Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them… And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. — 1 Peter 5:2, 1 Peter 5:4
Everyone is busy. This is the reality of our modern culture. There is work that needs to be done, a family to care for, a house and car to maintain, friendships to cultivate, doctors to visit. There are kids’ activities to schedule and guests to host. For those of us who are Christians, we can add to the normal busyness of life our attendance at church and possibly volunteering in one of its ministries (or for another organization) once a week. Life in the twenty-first century feels like an unending rat race. We only slow down when crisis and sickness force us to take a break.
Those who pastor God’s people experience many of the same pulls, pressures, demands, and responsibilities as other Christians. And because a pastor is called to be involved in the lives of the people in his congregation, he must learn to juggle his own schedule with the hectic schedules of his church members as well.
Their busy lives create additional tension in ministry, setting many pastors up for failure — even before they begin.
Many pastors fall into two traps here. In some cases, a pastor quickly realizes he cannot provide adequate care for his congregation, so he doesn’t. Even with a smaller congregation, it’s not possible to pay a hospital visit after every surgery, attend every ball game, officiate every funeral, sit in on every committee meeting, accept every invitation to come over for dinner, participate in every church workday, and respond to every counseling request.
Discouraged, some stop trying altogether.
A pastor may choose to focus more broadly on administrating large activities, managing busy programs, and overseeing the general functioning of the local church, leaving the “work of ministry” to others — or neglecting it altogether.
On the other hand, some determined pastors recognize they can’t do it all, but they commit to pushing through the pain. They put an ambitious hand to the plow and hope that with enough effort they will at least please some people. This approach has its own dangers, though. The pastor is now enslaved to the demands and needs of his church. The congregation, whether directly or indirectly, largely determines how his time is spent. His ministry faithfulness and fruitfulness will be based on how happy his congregation is with his efforts, and while some will be pleased, there will always be people who are never satisfied. Satisfying people becomes his way of measuring faithfulness, yet it will leave him feeling exhausted and empty.
The Pastor’s True Biblical Calling
A pastor is not called to run programs for the masses, nor is he called to do it all and try to please everyone.
God is the one who calls pastors to ministry, and the specifics of that calling are clearly outlined in God’s word. The only way a pastor can avoid these pitfalls and remain steadfast throughout his life and ministry is to know what God has truly called him to do — and to do it! The apostle Peter exhorts elders/pastors to be shepherds — to care for God’s people:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is 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. — 1 Peter 5:2-4
Peter’s exhortation to pastors can be summarized in a single sentence:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care until the Chief Shepherd appears.”
And in case you missed it, Peter is pretty clear about the who, what, when, and how of a pastor’s biblical calling.
- What: “Be shepherds of God’s flock.”
- Who: The “flock that is under your care.”
- How: “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.”
- When: Until “the Chief Shepherd [Jesus Christ] appears” — returning for his flock placed in your care.
A pastor’s true calling, then, is to shepherd the souls of God’s people humbly, willingly, and eagerly, and to do all of this on behalf of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
This has not changed from the time Peter wrote these words until today. Though our culture has changed and life is radically different today than it was in the first century, the basic responsibilities of pastoral ministry have not changed.
The word of God is sufficient to provide us with an outline of a pastor’s divine calling and to instruct in how he should prioritize his daily schedule. God’s word consistently highlights the priorities of faithful shepherds and affirms that these priorities revolve around the core calling — to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.”
God’s word has the power to cut through the demands, pressures, and expectations that crush a pastor’s spirit.
For you pastors, my hope is that by studying and meditating on the calling and priorities of pastoral ministry you will better understand what God is truly asking of you and where he wants your time to be spent. The aim of this book is simple: to reveal the priorities that God sets for every pastor. God reveals these priorities throughout Scripture. He establishes them in the life of Israel, roots them in his full redemptive plan, and confirms them in the instructions he gives through Jesus and the apostles. This book will focus on ten key priorities that are at the heart of every pastor’s ministry.
1. Guard the truth. A pastor must be committed to the word of God and the apostles’ teachings and be willing to preach, teach, and defend them when they are contrary to the culture.
2. Preach the word. A pastor must faithfully preach the whole counsel of God’s word, carefully explaining the meaning of the text and applying it to the lives of those under his care.
3. Pray for the flock. A pastor should be an intercessor, bringing the needs of his church before God and modeling prayer both publicly and privately.
4. Set an example. A pastor is an example to his flock and should always be aware that others are looking to him as a model. While a pastor should model righteous behavior, he must also model confession and repentance, acknowledging he is also a sinner and teaching his people how to apply the gospel to life.
5. Visit the sick. Pastors should visit those who are sick and in need of care and encouragement, and they must train others in the congregation to help care for those in need.
6. Comfort the grieving. In the face of death, a pastor should grieve with those who grieve and should sensitively remind those who are grieving of the hope and encouragement of the gospel. This involves preaching gospel-focused messages at funerals and graveside services.
7. Care for widows. This much-neglected biblical teaching calls for pastors to be responsible for the widows of the church and to find creative ways to model care for widows by involving their families and other members of the church in caring for these special women.
8. Confront sin. Pastors need to confront sin and lead the church in the exercise of discipline in the hope of repentance and restoration.
9. Encourage the weaker sheep. Though we can be tempted to easily dismiss people who are slow to change, God calls pastors to model patience and persevering hope by working with those who are difficult, despairing, and challenging.
10. Identify and train leaders. It is the primary responsibility of pastors to identify, train, and affirm leaders in the church. Every pastor should have a plan for doing this in his local church and should be actively seeking out the next generation of leaders.
We need to be biblically grounded in these pastoral imperatives before we can develop the practical tools to engage in these tasks.
An Important Caveat
As you see these ten priorities, you may be curious about the absence of other important aspects of a pastor’s ministry, such as evangelism and caring for the poor. Paul exhorts Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5), and he instructs the churches in Galatia to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). To be sure, these are important responsibilities that are necessary to the health of any local church. They are also areas in which a pastor should lead, model, and encourage his church. However, in this book I focus on the priorities of a shepherd’s ministry — the things he must do to care for God’s people in particular. Even though I have not directly addressed these important ministries, expect to find some mention of them woven throughout the ten priorities.
Evangelism is necessary as we preach the word and guard the truth. Caring for the poor in the church is inevitable as a pastor visits the sick, cares for widows, and encourages the weak.
Ultimately, I want every pastor who feels the burdens and pressures of ministry and who deals with the impossible expectations of shepherding people to experience freedom from the bondage of meeting every need, giving away time that is not available, trying to be in two places at once, and maintaining countless unappreciated, head-spinning tasks. My hope is that the power of God’s word expounded in these pages will invigorate every pastor to see what God desires for his life and ministry and to better discern what he can do that will please the Chief Shepherd.
Excerpted with permission from The Pastor’s Ministry by Brian Croft, copyright Zondervan.
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What are your thoughts about the priorities listed above? Would you add or change anything? Join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you!