Pastors Must Know God


At one time, John Wesley was a parish priest in the Anglican Church. He spent most of his life, however, as the pastor of a worldwide congregation. A statue of Wesley stands in the courtyard of his last parish on City Street in London. The inscription on the statue’s base is, “The world is my parish.” Wesley’s impact was not only through his oral teaching but also his writing and organizing people into transformative groups and communities.

As I mention in Conversion and Discipleship, pastors are the custodians of the knowledge of God. They are the last group in our society who are free to teach this knowledge, and the responsibility to do it should weigh heavy upon them. Well-educated pastors are vital to the health and well-being of both churches and society. In his “Address to the Clergy,” John Wesley said:

Ought not a Minister to have, First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness is not this necessary in an high degree for the work of ministry. Otherwise, how will he be able to understand the various states of those under his care; or to steer them through a thousand difficulties and dangers, to the haven where they would be is it not necessary, with respect to the numerous enemies whom he has to encounter. Can a fool cope with all the men that know not God, and with all the spirits of darkness? . . . Secondly, No less necessary is a knowledge of the Scriptures, which teach us how to teach others, yea, a knowledge of all the Scriptures; seeing Scripture interprets Scripture; one part fixing the sense of another. So that, whether it be true or not, that every good textuary is a good Divine.[1]

Knowledge of God is not just necessary for discipleship. It is essential for pastors and leaders because we are fighting a spiritual war against an enemy who opposes all that we do. As Paul teaches, “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3–5 NLT).

The war we fight is a knowledge war. 

Just like Elijah standing before the prophets of Baal, pastors stand with the Bible in their hand and speak truth to the reality of life. Though we no longer call down literal fire, our words spoken and taught should burn within people’s heart. And as the winds of the Spirit blow upon the sparks of the Word of God, the flames of revival may yet again burn in our churches and in the world.

For many pastors in our post-Christian culture, speaking truth is becoming increasingly dangerous because popular cultural morality is considered superior to Christian morality, and the gospel of tolerance is celebrated.[2] Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has been replaced by human reason that rejects revelation. Pastors must battle against these ideas as they teach and disciple in their congregations.

Recently a pastoral friend of mine preached a sermon on human sexuality, presenting the straightforward teaching of the Bible, the same basic teaching that has been presented for two thousand years. His basic message was clear: if people are gay or straight, sexually active outside of marriage, and attend their church, they are welcome and loved by God and the congregation. But the pastor was also clear that God created sexuality as a gift for marriage between a man and a woman. He explained why pre-martial sex, adultery, divorce, and aberrant forms of sexuality are sin, which is rebellion against God.[3] His point was that we all are sinners, but he was clear that we cannot tolerate any sin or accept sin as the norm. His message was both honest and compassionate.

After the Message was Posted

But soon after the message was posted, the pastor was excoriated on the internet and by the local press. Headlines on social media included, “Local pastor refuses to repent of homophobia” and “Extremist pastor says all gays should be killed.” These dishonest headlines went viral, and the pastor and his family received death threats. According to cultural morality, disagreeing with someone’s sexual behavior is considered judgmental, narrow minded, bigoted, and intolerant. Darkness indeed is being declared light and light is being consigned to darkness.

Disciple-making pastors must face challenges like this head-on. They must speak from God’s Word when defining what is normal. In doing so they define the world and the church by explaining who we are and how we are to live to represent Christ. Pastors as teachers to the nations reveal knowledge that is a mystery to most and that cannot be understood from the outside—it is revealed, not figured out.

[1] John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” Wesley Center Online,, 482–83.

[2] This idea came from Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002), 230–31.

[3] Rom. 1:18–32 was the primary New Testament passage used in the sermon.

Follow Bill Hull on Twitter here and Facebook here

This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.

Image credit: Unsplash.