Five facts about pastors most church members are unclear on

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

In my experience, most pastors hesitate to teach the biblical understanding of the role of pastors because to do so might sound self-serving, as though they were trying to carve out a bigger role for themselves in leading the church.  This is a serious error for which we are now paying as many congregations are turning the minister into a hired hand, employing him as an errand boy, or treating him as an executive brought in to lead their “country club.”

Pastor, preach the whole Word of God.  Be bold in declaring its truth.  Then, having done this, go forth and set new standards for humbly serving the congregation.  Let them see you leading by serving and no one will ever mind calling you their pastorand following you.  However, lord it over them and dominate the decisions and no one who knows his Bible will want to follow you.

What follows is the truth on the role of pastors as taught in Scripture. It’s not “all” the truth, for this is but one simple article.  However, it cuts to the heart of the issues….

1) Pastors are called by God; they do not volunteer.

“….He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38).

“Rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things you have seen and the things which I will yet reveal to you” (Acts 26:16).

“The Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ ” (Acts 13:2).

Volunteers in the pastoral ministry do not last.  Those choosing this as a “nice career” or respectable vocation will either bail out for something more reasonable, more profitable, or more doable, or they will twist the pastoral ministry into something more suited to their taste.

The work is impossible.  The demands are incessant.  The expectations are unending.

Only those called by God stick.  Even some of them waver until they learn to do it right.

2) Pastors are overseers of the church, not hirelings.

“Be on guard for yourselves, and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers….” (Acts 20:28).

The Greek word is episkopos. Epi = upon or over; skopos = to see.  It’s the equivalent of Supervision.  Supra = over or upon, Vision = to see.

Pastors are plural.  I don’t see anything in Scripture that puts one man in charge of God’s church.  (Btw, in Acts 20 they are called both elders and pastors.  It’s the same group.)

The church that sees itself as a country club, its leadership as the board of directors, and the pastor as the hired executive answerable to the board, functions as unbiblically and detrimentally to the work of the Gospel as does the operation of the local Jehovah Witnesses kingdom hall.

Unbiblical is unbiblical. Heresy is heresy.

You do not want a hireling leading your church, friend. “The hireling flees…because he does not care about the sheep” (John 10:13).

A pastor friend once told his congregation:  “Any church can fire me; but none can hire me.” Please do yourself and the kingdom a favor the next time you hear some church member refer to “hiring” a pastor.  They are called, and never hired.

3) The pastor is accountable to God for the souls of his congregation.

“Obey your leaders, and submit to those who rule over you in the Lord, as those who will give account for your souls; let them do this with joy and not with grief, for that would not be profitable to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Hebrews 13:17 ranks among the scariest verses in the Bible.  It informs church members that they must submit to their leaders while warning the leaders they will stand before God and give account for their members.  That, as much as anything, is why pastors have to be called.

No one in his right mind would volunteer for such accountability.

Let the pastor take this to heart, and pray daily for his flock.  Let him seek God’s will for the sermons. And let him do all in his capacity to see that each one is saved and becoming a healthy disciple of the Lord Jesus.

4) The pastor leads by serving, not by lording.

Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). 

He said, “He who is greatest among you, let him be as the youngest, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke 22:26).

“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2-3).

Servant leadership is the plan.  In the same way Scripture teaches that a wife should submit to her husband, but he himself should serve her and “give himself for her” (Ephesians 5:22-29) rather than to dominate her, the Bible teaches that the pastors are overseers of the congregation and should be followed, but they themselves are to serve the people, not lord it over them.

Not nearly enough husbands or pastors get the distinction: They are to follow you, but you are to serve them.

You wouldn’t mind submitting to someone who was intent on serving you. But the husband or pastor who plays the “headship” card (“God put me in charge!”) is seriously out of line and is mistreating the very ones he should be serving.

I heard the notorious pastor of a well-known independent mega-church say once, “Some people tell me, ‘You act like a dictator.’ I tell them, ‘I’m not only a dictator, I’m the only tater!” To their shame, the preachers in the audience applauded this scandalous outrage.  The man, not surprisingly, ended his ministry in disgrace.

Paul said, “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).  The pastor is not sent to proclaim his philosophy, his opinions, or his politics. He was not sent to preach his pet theories. He is to preach Jesus.  He is sent to serve the Lord’s people, true, but “for Jesus’ sake.” That means the pastor does not take orders from God’s people as to how to serve them; He takes orders from the Lord as to how to serve God’s people.

