“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.