Many times, when pastors do the best they can in confronting threats to the church, wolves still prevail. Certain people come in, wreak havoc, and move on to the next pasture, interrupting another unsuspecting flock, seemingly without any real consequence. It’s even more tragic when church families are led astray by such people, leaving the flock to their own detriment. God’s undershepherds can feel defeated in such cases, thinking they failed in their duty. However, pastors should not think this way.
The Pastor’s Position
Pastors carry an impossible responsibility. Having been in ministry for about a decade, I’ve come to learn this reality firsthand. Feeding God’s sheep, protecting the flock from wolves, and not letting yourself fail in the process is an utterly unattainable assignment for feeble men. Praise God there’s more to the story.
Jesus Christ builds and protects His church. He faithfully nourishes and keeps her until the time He receives her to Himself, taking her to His Father’s house, the place He has prepared for her. Thus, as individual members of His church, we all rely on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith, the great Preserver of our souls. What a blessing it is to be children in God’s house, with such a sure foundation. As that great hymn reminds us,
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord
She is His new creation by water and the Word
From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy Bride
With His own blood He bought her and for her life He died
Further, our Savior promised that He would personally build the church and she would live on indestructibly, despite the efforts of Satan and the reality of death (Matt 16:18, Rom 16:20). God’s power preserves the church, and His purposes to build the church will stand. In this sense, the church isn’t dependent on any human effort. Her origin and destination are heavenly, and so is her sustained existence. God does all the work in building the church, all the way through. We are His workmanship, not our own (Ps 100:3, Eph 2:10). He gets full and total credit for the Bride’s arrival at that future marriage supper.
Amazingly, the channel of God’s power in preserving His church is godly leadership, duly appointed for the task. Thus, there exists a commission to local church elders not only to guard themselves, but to guard the flock (Acts 20:28). Though this use of human channels is astounding, it isn’t unusual for God, as He ordinarily uses means to accomplish His varied purposes in the world. To save people, He uses preachers (Rom 10:14, Rev 11:3). To provide for people, He uses givers (2 Cor 8:1ff). To protect His church, He uses undershepherds (John 21:15).
Caring for the flock of God is a high and worthy calling – a “fine work,” Paul calls it (1 Tim 3:1), full of joy, blessing, and future reward. At the same time, the task is tremendously complex, unceasingly present, and deeply serious—and the Lord has positioned select men between the sheep and threats to their livelihood, using them to preserve His work.
Devotion to the Ministry
No pastor will be effective in his calling if he has misplaced or marginal devotion for the work to which God has called him. Of course, in making such a statement, both devotion and work must be rightly understood.
Devotion has in view an unwavering, zealous commitment. The early church was devoted to prayer and biblical teaching (Acts 1:14, 2:42), and the apostles led by example in that (6:4). Similarly, pastors are called to have an unwavering and zealous commitment to their work of ministry (2 Tim 4:5). Pastors must be thoroughly devoted to their calling.
Ministry is all about serving people. There are a variety of expressions in ministry, but at the core lies sacrificial service to others. Stephanas was praised for his devotion in ministry, made evident by the sacrifices he made to visit Paul in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:15-17). Priscilla and Aquila were Paul’s “fellow workers” (Rom 16:3) who were instrumental to the planting of churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, even sacrificing their own living space for the sake of church meetings (Rom 16:5, 1 Cor 16:19). However it is defined, ministry is always rooted in serving other people.
For pastors, God’s local flock is the ministry priority. As much as some local church leaders may enjoy administrative work, public speaking, online influence, community involvement, or Bible study, their ministry is merely a façade if their ultimate priority isn’t to serve the sheep. The pastor’s job isn’t properly defined as merely studying and talking; instead, his job is to care for the people of God sacrificially. Many have jokingly remarked, “Ministry wouldn’t be so difficult if it weren’t for the people.” Yet, ministry would cease to be ministry if people weren’t involved. Devotion to ministry means selfless commitment to people—God’s people.
Jesus taught His followers about devoted ministry when He assured them that He is the good shepherd. There are many shepherds in the world, but there is only one good shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. He defined His goodness in this way:
The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)
This is total devotion to ministry. The incarnate Christ had such an unwavering, zealous commitment to His people that He was willing to lay down His life for them. Far from being a mere martyr or example, Jesus’ death for His people was an effectual act of service that established the Church and continues to impart life to each one who believes. He truly is the good shepherd.
Pastors are called to reflect Christ’s devotion to ministry as they shepherd His sheep. This means that devotion to pastoral ministry is about protecting God’s flock at the utmost cost, even dying daily (1 Cor 15:31).