When it comes to Christians taking action to change society, the role of the pastor is critical. If Christian social action is to be godly and effective, the pastor must play his part well.
Church circles are still divided today about the role of Christians in social action. Some believe Christians should not get involved in social issues. (This group is probably shrinking, or at least is less vocal than it used to be.) The second camp believes Christians should get involved, although there is disagreement as to how to go about it. But at least all in this camp agree on the necessity for social action.
If Christians are to be involved in social action (and I personally believe they should), then what should be the role of the local pastor? What should pastors do? Preach on issues? Lead the street march against abortion?
Ephesians 4:11-16 offers some guidelines on this issue:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Here we see very clearly that the role of pastors is, among other things, to equip the saints. The purpose of this equipping is so that people will no longer be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”
Nothing here indicates how the pastor should equip the saints. It merely says he should be doing it, along with the prophets, evangelists, and teachers. This seems to indicate that there is some flexibility in the way pastors might be involved in social action.
There are some pastoral actions that we can identify. The first of these is teaching. If nothing else, the shepherd of God’s people should guide the people by offering teaching that indicates what’s wrong in the world. By so doing, he highlights issues and offers Biblical solutions to them.
Secondly, the pastor must lead by example. While he may teach certain things, the pastor must also practice what he preaches. If the pastor is against abortion, then he ought to preach as to what should be done about it. Maybe from time to time it is necessary to demonstrate publicly against abortion; so the pastor can march at the head of his flock in the demonstration. If an issue arises in the legislative chambers of the nation, then maybe the pastor needs to write to elected representatives and advise them of their God-ordained duties and responsibilities. And maybe his letter can be a draft for the rest of the congregation.
Thirdly, the pastor can encourage his flock to put into practice those things he teaches from the Bible. Is it necessary for children to have a Christian education? Then let’s encourage the parents to get their children out of public schools and into Christian or home-schools. Should individuals bear arms for their own protection? The pastor can clearly encourage gun ownership, or at least encourage the right to bear arms for those who believe they should own guns. He would discourage disarmament and encourage the passage of laws that allow Biblical practice to be followed.
The pastor has a very important role to play in social action. This is not something that can be ignored and put aside. At the heart of it is the very foundation of the role of the pastor. He must equip the saints. This has implications for every area of life, wherever the saints must be involved, at work, at home, in the local community, and in the nation.
Should the pastor neglect his duty at this point, it is easy to see the outcome. The saints will not be able to determine bad doctrine; they will be tossed about by different opinions, unable to provide God’s solutions to the issues of life.
So we need to encourage and pray for our pastors, that they might indeed be the shepherds of God’s people, so that we all may grow in knowledge and understanding and “might grow up in all things into Him.”
- Ian Hodge
Ian Hodge, Ph.D. (1947–2016) was a long-term supporter of Chalcedon and an occasional contributor to Faith for All of Life. He was also a business consultant in Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand, and a prominent piano teacher in Australia.