Pastoral ministry is a serious work that requires work. When it comes to a pastor’s mandate to proclaim the truth and protect God’s people from error, the task is nothing short of a divine burden. Pastoral ministry can be described as a daily spiritual battle for souls that never seems to end. There are times when it can feel like a constant war-zone across the landscape of the Christian world with causalities in the pulpit and in the pew — and it probably is.
One of the ways to reduce spiritual casualties is equipping church members to be discerning. With false teachers blending so much truth into their poisonous errors, people need faithful leaders to consistently provide objective truth they can depend on. Charles Spurgeon said it perfectly when he explained, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”
There are many ways that pastors can cultivate discernment in their church. Here are four that can ensure you are heading in the right direction:
1. Make a Big Deal About Sound Doctrine
A pastor who wants to cultivate theological discernment within the church needs to first be excited about teaching sound doctrine himself! A congregation that is fed a steady diet of sound doctrine is going to be growing like a well-rounded, balanced body. Like resistance to muscles in the weight room, solid doctrinal teaching breaks down old ways of carnal thinking and builds up the mind; bringing a believer to maturity. A pastor shouldn’t view doctrine as an inconvenience, but rather, as essential to the health of the church. Theological discernment can be cultivated not by merely telling the church to be discerning but by serving them a feast of sound doctrine that makes them discerning. Making a big deal about sound doctrine will be rooted in making much about Christ. A pastor ought to teach straight out of the Bible on Christology (the doctrine of Christ), Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), and other “ologies” that help people have a proper view of self and a high view of God. Sound doctrine is kryptonite to biblical illiteracy and protects people from falling prey to false teaching.
2. Make the “Why” Clear
Pastors can be guilty of assuming people know the reason for everything they’re teaching. In order to cultivate discernment in a church, people have to know why any of it matters. A congregation’s lack of understanding is usually at the root of their indifference to discernment. Furthermore, the word “discernment” sparks thoughts of sinister behavior, deception, and conflict. Those are not things the average church member is eager to face. Most of them are just trying to make it through another day at work without any conflict. A pastor’s passionate sermon may leave them asking, “Why is the pastor going on and on about doctrine and discernment?” or “Did our pastor just turn into one of those guys looking for a heretic around every corner?” Look to biblical examples of faithful men who explained the “why” along with instructions to be discerning and defend the faith. Paul did this in his farewell to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38), and when he had to teach the Corinthians concerning their use of spiritual gifts and correct a few things in the process (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). Jude did this when he wanted to write about the common faith he shared with his readers, but instead, had to deal with false teaching and apostasy (Jude 3). Train your leaders, and your church on why doctrine and defending the faith matters.
3. Make Sure You Model It
People are quite often a reflection of their leadership. Chances are, if it matters to you, it will eventually matter to them. Pastors who are absent-minded when it comes to theological discernment will often produce a flock who is as well. Modeling discernment is showing people how you got to your conclusions, and more importantly, what the bible says on the issue. If you’re praying for a culture of theological discernment and trying to take steps towards equipping your church to be theologically discerning, make sure you are practicing what you preach. Your example will be a powerful tool in God’s hands.
4. Make Resources Available to Your People (God’s People)
There is arguably nothing worse than majoring on the problem without offering a solution. Yes, a sermon will certainly do the job and the Bible is all we need to show people the answers they seek. Still, excellent resources are available to engage people’s minds with biblical application and equip them in specific ways. Online blogs and popular books are bombarding your people each day. If you let the latest Christian marketing fads guide their discernment, you’ll get the results — and they won’t always be on point. Give them a fighting chance by resourcing them with trusted material. As the old saying applies: Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll feed himself for the rest of his life. A false teacher, a “new gospel,” and the winds of culture are no match for a church who is equipped to know the truth and discern the truth for themselves.
One of the most loving things that a pastor can do for his church is to equip them to be theologically discerning believers at a time when many are falling prey to divergent doctrines.