THE PLACE OF THE PASTOR
There are "personal" as well as "ministry" callings which God places upon His children. In the realm of service there is no higher ministry calling than that of a pastor. Unhappily, there is little respect or understanding today concerning this Biblical calling and ministry. This is due to the misuse and abuse seen in many who claim the title of pastor.
I would like to give a brief introduction to this essential ministry in the Church.
A PASTOR IS A SHEPHERD
The English word "pastor" is derived from the Latin word which means "shepherd." In the New Testament, the Greek word which is translated as "pastor" is also translated as "shepherd." Knowing this helps us understand the work of a pastor. When the Bible speaks of a shepherd, the term can either be in reference to a literal shepherd of sheep or used in reference to a person's relationship with other people.
GOD IS SHEPHERD
God refers to Himself as a Shepherd in His relationship with His people. Psalm 80:1 tells us that God is the Shepherd of Israel. One of the most popular portions of the Bible tells us that "The Lord is my Shepherd." (Ps.23).
JESUS IS A SHEPHERD
In the New Testament, Jesus is called, as well as alluded to as a Shepherd.
Peter in one of his letters to the Christian community called Jesus the Shepherd and Bishop (Overseer) of our souls, (1Pe.2:25).
Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd Who gives life for His sheep, (Jn.10:11).
The writer of the book of Hebrews tell us, Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep has been raised from the dead,(He.13:20).
Again Peter tells us that Jesus the Chief Shepherd will return from heaven and reward us, (1Pe.5:4).
Though there are other images used to express the nature and work of Christ, there is none more important than that of Shepherd showing the loving relationship which exists between God and His children.
PASTOR IS ESSENTIAL TO THE CHURCH
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;"
In this passage we are told that the double gift of Pastor/Teacher is one of the four main gifts for the establishing and perfecting of the church. This gift is given to those who are called to shepherd the flock of God. Paul was the apostle (the sent one) to the Gentiles who planted the churches, but then he appointed "elders" in all of the churches. These elders were the shepherds of the churches. God calls and gifts men to be shepherds.
PASTOR, THE OFFICE AND THE WORK
Shepherds lead, feed, protect and care for the sheep, likewise pastors render the same services to the local congregations in which they minister. As God told Timothy,
"This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work"
(1Ti 3:1 ).
In the New Testament, the office of "bishop" or overseer, elder, presbyter are often different terms used in reference to the office and ministry of pastor. The office of pastor is a position of work and service.
Before He had returned to heaven, Jesus charged Peter to perform shepherding duties.
"So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep."
As a shepherd lovingly leads his sheep and not by constraint, so a pastor leads his church with compassion, understanding and wisdom. Though God has given the pastor authority over the church which he leads, he does not rule over it as a tyrant. And take note...the sheep belong first, to Jesus, not to the undershepherds. Paul restates this truth,
"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."
PASTOR IS SERVANT AND LEADER
In the Old Testament, the kings of Israel and Judah were actually serving God by leading God's people. Kings were therefore to be benevolent rulers. They were not to use their authority to oppress, but rather to serve. In this role of provider and protector, the kings were sometimes called shepherds. The most well known example of this dual position is seen in David, the shepherd/king of Israel.
PASTORING IS A SPIRITUAL WORK
This is a totally spiritual work and can only be fulfilled in the power of the Spirit. In order to fully carry out the ministry of shepherding, we must be called, set apart and gifted by the Holy Spirit of God. Once we are called
and gifted, as shepherds, we must follow the Holy Spirit. We are not called to do God's work in our way, or in our strength or in our wisdom; we must be filled, and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
There are far too many who have chosen the ministry of pastoring as a job, vocation, career. There are far too many who have chosen the pastorate as an outlet for their desire to do good works. There are far too many who have found the pastorate as an easy income for their lazy lifestyle. There are far too many who have entered the pastorate without investing in the time, energy, skills and intellect to become the man of God they were destined to become. There are far too many who are either not called or not equipped or not gifted or not committed. There are far too many who fail to progress through study, sacrifice, and service. They rest in their accomplishments. They count on their attainments. Pastoring is a NOW responsibility.
Since there is no higher ministry calling than that of pastor, we would expect those who are called to this ministry to be exceptional men. While the calling of God also brings the enableing of God, it is also true that it lifts a man to the level of greatness which goes with the calling. However, the greatness of the pastorate is not inherent to the man in the pastorate.
