The purpose of this brief paper is to explain my understanding of pastoral ministry. Although most, if not all, evangelical pastors look to Scripture to define and inform their role, their interpretations of Scripture often lead them to arrive at varying conclusions about what it entails. That being said, the following will highlight my interpretation of what the Bible teaches about pastoral ministry and some of the implications derived from it.
The Bible uses several different titles, such as under-shepherd, overseer, elder, and leader to describe the men who hold the pastoral office (1 Peter 5:2-3; Acts 20:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:7). Insofar as these men lead according to the Word of God, their people are commanded to obey and follow them in a spirit of joyful submission (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17). The responsibilities and authority bestowed upon all pastors by virtue of their office reveal the weight God desires for these men to feel. Pastors will be judged with a greater strictness as teachers and leaders (James 3:1). They will also give an account before God for those whom He has entrusted to their care (Hebrews 13:17). Therefore, not many men should become pastors (James 3:1).
So, who should become a pastor? First, according to Scripture, a man must meet the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. While these lists are primarily composed of descriptions that ought to be true of every Christian, there are three distinctions that emerge: he must be male, not a recent convert, and able to teach. None of these are required of all Christians, but all of these are required of all pastors. But, meeting these qualifications is not enough; he must also possess an internal call and an external call. The internal call manifests itself as a desire to take up the pastoral office and a conviction to lead the people of God (1 Timothy 3:1). This must be coupled with an affirmation from his local church and its leaders that this man meets the scriptural qualifications and has the appropriate gifting for the duties he believes God has called him to perform (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).
If he meets all of these criteria, the man of God should unite with a local church body that is willing to call him to be their pastor while recognizing the authority of the office. In order for him to properly engage in the tasks God has entrusted to him, he must know for whom he is accountable. The pastor is accountable for those who are members of his flock (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2). This includes all those who have joined the church and have thereby covenanted with one another through membership (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:15-16). Furthermore, a pastor has a responsibility to guide his church to come alongside other local, like-minded churches for the purpose of working together in close cooperation to the glory of God through the spread of His kingdom (2 Corinthians 8:24; 1 Thessalonians 2:14). Finally, he must also concern himself with his reputation within the community and with unbelievers for the sake of evangelism and not bringing reproach upon the name of Christ (1 Timothy 3:7; 2 Tim 4:5).
God designed that those who take up the office of pastor should be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). While there are countless duties that are necessary for the health of the church and are God-glorifying in and of themselves, pastors must not forsake these two specific duties for the sake of any other good task (Acts 6:2-3; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Both reveal that the very nature of pastoral ministry is one of humble dependence upon God. Prayer to God demonstrates the pastor’s faith in God. The ministry of the Word demands that a pastor must rely on God’s Word and not his word. The purpose of both together is meant to designate that in order for a pastor’s work to be considered faithful, God alone must receive the glory and the praise. So then, how does a pastor perform these two duties once possessing this mindset?
A pastor should lead his flock in prayer corporately in order that they might maintain the unity of the Spirit. As he does this, he will teach his people how they ought to pray themselves. He should also pray with individuals and groups of individuals in order that they might praise God together, as well as offer up specific requests and concerns. Along with these, a pastor should pray privately on behalf of his people, other churches, and the nations. In order to do this, he must know his people intimately in order to pray more pertinently for them. Lastly, a pastor should ask God to fill him with the Holy Spirit in order that he might faithfully carry out the ministry that has been entrusted to him as an overseer, teacher, preacher, and leader.
The ministry of the Word involves public proclamation, private instruction, and personal example. In all of these, a pastor must seek to unfold the whole counsel of God. Public proclamation involves preaching and teaching the Word of God to the people of God. Through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, a pastor heralds the very Word of Christ to His people. Through careful exegesis and study of the text coupled with an in-depth knowledge of his people’s strengths, struggles, and lives, a pastor labors to bring every text to bear on those who hear him in order that they might know and see Christ more clearly. As the Spirit moves, each one will receive what he or she needs in the form of encouragement, admonishment, or rebuke. It is his desire that all of them would be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
In addition to this, a pastor should seek to give private instruction to individuals and small groups according to their needs in order that they might be sanctified and built up in love. This will happen primarily through biblical counseling, discipleship, training, equipping, and more broadly through living life together. Furthermore, this also involves his call to be hospitable as he ministers to people where he lives. Included in this division are all forms of compassionate care in the form of visitation from house to house, in hospitals and nursing homes, and wherever else his people may be.
Finally, there remains his personal example to his flock. As already stated, a pastor ought to know his people intimately, but he must also be known intimately by his people. A pastor is first and foremost a member of the body that he oversees. As such, he too is in great need of the rest of the body just as any other member is. His office does possess a God-given authority, but he nevertheless remains a sinner in need of grace and the community of faith. He must be among his people not only as a herald of God’s Word, but also as a living, flesh and blood representation of Jesus Christ to them. They ought to see the theology and doctrine he teaches come alive through watching his life. Assuredly, he will not perform this task perfectly, but even in response to his sin he must demonstrate for his people what repentance and obedience look like. In doing so, he will reveal his love for his flock and will supplement his teaching with trustworthiness in a way that enables them to follow him wholeheartedly.
As alluded to throughout this explanation, a pastor must be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word at all times and in every circumstance. There will no doubt be seasons of good times and bad times, weeping and rejoicing, growth and decline, and everything else in between, but in all of them, a faithful pastor will look to God and His Word as the Guide for the life of the body. His constant aim will remain to present everyone entrusted to his care, mature in Christ. In the context of this kind of ministry faithfulness, he will have great cause to rejoice through Jesus when He returns.
As I conclude, it is necessary for me once again to point to my dependence on God. What I have just described enables no grounds for boasting—save in Jesus Christ our Lord. I must exclaim with Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” I must humbly acknowledge that in and of myself, I am not able to do any of what I have mentioned faithfully. However, I know the One who alone is able to accomplish that which He has called me to do. Thanks be to God that this same One has promised never to leave me, nor forsake me! In His grace I now stand and I will continue to stand until I die or He returns. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).