The pastor is a signpost, bearing witness to the road of God’s revelation.
In other words, pastors ought to be about the Bible, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). The only way to rightly handle God’s word is to see everything through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But pastors can’t just be dispensers of information.
Regular signposts do well to stand firm and remain visible, but human signposts must witness not only with their words, but with their entire lives. That’s why Paul tells Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:15,16).
So how does a Gospel-centered pastor portray that message with his life?
If the pastor is to be a signpost, let him be a sympathetic signpost.
He is firm and inflexible in his testimony to the revelation of God, yet he ought not be cold and uncaring toward the sojourners for whose sake he was planted along the way.
The pastor is not the dispenser of grace ex opere, but a co-heir with Christ of equal standing with the congregation (Rom 8:16,17). The pastor is not lounging on the judgment seat, but testifying to “the man whom [God] has appointed” to judge the living and the dead (Acts 17:31). The pastor is not the mediator between the congregation and their God, but he urges them to follow his example of intercession, for “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:1,5).
The pastor points to the Gospel not disinterestedly, but as “the chief of sinners,” in desperate need of mercy (1 Tim 1:5). This is itself a Gospel testimony!
As Paul wrote of his own past, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:6). Paul was a Gospel signpost! Yet Paul also testified to his ongoing weakness, whether a struggle with sin or simply human frailty, to which the Lord Jesus responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
The pastor ought to be a sympathetic signpost, bearing with his congregation as brothers and sisters, but he is also called to “share [Christ’s] sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10).
While the pastor cannot displace the ministry of Christ and His Spirit, the pastor can portray the ministry of Christ in his daily dying for the sake of his congregation (1 Cor 15:31).
The way of the cross is pain and agony, yes, but also public shame. To be crucified is to be declared a failed revolutionary. Pastors ought to expect hostility and incredulity as they testify to God’s “foolish” wisdom. We might, like the Asian martyrs, cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long…?” (Rev 6:10).
Yet, we know that, by the grace of God, we will rest in a white robe of victory until the Judge Himself declares our vindication before all, when “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10,11). That is our vindication: that one day all will know that the Jesus we follow is, in fact, the Lord.
Let us hit our own knees daily in intercession, that our congregants’ hearts may join us in bowing to our one King.