Docent and The Pastoral Charge

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman
who does not need to be ashamed,
handling accurately the word of truth.

(2 Timothy 2:15)

In pointing out these things to the brethren,
you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus,
constantly nourished on the words of the faith
and of the sound doctrine which you have been following

(1 Timothy 4:6)

I am a pastor of a medium, ordinary church.  Nothing exciting, nothing earth-shattering, just a church filled with people who love Jesus and seek to grow in their faith.  Along with those Christians there are also those who do not know Jesus yet as Lord.  They know it, we know it, and we are thankful for their presence and their desire to hear, consider and by God’s grace, believe.

As a pastor I have many things that pull at me, less now that I have an Associate Pastor who lifts a major load off of my shoulders, but there are still many pressures that are part of the office of ‘pastor.’  The challenge from the very beginning was what was the non-negotiable things that would control my time?  Would it be administration?  How about vision-casting?  Counseling is always a great choice for many need it and desire that face time with the pastor.  Then there is visitation, old-school style.  Why not leadership development?  I could also teach theology classes or there is the ever present need for evangelism.  I could also be the guy in town who specializes in marriages and funerals to pad my paycheck, it just needs a few well-placed phone calls around town.  The list could go on and on, but this is a small glimpse into what a pastor has before him in the way of choices on how he uses his time.  Notice that there is no mention of my wife, nor the four children in my home when I started this pastoral journey.

What was my decision?  It was real simple.  It did not come from a leadership book, no conference revealed it to me, and I didn’t pray for God’s guidance on it.  Simple put, God told me what was my primary focus as a pastor, it was the studying and preaching and teaching of the Word of God.  Not real earth-shattering, but it is the simple will of God that a pastor first and foremost attend himself to the study and proclamation of the holy scripture: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

All of this introductory material to speak briefly about an organization that is real big in parts of the Evangelical community.  It is called Docent group and it exists to give you a ‘research assistant.’  Mark Driscoll is a big fan of this group and he was the guy who introduced me to them about five years ago. They do all sorts of stuff for the busy pastor.  They will do that nasty work that takes up the time of pastors, like researching a book of the bible, doing your exegetical research or coming up with pithy, relevant illustrations.  Need to read a book but no time for it? No problem, just  pay them and they will read it for you and provide the summary of the book.

So what is the problem?  Simple, busy pastors need to decide that their busyness cannot detract from the central, God-given task of study and sermon preparation.  What stands out for me is that the ones who tend to use this is not the little church pastor who has to do everything, but the large church pastor.  The one who has a large staff that is supposed to free him from all of those problems.  What Docent really reveals is that big church pastors are not necessarily busy with the study and presentation of the Bible to their people, but rather something else, like making the church even bigger.

Carl Trueman wrote a very compelling article on this a short time ago that is worthy your read if you are a pastor or want to be one.  Here is a taste of what he writes:

Finally, once again I find myself worrying about the normative, aspirational model of ministry which this is projecting to men in seminary, looking for a call or in their first charge.

Underlying it all, of course, is American conservative evangelicalism’s dirty little secret: the movement, such as it is, embraces mutually incompatible views of the ministerial calling which presumably must rest on mutually incompatible theologies of ministry.  There are those who think ministry is, above all else, about preaching the word in the local congregation and that that is to be the pastor’s top priority bar none, from the choice of passage to its final delivery.  And there are those for whom ministry is – well, to be honest, I do not really know what exactly they think it is.  I cannot describe it because websites such as this are just more evidence that, whatever it is, I do not have the categories to explain it sympathetically to others.

And while I do not expect major discussion of this by the great and the good on the major webpages in the evangelical world, even if such does take place, I doubt that will come to any decisive or clear conclusion. Too many feudal ties and too much at stake for big tent movements to speak with prophetic or even common-sense voices on this one.   My guess is that, if it is mentioned in some quarters at all, it will be another of those things that people agree to differ on in order to keep the big ticket names on board.  It will have that  ‘Hey, we can face the hard questions but still maintain alliances’ feel.  Asking hard questions is ironically not as hard as it is often cut out to be; giving hard answers usually proves to be quite another thing entirely.

As I see things like this, I remember Dr. Packer’s comments of a few weeks back in giving advice to young ministers: dig deep, dwell deep.

Of course, why bother with all of this deep digging and such when others are happy to do it for you?


About Matt Henry

Middle-aged pastor trying to figure out how to be missional in his world. Loves his wife, his children, and his dog Bear. I have a love of woodworking even though woodworking doesn't always love me. The name is xagete but is pronounced exegete.

Posted on June 8, 2012, in Bible Observations, Church, Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you Lord for a faithful Pastor who does teach the word, ask the hard questions and cause us to ponder the hard answers. What a blessing to us; our families and our church.

  2. No shortcuts. They (modernists who say the right things while “doing” ministry) want their neat little packages. I agree that it is Christ’s way to provide for preaching by revealing Himself while the pastor/teacher attends to personal research of a book of the bible, personally doing exegetical research and personally discovering pithy, relevant illustrations. And if Christ reveals Himself in these pursuits, how will He reveal Himself to the people in the sermon of the preacher who has not met Christ in the things he is preaching?

    • Jay, you hit the nail on the head. I can see the value of someone helping a pastor in research to a degree. But the process of creating a sermon requires a man to work/fight/struggle with the text in prayer and diligence. A sermon needs to be coated in the travails of the man preaching it so that the passion he develops from the text flows outward to the people he is charged with equipping.

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