A pastor told me that when he was new at his present church, he received a phone call from a woman in his congregation.  “Pastor, I have bought some file cabinets for our association. Would you go get them today and bring them to the associational office?”  He said, “No, I won’t be able to do that.”  The woman replied, “What do you mean ‘no’?” (That brings to mind the old adage, “What part of ‘no’ do you not understand?”)

The pastor said, “Ma’am, today is my off day.  My wife and I are out of town, visiting with friends.  My car is not big enough to carry those file cabinets. You bought them for the director of missions; let him come get them. And besides, the associational office is closed today.”

The woman replied, “Huh! I didn’t know we had hired us a socialite!”

I smiled at the amazing presumption of the woman, and said, “It was good to let her know from the first that you would not be her errand boy. Did she learn from this?”  He said, “No, she kept on making demands.  Finally, she moved her membership to another church.”

I said, “Let’s pray for her pastor.”

5) The pastor is there to please God, not the congregation.

“Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). 

On one occasion, a small delegation entered my office.

“Pastor, we thought you would like to know that some in the congregation are unhappy with you.”

I said, “Oh?”  Pause. And then, “So?”

“Well, I should think that would matter to you.”

I said, “It does. But not much.”

The spokesperson said, “Then we have a misunderstanding.  It’s our understanding that a pastor serves at the pleasure of God’s people. And if they are unhappy with him, he’s not doing his job.”

I said, “There is a misunderstanding, but it’s yours, not mine.  The pastor is sent, not to make you happy, but to make you holy and healthy.  He’s sent to make the Lord Jesus happy.”

I tell you, friend, there are not 10 members of the typical church who know this.  In our Southern Baptist denomination, a large portion of our people really do believe the pastor was sent to make them happy and to carry out their plans.

There is no antidote for this heresy other than strong teaching from God’s word that…

–Pastors are called by God.

–Pastors are called by God to be the overseers of His church.

–Pastors called as overseers will one day stand before the Lord and give account of their faithfulness.

–Pastors are to serve the Lord’s people, but not to take orders from them.

–Pastors are sent, not to make the people happy, but to make them holy and healthy and to make the Lord happy.

Never stop teaching these truths to your people, shepherd of God.  Do this, continue loving them and serving them, and in time, the truth will take root and you will be well on your way to having a healthy congregation.



26 thoughts on “Five facts about pastors most church members are unclear on

  1. Joe I have been praying for you. I know you only by your helpful articles.

    As to # 3) The pastor is accountable to God for the souls of his congregation.-
    In seminary I was a student pastor. I was not a youth minister but the pastor of a church while attending seminary. The seminary official and small student pastor group leader harshly criticized me for spending too much time on my church. I was always flabbergasted by that. Pastor accountability to the Lord I assumed was always primary as far as any self and spiritual reflection.

    • Thank you, Fletcher. If I may, I can see both sides of this. When I was in college, a roommate was in demand to lead singing for revivals, etc., because he was such a great tenor. The problem is he was neglecting his schoolwork. He graduated something like 4 years later than the rest of the class. — But at the same time, you were taking seriously your shepherding of the flock, and that’s absolutely outstanding. Thanks for praying for me and for the encouragement.

  2. Though I am not a pastor I greatly enjoyed this article and wish more pastors would read it, understand it, and then do as you said and preach and teach it. I have gone through to many church splits and pastors being run off because the congregation doesn’t know nor understand these basic principles. Keep up the good work. May the Lord bless you.

  3. Yes, a pastor is not lord, but some are not acting what the bible says… before, i am a pastor and i saw some that are tyrant…may God calls me back again with His power and grace…

  4. This article and the comments that followed are all to the point and have significant merit. We in the body of Christ sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time writing and speculating about what is wrong with our churches and our pastors. This seems to have become a livelihood to some, based on the sheer volume of their published works. We should pose the question; “What would be the result if we spent even half of this time on spreading the simple Gospel to the LOST?”. Based on my own personal experience it is so easy to get trapped into an agenda of “playing church” or some other form of busy work rather than focusing on spreading the Gospel. We are all unfinished works in our Master’s hands. I pray that He will mold us into a cohesive work force that is directed and committed to His kingdoms glory.

