Here’s no.2 in my series of five blogs on the five-fold ministry of Ephesians 4:11. This time on pastors.
Some churches call their leader, their ‘pastor’. So when I go to visit my friend Iain and the church leader gets up to speak, he is introduced as ‘Pastor Jerry.’ So what is a pastor? And why are pastors important? These are some of the questions we’ll briefly look at as we continue to look at the five groups of people (Eph 4:11-12) who are particularly important in helping a church function well.
What is a pastor?
As I look back on my life so far, I can think of people who have cared for me, loved me, supported me and guided me. These people are pastors. Pastoral people. I wonder, who have been the pastors in your life?
The Greek word used for ‘pastor’ in Ephesians 4 is poimen, which simply means ‘shepherd’. It conjures up images of shepherds in fields, caring and tending for sheep. Leading them. Guiding them. Watching over them. That’s what some of you are. And what some of you are called to be.
In the Old Testament it was a common image used of leaders of the people. So in 2 Samuel 5:2 the Lord uses the word of King Saul. And in Psalm 78:71 King David is similarly called by God to ‘shepherd my people Israel’. In Ezekiel 34, the Lord is critical of the leaders – ‘the shepherds’ – because they have taken care of themselves and neglected God’s people. The Lord himself is described as the shepherd, with David famously describing him in Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd‘. And one day it was believed that the great shepherd (pastor) would come to his people – and Christians know him to be Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus (in John 10:2) says ‘I am the good shepherd’ and in Hebrews 13:20 Jesus is ‘the great shepherd’ – the great pastor.
What should shepherds do?
Shepherds mainly lead and feed.
They lead the flock – the people of the church. They move them on, into safe pastures. Into good fields. So whilst all 5 ministries listed here are ‘up front’ roles, the pastor especially has a leadership function.
And shepherds/pastors also feed the sheep. They do this especially through teaching God’s word (which we’ll look at more closely next time when we consider ‘teachers’ because there is a close link between pastors and teachers, so much so that some see them as one ministry, not two).
So pastors lead and feed. But they can’t make the sheep breed. They can encourage them to reproduce, but can’t make them. (Farmers will tell you that breeding normally happens naturally without the need for a lot of assistance – but occasionally help is needed. That should be the case too in the church. New baby Christians should normally be being birthed regularly, but if not the flock might need the help of the evangelists to lead by example here, and show them how to reproduce!)
What motivates the shepherd?
The motivation of the pastor is a heart of compassion and care for the sheep. Pastors deeply love their people. They want them to thrive, prosper, be happy, and be one happy family of sheep. Pastors love their people.
What other qualities do pastors need?
In their role as overseers pastors need to be godly, which is why St Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:2-3 that he should be:
‘above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given over to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.’
They should also fulfil the role because they want to, which is why St Peter says in 1 Peter 5:2-3:
‘be shepherds of God’s flock under your care, 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; not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.’
And pastors should be looking after their family well (1 Timothy 3:4) – both their human family and the family of the church.
Where do pastors fit in to the church shape triangle? And what about the other ministries of Ephesians 4?
(At The Belfrey there are 3 foundations which we particularly emphasise in order to stay healthy and strong. These are WORSHIP, DISCIPLESHIP and OUTREACH. These make up the ‘church shape triangle’)
Pastors tend to function mainly in the realm of DISCIPLESHIP. Evangelists normally in OUTREACH, and prophets in WORSHIP (as prophecy is often released in the context of worship and prayer). What about teachers? Again they tend to focus on DISCIPLESHIP. And apostles? Whilst I can see why many would place them mainly the realm of OUTREACH, I think they probably have function in all 3 areas – but more on that when we look at apostles!
If we are wise we will recognise that through church history pastors have, at times, clashed with prophets, evangelists and apostles. Let me use an example to explain why.
As Europeans spread across United States two hundred years ago, pioneers spearheaded the drive, and they came in and took the land. Behind them came the settlers, who raised their families and established strong communities in these places which previously had no settlement. But it didn’t take long for the pioneers to get bored. They wanted a new challenge. But the settlers wanted to stay.
Settlers are like pastors: wanting life to be stable, nice, harmonious and settled. Pioneers, though, are like evangelists. They are never satisfied. They are always wanting new territory. Looking for a new opportunity. A new adventure.
So we see this when a Belfrey Group begins to get too big and it needs to multiply. You can soon tell who the pastors are, as they are concerned for unity and that everything is ok. They may be reluctant to multiply, as it will break up the happy family of the group and might cause pain. But the evangelists will be less concerned for this. They will be concerned for the growth of the group, for expansion and the new opportunity. The thing is: both are needed – the evangelists and the pastors.
Pastors leading Large Churches?
On their own pastors often don’t grow large churches. They can do. But often they don’t, because they often don’t seize the pioneering opportunity because they are concerned for the care of the existing body. This is why pastors need the other ministries around them to complement them. That’s why we need a range of ministries.
Often we project our gifts onto people or situations. For example, people sometimes tell me, ‘What this church needs is consolidation. More unity’. They may be right, but I am aware that that is probably a pastor speaking. But we also need to hear the voices telling us to move out and plant new churches, seizing new opportunities too. That’s probably the evangelist and apostle speaking.
Are pastors weak leaders?
Finally, in these days when pioneering ministries are desperately needed (and rightfully celebrated) in churches, pastors can be undervalued and even misrepresented. So we sometimes are given the impression that pastoring is for weak and wet leaders and that the strong leaders are the evangelists or apostles. But that is to parody the pastors/shepherds, because shepherding is hard, and for the tough. It involves sleepless nights and long hours. And true pastors will always have a long-term perspective in mind when caring for the church. So pastors are prepared for short-term pain for long-term gain. That might involve making a well considered tough decision, or giving a hard word – a painful word – in love. Speaking the truth in love. For the love of the flock. Because the shepherd loves the sheep.
So don’t underestimate our need for pastors. And do join me in praying for more good pastors (Eph 5:12) so that we all may be better equipped for a life of service.