The Preacher’s Portrait: A Classic Not to Be Ignored By Pastors

In the twentieth century, John Stott was a gift that kept on giving to the Christian Church. Yes, there were some theological issues on which I would differ with him. That said, he nonetheless contributed many valuable writings to the Church.

One of them was his little book, The Preacher’s Portrait. Just five chapters and a little over a hundred pages in length, it can easily be read in one or two sittings. But don’t let its brevity fool you: it is full of some very theological and practical helps to pastors, whether they are fresh out of seminary or been in the pulpit for decades.

The premise is simple: Stott looks at five words that are used to describe pastors in the New Testament, then extrapolates from them what his calling should be.

The first word is steward; or someone who manages something on behalf of its rightful owner. This makes sense for a pastor; after all, he does not proclaim his own word, guard his own flock, or protect his own made-up truths. Rather, a pastor proclaims God’s Word, guards the flock of God’s sheep that has been entrusted to him, and guards the Lord’s truth.

As a steward, the pastor is also the manager of that to which God has entrusted him. That is to say, the pastor does carry with him a degree of authority. The difference with worldly authority, however, is that a pastor’s authority does not stem from himself; instead, he has the right and duty to declare what the Bible says on any given topic, and to remind those whom God has entrusted to him of this.

Second, a pastor is a herald. That is to say, a pastor is called to go into the marketplace and proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ.

Within this, the pastor as herald must do two things: first, he must proclaim what God has done. As Stott notes, “[T]he gospel is not so fundamentally an invitation to men to do anything. It is a declaration of what God has done in Christ on the cross for their salvation. The invitation cannot properly be given before the declaration has been made. Men must ask the truth before they are asked to respond to it.”

Only after the proclamation can the pastor as herald then perform his next task: to appeal to sinners to embrace Jesus Christ. The one must never go without the other.

Third, a pastor is a witness. The Greek word used for this term is one that has been used in a court of law; one who testifies under oath what he has seen. But since we were not with Jesus physically in the first century, how are we to witness of Him?

Stott replies, “Our task is not to lecture about Jesus with philosophical detachment. We have become personally involved in Him. His revelation and redemption have changed our lives. Our eyes have been opened to see Him, and our ears unstopped to hear Him, as our Savior and our Lord. We are witnesses, so we must bear witness. Certainly we shall teach men systematically about Him, and we shall boldly herald the good news of what He has accomplished by His death. But we shall not fail to commend Him to our hearers out of our own personal experience.”

Fourth, a pastor is a father. The reason for this is that, as Stott explains, “Preaching involves a personal relationship between preacher and congregation…A loving family relationship exists between them. They belong to each other.”

This is primarily what people tend to look for in a pastor: they want someone who is going to care for them, show them compassion, and the tender love of Christ. Granted, this will sometimes entail a rebuke, but it should never be done harshly or with a wrong motive. Instead, it is to correct the person in question and lovingly show them how to live in a Christlike manner in light of God’s grace.

On this word, Stott has a special word of admonition for pastors: get to know your congregation. Empathize with them. This is crucial because many pastors won’t know what some of his flock go through in their own lives (i.e., coping with a rebellious child, working with non-Christians, or go through a daily commute). And the congregation knows it. As Stott puts it, many a pastor “talks glibly about the Christian life and Christian witness. But has he ever had to stand alone as a Christian in an office or store or factory with no fellowship with other Christians?”

He continues, “It really is of the greatest importance that we think ourselves into the situation in which our people find themselves; that we identify ourselves with them in their sorrows, responsibilities, and perplexities; and that we do not live, or appear to them to live, in a remote ivory tower. Such an estrangement between preacher and congregation is most harmful  both to the proclamation and to the reception of the message.”

A father must also be gentle; that is, never unduly harsh. He must also be simple; that is, he must not preach in such a manner that his flock cannot understand him. A pastor must also be an example to the flock; they must be able, as Paul says, to imitate him as he imitates Christ. And lastly, a pastor must be a prayer. He must be on his knees, diligently praying for the sheep.

Fifth, the pastor is a servant. In demonstrating this, Stott shows how many of the preachers in first century Corinthians were showing reverence to various preachers who should have been showing it to God alone. This is an attitude which Paul had to correct. As he wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:5, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.”

Based upon this, Stott shows how pastors must thrive not upon their own power, but on God’s power, which He provides.

The above is merely a summary of each of these five points; Stott has far more to say about them than I could possibly repeat here. But this makes it a very worthwhile read. Future, brand-new, and longtime pastors will all benefit from reading The Preacher’s Portrait. It will educate them on the multi-faceted nature of their calling, convict them of their unworthiness to perform their duties, and comfort them by reminding them of Christ’s bountiful provision.

I highly recommend it.

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