Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28
I have a big heart for pastors. And it’s not just because I am one. I believe that pastors are often some of the most unappreciated and undervalued persons in our society. Contrary to popular conjecture, most pastors don’t live in lavish homes, drive multiple foreign made sports cars, and rake in millions a year in book sales. The majority of pastors are bi-vocational, overworked, under-compensated, and many live simple lives as members of the moderately middle class or are even living in poverty. And yet we are rich beyond measure for we are called to be stewards of the mysteries of God and to care for souls. Nothing is as precious and sacred as the work committed to pastors. We experience and engage in the lives of people from their births to their deaths, encouraging them to live lives of godly purpose and eternal weight. Proclaiming the Gospel, evangelizing the lost; presiding over the Lord’s Table, visiting those in prison, advocating for righteous legislation, praying for a wayward child, burying a stillborn baby: these are just a few things that pastors are called to do every day. As such, we posses a certain kind of leadership that I want to briefly address.
The pastor, the chief servant of the church, is called to feed and lead the flock of God. There is nothing really more rewarding than this. Pastors feed the flock with knowledge and understanding through prayer and preaching primarily, and also through care and counseling. We love the sheep and feed them with what they need to eat, and not always want they want to eat. This all requires a great sensitivity to God’s Spirit and an empathy for the human condition. It also requires a thick skin, as we are not always sent with pleasant words. What is most amazing about this exchange is that as the undershepherd, we too are sheep in need of the Good Shepherd. Thus pastors submit to the will and way of Jesus and leads the flock as we are led by the Lord.
Secondly, the pastor also leads the church, “watching over them–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” (1 Pet 5:2) The pastor does not lead coercively, but persuasively, leading from love and not from sinful desire. When a pastor leads in this way, he is worthy of honor and trust. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” Only those persons who are truly servants of the Word deserve double honor.
One very explicit way that pastors are called to lead is found in Ephesians 4:7-16. We are both gifted by God and a gift from God to the flock for their edification and maturation. Guided by this, the pastor empowers others to lead according to who God graced each member to be and become. Everything that the pastor does is committed ultimately to the growth and care of those souls entrusted to his or her stewardship. Because of this, everything from administrative to liturgical concerns are thought through with God’s will and the church’s best and eternal interests in mind. The pastor loves the sheep, is accountable to God for how the sheep are treated, and is willing to fend off wolves in sheep’s clothing, whether they are called member or foe. This is our sacred trust.