    Bill McDonald

  5. First people should study the word only used once in the King James Bible (Pastor) the same Greek word is elsewhere in the Bible translated overseer or Sheppard. What is the role of the Sheppard? The Bible is always its own best commentator. Qualifications for Bishops/Sheppard’s/ or Pastor are outlined in Timothy. 1st the man must desire the office, be of full age, not a novice. This automatically disqualifies all young men. The man must be the husband of one wife, not a brawler, covetousness, apt to teach-means an established teacher of the Word. Likewise his wife has to be in good standing and his children in subjection to the Lord which means his children are saved. How can a man oversee the Church-congregation if he can’t run his own household? The role of the Elder/Bishop/Pastor is to oversee the spiritual matters of the individual congregation. Elders/Bishops of one congregation have no say over another congregation, Bishops/Elders always used in the plural form. The Elder/Bishop is not the Evangelist as Paul and others mentioned. All Christians are responsible for evangelizing to the world not just the Preacher. The Preacher is under the supervision of the Leadership or Elders/Bishops. Most people believe the Evangelist is the Church leader which is far from what the Lord taught. The Church is organized by Christ as the head-which means all doctrine comes from Christ, Elders/Bishops rule over the members of the individual congregation, Deacons qualifications are also outlined in Timothy. Read the Bible and learn what the Church is and how the Lord commanded it to be set up. A recent poll was conducted in several congregations asking what is the Church. 97.3% didn’t know the Biblical answer. The Church is described as one Body, Jesus is the head, everyone else compose the one body, members in particular with differing roles, some preach, some teach, some rule, some have smaller task. The Church is described as one not many differing faiths-denominations, was Christ divided? Division is condemned from the one body of Christ, many even teach another gospel than the one preached by the Apostles, and are to be cursed! Jesus is the Church and individuals make up the one body. It is time people quite going to Church and started being the Church that Christ died and gave his precious blood for. Jesus didn’t die for some brick, wood and stain glass windows He died for you! Too many today will not accept the teaching of Christ and want to debate. I say why debate just do as the first century Christians did-obey Jesus. Study to show yourself approved to God a workman that needs not be ashamed! If you are in the role of an evangelist you should call yourself and evangelist not a Bishop or Elder. Amen

    • David,
      I have to differ with you on a few points above. Particularly the idea that a young man should not be called to pastor a church. The text certainly doesn’t give that prohibition (not to mention what has been considered young in one culture might differ in another). And what about Paul reminded Timothy to be an example so that the people of God would not be able to look down on him for the precise reason that he was young. I’m not a kid anymore, so I’m not grinding this ax because I’m a young man looking for a church to pastor. I’ve been at it for a long time and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to begin in ministry as a young man.

    • Although I disagree with you about younger ministers leading congregations as the “Pastor” I want to say that many denominations make the mistake of leaving a younger minister (one who is called by God) alone without supervision or mentoring. Many young men and women have served successfully, but there are others who made mistakes, even fatal mistakes (either for the local Church or for the minister’s career) because they did not have a Bishop/Overseer to guide them.
      Also, all ministers must be obedient to the authority and accountability structure of the Church. No one is ‘above the law’.
      Easiest way to avoid these pitfalls is to always place yourself in the lowest position. (See Luke 14:9-10. Even KJV says to “take the lowest room.”
      Thank you for this article.

    • David,

      I must caution you not to take the prohibition against young preachers too far. Certainly there is the example of Timothy as Ken points out but I would also point to one of the greatest preachers God has ever raised up, C.H. Surgeon who had preached 35 times by the age of 19 when he took over New Park Street in London. I think what we ought to be thinking about rather than age is the level of maturity someone possesses as well as spiritual wisdom.


  6. Great article. I have always supported my pastors as you listed above. I have had the honor of being called to be a Children’s Pastor. This is a lifetime calling, not a stepping stone ministry. My calling is to disciple the children, help parents disciple their own children, AND help the Senior Pastor fulfill the vision GOD gave to him as the shepherd of the church. I do find that people do view associate pastors as hirelings, or in my area of ministry, babysitters. But I know what mantle God has placed on my shoulders, what God will hold me accountable for, and the cost if I fail these young souls. Thanks for the article. Was greatly thought provoking. Be blessed.

