Filling the office of the pastor takes a genuine calling from God. The prophets, judges, and teachings foreshadow it in the Old Testament, and the New Testament defines it. Church history has validated it, and culture has tested it. Now, the office of pastor is losing its influence through misunderstandings, a lack of clear purpose, and because of those who have left it with a stained witness because of moral failure. The fact remains, Scripture provides a definitive and robust understanding of the nature, purpose, and practice of the pastor.
Scripture shows there frequently were multiple pastors serving in a local community and assembly of believers. The Apostle Paul “ordained them elders in every church” (Acts 14:23 KJV). It may be that a church has need of multiple pastors for different ministries in a congregation, but the scripture lays out qualifications for those who would hold the office of pastor. Various individuals having those criteria met find they are growing and being tested in those requirements at different times. Nonetheless, they are signposts for what they need as a pastor and waypoints for growth.
Identifying these scriptural qualifiers of the pastor is essential. Only then the pastor can chart their course for growth in the ministry. This makes the building of a pastor a more important pursuit than just taking a person and putting “a stole around the neck” (Willimon, 2009, p.11).
Character, credibility, and competence are all issues that a pastor has to deal with. The integrity and example that comes under the microscope of inspection by the believing and unbelieving communities elevate the importance of a pastor’s nature. Scripture places the overall qualifier to a pastor as “blameless” (1 Tim. 3:1-7, cf vs. 2). Some versions translate this as “above reproach,” and the or to be “well-thought-of.” The scripture further qualifies this lifestyle of the pastor as faithful to their spouse (vs. 2), sober (vs. 2), gentle (vs. 3), have a good home life (vs. 4), experienced (vs. 6), along with several other traits.
The daily grind of managing ministry, family, personal pursuits, and all the expectations that they entail will take their toll on the pastor. Shortcuts and temptations will always come around and present themselves as viable options. Willimon (2009) wrote regarding collapse under the intense expectancy: “The pastoral ministry requires a wide range of sophisticated skills—public speaking, intellectual ability, relational gifts, self-knowledge, theological understanding, verbal dexterity, management acumen, sweeping floors, moving folding metal chairs, serving as a moral exemplary, and all the rest. No wonder failure is always crouching at the door” (p. 23).
The nature of the pastor though is to remain steadfast and focused even when their world has become broken and is falling apart. The integrity of the pastor is a source of strength in keeping their family together and the church together. If they have penetrated the community with the love of God, their integrity may even help the community hold together in times of tragedy and destruction.
The pastor is a model to show the congregation and world how they should be living as believers. This type of lifestyle places an immense amount of weight on the pastor’s shoulders. Yet, God and not the church has given the expectations, because people can become brutal in their expectations. Shelley (1988) shared “They expect our family to be an example. This is legitimate and not a problem except when this means there are two sets of standards: one for the pastor’s family and one for everyone else” (p. 50). In the epistle, 1 Peter 5:2, commands the pastor to be an example before the congregation.
The pastor can be further explored for their use. Adding to it the formal instruction of proclamation and intentional discipleship, the pastor informally fulfills their mission by example. To the pastor, the writer, James, may have told them to not only be more than “hearers” of the word but also to become more than “proclaimers” (James 1:22). The proclamation of the gospel and lifestyle of the person are essential to the purpose of the pastor.
The word that Paul used to describe the office of pastor translates literally as an “overseer” (Easton, 1893). Oversight over the souls of men demonstrates a person has a higher vantage point than those around them and that they have the purpose of organizing and protection. This title indicates a high purpose for the pastor as God’s primary instrument of ministry in the church. “The difference between a pastor who visits preaches, and baptizes, and any other skilled layperson who performs these same functions is in the pastor’s “officialness” (Willimon, 2009, pp. 18-19). The purpose of the pastor is first seen as the official leader of the church, but it is more accepted and spoken of with greater respect as the example, namely in the form of the shepherd.
Ezekiel portrays the leaders of Israel as bad shepherds because they did not feed the sheep, tend to their wounds, search for the lost, or lead. This reminds the pastor that though they may have their shepherds head and heart standing higher than the sheep that surround them, their feet are all on the same ground level. The pastor has to smell like the sheep. The pastor has a purpose in being with the sheep and that all comes down to leading by example. The goal of the shepherd is to lead the flock from one point to another point in life to another.
The ministry of the Word of God is the subject of exhortation from Paul to Timothy and Titus. Teaching and preaching are both divisions of our proclamation. Preaching has great potential and if it is done correctly can have eternal effects.
Pastoral work is not merely making social calls; pastoral work is also preaching. The minister does not cease to be a pastor when he goes into the pulpit; he then takes up one of the minister’s most demanding and severe tasks. Some of the finest and most useful of all a minister’s pastoral work are done in the sermon. In a sermon, they can warn, protect, guide, heal, rescue, and nourish as “a shepherd who is skilled in his work never fails to feed his flock.” (Jefferson, 2009)
Pastoral care is “practical concern for the spiritual lives of individuals” (Galli, 1990, p. 11). The body of Christ needs to be nurtured by the Word of God, but there also comes time for healing the body, strengthening the body, helping the body the through difficult times. The pastor teaches the body how to care for itself by example, but the pastor has to continually find themselves among those in the body. This can take place in many practical ways from visitation to small groups, pastoral counseling and more. Pastoral care seeks to help people in tangible and intangible ways.
The office of the pastor can be a tricky one to define if consideration is given only to the current culture and people’s expectations. There must be balance and check by the Holy Scriptures for the role of pastor. The Word of God plainly defines the office by its nature and purpose and prescribes the work of it.
Easton, M. G. (1893). Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Galli, M. (1990). Introduction. In Mastering Pastoral Care. Mastering Ministry (11). Portland, OR; Carol Stream, IL: Multnomah Press.
Hatfield, Mark Vol. 12: Leaders: Learning leadership from some of Christianity’s best. 1987 (H. L. Myra, Ed.). The Leadership Library (50). Carol Stream, IL; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Books.
Jefferson, E. (2009) The Minister as Shepherd. Bibliolife & Thomas Y. Crowell Company.
Shelley, M. (1988). Vol. 16: The healthy hectic home: Raising a family in the midst of ministry. The Leadership Library (50). Carol Stream, IL; Dallas, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub.
Willimon, W. H. (2009-02-01). Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.