What is your perception of the role and work of a pastor?
Considerable instruction and guidance are found in the Bible but pop culture also has a lot to say about it and a bit too much influence.
The Bible is the primary and obvious guide pastors and leaders ought to seek first. I think most do but expectations based on current trends and opinions compete with it in a strong way. Considerable instruction and guidance are found in the Bible but pop culture also has a lot to say about it and a bit too much influence.
When expectations of pastors are driven by business leadership guidelines and principles, and a result-oriented culture, the role and work of pastors are easily skewed.
The Bible and our prime example
Let's start with what we see in the Bible. The primary scripture references I lean on are found in the gospel of John chapter 10 and in the prophet Ezekiel chapter 34. Next to them would be the pastoral epistles— 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (for conflict resolution).
Guidance, instruction, and warnings are in all these references for what God expects of those who are called to be pastoral leaders. Pastoral leaders would include those assisting a pastor, senior or lead pastors, church planters, elders and heads of ministry—anyone in a place of overseeing or discipling God's people, the church.
The Lord has high expectations for those who oversee His people and serve as His shepherds. Yet, it's easy to feel the squeeze of the expectations of those we lead and even other pastors. But I’ll address that later.
Jesus—the Good Shepherd—is our prime example as a shepherd
Our prime example
Jesus is, of course, our prime example as a shepherd. In John 10, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd twice (John 10:11, 14) and speaks of two distinctions—
The Good Shepherd lays His life down for the sheep— Jesus' example is for us to be a servant-leader more concerned for the welfare of our people than ourselves. This is also seen in Jesus' example of washing the disciples' feet (John 13:1-17) and when He says that He didn't come to be served but to serve and offer Himself as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and is known by them— Jesus knows those who are His sheep—His true followers—and they know Him. He has a genuine relationship with them. In later verses, Jesus says His sheep hear and know His voice and follow Him (John 10:27). As pastors and leaders, we are to know God's people but more importantly, they ought to hear the Good Shepherd's voice through us.
How do we follow the Good Shepherd's example?
One of the difficult things to emulate of Jesus as a shepherd is His closeness of relationship with His people. It is not an overbearing closeness that leads to abusive control nor is it a familiar friendship that includes some but not all of God's people.
This is a lot like being foster parents who have a great responsibility but little real authority. My wife and I were foster parents for a season before we moved overseas for ministry. We had four of our own children and the typical responsibilities that go with planting and pastoring a church.
It was a great experience for our family and gave us the opportunity to share God's goodness and grace with many children and teens. It was also a vivid illustration for me of my role as pastor. We were temporary and surrogate parents for these children under the authority of the state of California just as I was under the authority of the Good Shepherd.
How do we follow Jesus' example as the Good Shepherd? It requires lots of continued prayer, humility, and a willingness to be corrected and guided by Him along the way.
How do we follow Jesus' example as the Good Shepherd?
The wrong example
At the beginning of John 10, Jesus tells a parable about shepherds and sheep but it's not understood by those who heard it(John 10:1-6). I’m not so sure we understand it any better in our present time and culture.
He speaks of a door or gate to the sheepfold and those who try to get in their own way. The shepherd who enters by the door knows His sheep and they know His voice. When He calls them by name they follow Him but won't follow a strange shepherd.
Following this parable, Jesus explains that He is the Door in one of the several "I am" statements He makes about Himself. Then He calls Himself the Good Shepherd who is contrasted with a "hireling"—a hired shepherd who doesn't have a relationship with the sheep nor a commitment to them.
When the hireling sees a wolf come he abandons the sheep and the sheep are either caught or scattered by the wolf. It's not too hard to understand this illustration. The wolf stands for the enemy of our souls and the hired shepherd is... well, sometimes he's you and me.
A portrait of the hireling or poor example as a shepherd is found in Ezekiel 34. It’s not pretty. The Lord goes on to say He will rescue His sheep and establish one shepherd over them—
I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them— My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. (Ezekiel 34:23 NKJV)
This looks forward to Jesus—the Son of David, the Messiah—coming as the Good Shepherd. Any true shepherd is to be like Him and submitted to Him.
Any true shepherd is to be like the Good Shepherd and submitted to Him
Let's be honest with ourselves
Any honest pastor will admit to thoughts of quitting the pastorate or moving on from one ministry to another. Some carry out those thoughts.
But most pastors I've known and worked alongside aren't hirelings. They love the Lord and God's people and they know they're called to the pastorate. It's not a job, it's their life calling.
But there's another way we emulate the hireling more than the Good Shepherd. We might not be a hireling but we sound and act more like a sheepdog than a shepherd. The role and work of a sheepdog are different than a shepherd, even their nature is different. I want to address that in another post.
Until then, here are a couple questions to consider—
How are you following the example of the Good Shepherd? Be honest with yourself and ask the Holy Spirit’s witness to guide you.
Do you mirror more of what Jesus says in John 10 or do you find yourself drifting into the attitude and actions of the shepherds of Ezekiel 34?