The Bible uses many terms for those who are called to lead a church—elder, teacher, presbyter, etc.—but my favorite term is that of pastor. When people in my church ask what they should call me, I encourage them to call me Craig, but if they must use a title, I prefer pastor. The children in our church call me Pastor Craig (or Uncle Craig, but that’s a different story) because I want them to know that I’m more than a preacher.
I suspect that many pastors reading this post can empathize with my experience of being called into ministry. When God first called me I informed people that I had been called to preach. It was only later, as God worked on my heart and as he showed me my calling through his word, that I understood that God had equipped me to preach as a part of my calling to pastor. The term pastor, as you probably know, means shepherd. The pastor is called to shepherd the flock of God and doing so requires the heart and hands of a shepherd. But, what are the characteristics of a shepherd’s heart?
- The shepherd feeds the sheep. This is where the preaching comes in. The pastor is responsible to make sure that the sheep are led to green pastures to nourish them spiritually. He does this by giving them the Word of God to feed their souls and by ensuring that the church has adequate discipleship ministries to provide accountability and application of the Word.
- The shepherd cares for the sheep. This would include counselling, yes, but much more. Caring for the sheep means loving them as they are. Visiting the sick, encouraging the downcast, attending sporting events. The pastor is called to love his people and that means living life with his people. Nowhere in the Bible is the elder presented as a hired gun that exists above the church, he is a part of the church with a unique calling to shepherd and guide.
- The shepherd keeps the sheep. I’ve never watched sheep, but I can imagine some sleepless nights and difficult days keeping sheep in the places they need to be for their own good. Pastor, expect that keeping the sheep will cost you some sleep as you pray for your people and walk with them through difficult days.
- The shepherd protects the sheep. There are wolves that creep in to local congregations. Pastor, you have a unique responsibility to confront those wolves for the sake of your church. You must protect the sheep.
Someone recently noted that I have a rather aggressive nature and asked how that aggressiveness bore itself out in my pastoral ministry. I’ve thought a lot about that and the conclusion that I have drawn is that aggressiveness in the ministry can be a gift when managed properly. I’ve learned that vulnerable and hurting people in our church are comforted by a pastor who stands to fight for them. I’ve learned that those seeking to create division within our church respond to a pastor who is concerned for the health and unity of his church. And I’ve learned that those caught in traps of sin benefit from a pastor who is willing to lovingly, but firmly confront them in their sin.
I’m often told that I don’t look like a pastor. People outside of the church perceive of pastors as nice, passive men and that is not me. Pastor, remember, Jesus was not passive. Niceness is not a fruit of the spirit. We are to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We are to confront the wolves, and to bear the burdens of our brothers who are struggling. Having the heart of a pastor means having a discerning heart that understands when to make a whip and drive out the money changers, when to confront division within the church, and when to lovingly restore a wayward sister. The pastors heart should drive him to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Shepherd, embrace your role. Preach with passion. Confront with conviction. Restore with compassion. Spur one another on with gentleness. Care for God’s flock.