to preach. This may be due to dwindling mental capacity, or simply a matter of not being able to teach in that way. Maybe he can teach effectively in personal discipleship or small groups. If he can teach in these other ways, he remains qualified to be an elder, though he likely needs to be taken out of the preaching rotation.

If this man is godly, but unable to teach biblically in any context, and he’s never really had the ability to do so, then you have a different situation. To be honest before God and men requires you to consider him unqualified as an elder. He may be godly, but he may have another role in the kingdom.

So, how do you honestly and graciously address this matter with a dear older man? I think you need to continue with the posture you’ve shown thus far. Esteem him for his service, and the vital role he’s had in the church. Treat him like Ephaphroditus; “hold men like him in high regard” (Phil. 2:29).

If he’s a man who used to be able to publicly teach well, he needs to be encouraged with different opportunities. Let him shepherd, but in other settings. Let him lead in prayer often. Encourage him to share his wisdom at a coffee table or a bedside.

If he’s a man who has never been qualified as a teacher in the church, then you need to gently talk with him about the qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. He may be qualified as a godly deacon. Or simply as a godly older man in the church. Emphasize the various roles and parts of the body (gift lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12).

In the end, if the brother is godly, then he should honestly see that he ought to serve in a different way.

—Clint Humfrey

Dear 9Marks,

As a Southern Baptist, I should probably know this, but how do Southern Baptists differentiate “ministers” from “pastors”? I’ve seen some complementarian churches give the title of “minister” to women in deliberate distinction from “elder” or “pastor.” Is that problematic?

—Ian

Dear Ian,

The SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message refers to the two offices of “pastor” and “deacon,” but, to be sure, different churches use different titles. My own church uses “pastor” and “elder” interchangeably. However, I would personally discourage churches from making a distinction between “pastors/elders” and “ministers,” especially if they have a third office of “deacons.” The Bible gives us two offices, not three.

Now, if that church has no additional office of “deacon” and everyone in the congregation knows that “minister” is being used synonymously with “deacon,” then I’m slightly more comfortable with it. I’ve heard people make that argument.

Still, the trouble is, the words “pastor” and “minister” are nearly synonymous in most people’s mind, and have been for centuries. Even the federal tax code and state marriage laws treat them as interchangeable, using the term “minister” to refer to the person who is ordained to teach, to marry, and so forth. My concern for complementarian churches, then, is that they could be making that distinction because it allows them to exploit the fact that they are synonymous in the culture’s mind. It’s a way of having your complementarian cake but not eating it. I’m not saying any one church is intending to do this. I’m saying it’s a risk and at best it’s confusing (even if unintentionally). Therefore, I would not encourage anyone to adopt that practice.

—Jonathan Leeman

Dear 9Marks,

What are some principles for how a pastor should schedule his week? What are some good rhythms, routines, and priorities that he should manage his time around?

—Wil

Dear Wil,

Good questions, Wil. Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Before scheduling your week, understand your personal energy level, when you’re at your best, and patterns necessary for a good rhythm of devotion, family life, discipleship, leadership development, sermon preparation, pastoral work, etc. Look at the whole picture or you’ll frustrate both your family and co-laborers—and you’ll dry up spiritually. This helps to guard against frittering away time for the week’s demands.
  2. Distinguish expectations for your ministry. What have you been called to do? Zero in on calling and commitments rather than the ample expectations that others will put on you.
  3. Utilize a system to keep track of your responsibilities and goals for the day (electronic or hand-written daily journal). Check it regularly. You may decide to move some of those details to another day. Delegate responsibilities that others can handle, so that you can focus on primary responsibilities.
  4. If you’re a preaching pastor then your first responsibility—aside from your walk with Christ—is to preach God’s Word faithfully and well. How much time do you need to prepare for the particular portions of the Word that you’ll be preaching? Mark out your calendar accordingly, including those times that you’re preparing for broad overviews for expositional series. Schedule appointments for other demands around preparation time rather than vice versa.
  5. Start early enough on preparation for preaching and teaching that allows time for pastoral issues that you must address. Pastoral work means you will probably never have a linear schedule, where everything goes as planned. So start early, allow for pastoral needs, avoid sloppiness with your time, and remember that you’re called to minister not to be a machine. Avoid treating the people you serve as interruptions to your schedule.
  6. Have a set time to return phone calls, emails, and texts rather than letting the tyranny of the urgent disrupt your day. Stay focused, which may mean turning off ringers. Stay off of social media while you’re doing preparation for ministry.
  7. Schedule a day off and take it. That’s part of your discipline and renewal.
  8. If you have a staff, discuss your schedule and theirs. Have an understanding on discerning disruptions and necessary ministry issues.
  9. Personally, I try to do most pastoral calls, notes, counseling, and meetings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I prepare for Sunday mornings on Thursdays and Fridays, and edit and pray through my sermon on Saturdays. Sundays are given to worship, discipling, fellowship, family, training, and refreshment. I take Mondays off. Our pastoral staff rotates hospital visits. I generally make those visits on my way into the office or right after lunch. Preparation for other teaching generally happens at least a day prior to the gathering, depending on the level of preparation necessary.

Hope that helps.

—Phil Newton

9Marks exists to build healthy churches.

Join the 9Marks community and we'll send you articles about church life and pastoral ministry.

You have successfully subscribed.