  7. Things that are different are not the same. The word “pastor”,(used one time in the KJV) and “pastors”(used 8 times) literally means “feeder”. The word “elder” literally means “older”, and “bishop”, from the Greek word, epískopos, literally means “overseer”. The “elders that ruled well”, as in 1 Timothy 5, were plural in number so it is correct that one man is not the “ruler” and it is correct, Biblical, and commanded that we all are to honor, serve, and submit to one another.

  8. Joe, can you clarify what you mean when you say, “Pastors are plural. I don’t see anything in Scripture that puts one man in charge of God’s church.” I am a pastor of a small church – but I am the only pastor. We have three deacons and myself. So this part leaves me a little confused. By the way – your writings have continue to encourage me through some difficult times.

  9. as a church member in Phoenix I must say AMAN, when I first came to Know the Lord I went right to( his word the Bible) to see if what was coming out of the man preaching was in fact from the Word of God, as I still do to this day ( let God be true.)

  10. I’ve heard it said, “A good pastor can make a great church, and a good church can make a great pastor.” Certainly as pastors we make mistakes and need forgiveness and encouragement in our ministry. But we are accountable to God first, our family second, and our church third. We must train our church to function fully as the body of Christ, leading and guiding them while realizing we too must grow and learn as a servant of God giving oversight to the congregation. We should refuse to allow church boards to emasculate the pastor of his God-given responsibilities. But for heaven’s sake, if you are a leader, then please lead and stop following the church member’s every whim. Leaders (shepherds) must lead, sheep are not very good at it.

  11. Good thoughts! One thing to clear up, because of the civil law, the pastor is considered the Chief Executive Officer of the church and you have to have a board, council or whatever name is used to conduct the business side of the church.
    That being said……Why don’t you now post the laity responsibility?

  12. That was a good read Brother McKeever. But I would like to ask you a question if I may. I didn’t see anything in your passage about the commitment of the “Pastor.” Do you feel if a man is called to Pastor, that should be his full time job? Or should he be worrying about everything else? I know from experience, to walk with God and know the mind of God, takes a WHOLE LOT more of your time than a side show after working a 40+ hour week. Thank you for your input.

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  14. Good word Brother Joe. I have always enjoyed your articles (& pictures). I am a bi-vocational pastor of a very small church. I gave up my secular job to put more time in the church. Though the church wanted to give me a raise I declined it because the church can’t afford it and since God called me there, I’m not going anywhere. What a sweet sweet fellowship! We had a two hour business meeting and two people joined our church during the meeting. I’ve never in my Baptist life witnessed that. Just wanted Jeff to know bi-vocational pastors give all we can give!

  15. Its funny how so many people can disqualify pastors. Of course they don’t obey scriptures themselves no they just like to pick then apart. Instead why don’t members pray and then maybe over and maybe serve and then try giving. Pastors are talked about lied on taken Advantage of and still serve many not even getting compensation. I hate to break it to you but you can’t disqualify who Good has called. And as far as judging them try being a perfect member then thou can cast your stones.

  16. Good article. Unfortunately, it’s not only congregations that don’t understand the pastors role in the local church – pastors don’t as well. I’ve seen first hand examples where the pastor uses the “I’m sent here by God” reasoning to get what they want, when they want, how they want. When the congregation isn’t on board, they are accused of disrespecting God.

  17. Pastor, Thank you for sharing this. Number 1. I respect my pastor and assume that he is here as God’s messenger to us. I appreciate his humility in not proclaiming dictatorship, yet he is not to be the doormat of all. Number 2. I look to my pastor for spiritual leadership. There may be times I come to him with questions or for affirmation. I ask not to trip him up in questions, but because I am seeking myself. I may ask him for advice because he may have dealt with my problem before. Number 3. If I offer any advice or suggestions, it is not because I presume to be the smartest person in the room, but being over 45 I may have seen something happen previously and want to warn him about it. Although I may be older than he is, I still respect him as the older spiritually because of his calling. Number 4. I know that he and his family need time as a family and cannot give us every moment of their time, or of his time, or they will suffer as a family themselves. Number 5. I ask that each one be of equal importance to him. (While I say this, I know that there are those who have more pressing needs than others.) I also know that he may be aware of situations which he cannot share with everyone and therefore, may be misunderstood because he cannot tell all and defend himself. I pray for him and his daily.

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