PASTORS ARE EARTHEN VESSLES
Paul tells the church at Corinth that God has not chosen great men to do His great work.
"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen,"
While God does call some who are naturally gifted with intellect, insight, strength, courage, talent, charisma and other admirable traits, there are many who find themselves bringing little to the ministry when they are called. It is true that God wants us to bring what we have and dedicate it to Him, but the success is to be found in God, not in ourselves.
Regardless of the unremarkableness of a man called to the ministry, God equips him to become more than a conquerer. However, the man must not neglect his calling and gifts. He must use what he has been given and he must develope what he has. A man who is not pressing on to perfection in heart and in service is not walking in the Spirit.
Notice too, the reason for God's choosing such unremarkable men,
"That no flesh should glory in his presence."
PASTORS ARE EARTHEN VESSLES WITH A HEAVENLY TREASURE
Paul again speaks to the issue of the minister being a fit vessle for transmitting this great message,
"Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
After stating the importance of the minister being a fit vessle, Paul points out that the treasure is in the message, not the messanger,
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
We would have more men in the pastorate if we had more men of God. Too often men seek the things of this world. Too often they work as hirelings rather than as shepherds. Too often men treat the pastorate as any other vocation, to be performed in the power of the flesh. Too often men refuse to sharpen their skills and therefore fail to become the "man after God's own heart." Not only are we lacking the physical presence of men in the pulpits and leadership of the church today, far too many in the leadership of the church are lacking the calling, gifts, vision and commitment which are essential for doing the work of God.
PASTORS ARE CALLED TO A GOOD WORK
It is a good work. Pastoring a church is not a hobby or a job, or a part time work. It is a calling and a life commitment.
"This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work"
(1Ti 3:1 ).
Our parishoners, whether saved or unsaved, whether dedicated or un-dedicated, whether conscientious or careless, are full-time parishoners. Our our parish is a full-time parish. Therefore they need a full-time pastor.
While there are times when a pastor may need to do "tent making" in order to put bread on the table, we are called to be a shepherd of the sheep and this is not a part time calling. If we are going to pastor part time we should not expect a full-time church, or full-time Christians. We should not expect more from our parishoners than we are willing to give them.
Regardless of what our parishoners put into their relationship with God, we must always give of our best to the Master. We should not expect them to catch of vision of their responsibility if we are not giving our all to them.
However, our call to serve full-time is not based on their response to us or to God. Our call is based on His calling us and the church's need for a full-time pastor.
It doesn't matter how small our flock may be, it demands and deserves our all. We needn't expect it to grow if it is not being protected and provided by constant, consistant and continuous pastoral care. If we cannot give it full-time shepherding, then we need to get out of the way and let someone else do the work, or send them to a church where there is a pastor.
Pastoring brings with it both, responsibilies and opportunities. We need not expect to reap the opportunities if we do not fulfill the responsibilities. And we need to understand that the opportunities are spiritual, not material.
We are to give our lives for the sheep. This cannot be done if we are giving our lives for the Wal-Mart or the lawn business or the law firm. Jesus is full-time. The apostles were full-time. Our parishoners are full-time. Our youth are full-time. The devil is working full-time. Sin is full-time. We are called to be full-time pastors.
God has established His church, both universally and locally to be the habitation of His people. Not a brick and mortar building, but the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Building of Christ. The church needs a man who is following his calling and vision to be God's man in God's place and time. People need and expect a full-time pastor.
I am not interested in receiving health care from a doctor who earns a living by working on cars. I am not interested in my children being educated by a person who earns a living as a dog catcher. When I face legal problems, I am not interested in getting legal counsel from a garbage collector. Why would I want to be pastored by a man who spends most of his time, energy, talent and focus on selling cars or some other "outside" job? Parishoners need a man who is commited to them all of the time and does not fit them in-between their real job and their spare time job as pastor.
Pastoring is the highest of all ministry callings and it requires our total commitment. If we choose not to serve full-time, then we should not call ourselves pastors. If our service to a church is based on its financial support, we should call ourselves "hirelings" instead of pastors. We have euphemisms which make us more comfortable with our lack of service. We are "bi-vocational" or "part time." More times than not, we are just "not faithful" to our calling.
It requires sacrifice and self denial and there are few who will pay the price. Will you be the one who hears and obeys?