As you might already be aware, the title ‘pastor’ is derived from a Latin word meaning ‘shepherd.’ I always chuckle a bit when I reflect on this fact. Shepherds were not well-liked figures in the Ancient Near East. They were often poor, uneducated, and widely regarded as criminals (sometimes with good reason!). For the New Testament to assign this title to the men in leadership of the body perhaps tells us something about the prestige of the position: by worldly standards, the pastor is a joke.
Despite this undignified title, the New Testament places great responsibility on the pastor of God’s flock. Entire sections of Scripture are devoted to laying out the qualifications of those who would aspire to lead the church, and a great many serious charges are issued to the men who take up the task. Consider James 3:1 where we’re told that those who teach “will receive a stricter judgment.”
Clearly, the task of the pastor is not something to undertake lightly. Unfortunately, we don’t need to look far to find examples of men who call themselves ‘pastor’ yet ignore the holy standard set in passages such as Titus 1:6-9. Some of these men seem to think that the role of a pastor is to be a comedian, a life-coach, a motivational speaker, a leadership guru, or a fund-raiser. Some churches are equally confused: they want their pastor to be a master of ceremonies, a therapist, a politician, a CEO, a figurehead, or a whipping boy.
God has a very different idea in mind for the man he calls to be a pastor.
The New Testament assigns four basic tasks to the pastor: preaching, pastoring, praying, and protecting. We see these roles described in several places, but for each point, I’ll only include a few references.
Preaching (2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Timothy 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1:17)
When we think of a pastor, we probably think of him standing behind the pulpit, proclaiming the Word of God. It is primarily the task of the pastor to ensure that the sheep of God’s flock are provided with a steady intake of His holy Word. This largely (though not entirely) takes place when the pastor stands before the body, opens his Bible, and from it declares, “Thus saith the Lord.”
That last sentence is of critical importance: preaching is not a TED talk or an entertaining speech. It is not an opportunity for the pastor to ramble on about ‘his thoughts.’ Nor is it the time to make a stump speech, tell funny stories about himself, or wax poetic about vaguely spiritual things. Preaching is the act of restating God’s very Word to God’s people in a way that feeds their souls with the gospel of truth.
Consequently, God will hold your pastor responsible for what he says from the pulpit. The pastor is not to alter the message to tickle itching ears, assuage an offended world, or even to please his own fancy. He must speak God’s truth and nothing but God’s truth.
Pastoring (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4)
After preaching, this might be the next thing that comes to your mind. As I already mentioned, the word ‘pastor’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘shepherd.’ A shepherd’s job is to care for the sheep assigned to him, and the church’s pastor is no different. The pastor is to do exactly what his name implies: he is to pastor.
He is to keep an affectionate eye on the sheep God has given him. He is to tend the wounded or sick ones, binding up wounds and administering the medicine of the gospel. He is to protect the strays by guiding them away from the dangers of sin, false teachers, and poisonous doctrine. Ultimately, he is to serve as a kind of little Christ to them, giving of his life and love to see them grow healthy and strong in the gospel of grace.
This is an aspect of being a pastor that, sadly, can be easily overlooked. The pastor’s study ought to be a safe haven for the hurting sheep, and the words of counsel that a pastor gives in that safe haven ought to be words dripping with gospel. Many pastors proclaim the robust, fresh water of the gospel from the pulpit, but give out shots of the burning liquor of the law from the study. This ought not be.
A pastor must be as bold as a lion in the pulpit. But, with the wounded brother or sister, he must be as gentle as if handling a newborn lamb. In other words, a pastor must not only be willing to speak God’s truth, he must be willing to apply it with strength and grace.
Praying (Acts 6:4, Philippians 1:9; Ephesians 1:16-18)
Another often neglected aspect of pastoring is the duty to pray. If a pastor is to undertake the enormous task to which God has called him, he will need divine aid. A prayer-less pastor is a man who thinks he can do a divine task without divine power. That man might appear to be successful by all outside appearances, but if he is not praying for his flock, then it is clear that he does not love his flock the way he ought.
We repeatedly see examples of the apostles praying for the church throughout the New Testament. Even in the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel tells the people of Israel, “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.” Jesus Himself sets this example for us in John 15, wherein He prays to His Father on behalf of His disciples and those who would come after! If the Chief Shepherd thinks it important to pray for His flock, the wise pastor should follow suit. A pastor must not only be willing to speak God’s truth and apply God’s truth to the flock, he must pray for them to follow God’s truth.
Protecting (Titus 1:10-16; John 10:11)
Though this duty could reasonably be listed under ‘pastoring’ – after all, part of the shepherd’s work was to protect the sheep from wolves – I want to highlight this last point by separating it from the others. Whereas a pastor’s ‘pastoring’ is directed at the sheep, his protection of the sheep is directed toward outside threats: the wolfish jaws of false teachers, the polluted waters of heresy, and even the foolish, destructive decisions of wayward sheep. If a pastor is to be a lion in the pulpit, he must be a mother bear when facing down those who would rend and tear at the sheep assigned to him.
When wolves seek to devour vulnerable members of the flock, the pastor’s job is to use the rod of the Word to rescue the sheep from the mouth of the enemy. When the unity of the church is threatened by gossip-mongering or power politics, the pastor’s job is to step in and make peace. And when heresy threatens to take root, the pastor must be ready with the Word of God to destroy it before it chokes out the good seed of the Gospel.
Pastoring is serious business, but it is not joyless business. There is a unique reward that comes from executing this noble task. Your pastor, if he is faithful, undertakes each of these gloriously demanding, joyfully difficult tasks every day for God’s glory and for the sake of your soul. No man can do this alone; he will need your help! Here are three very simple ways to help him:
- Pray for him: he will need those prayers if he is to succeed in the daily demands of the ministry.
- Love him: there will be times when he, too, is weak and needs someone to carry the water of the Gospel to his dry lips.
- Honor him: he is God’s chosen man to serve as the undershepherd in your church.