“We have been focused on golden-tongued speakers, impressive and comfortable buildings, and membership growth, and have forsaken the personal touch. We are better known as preachers and speakers, and lesser known as shepherds and pastors. And our elders are viewed more as members of boards of directors and not as brothers who shepherd.”
Preaching is one of the roles of the pastor, and a good argument can be made that it is the minister’s primary responsibility. However, preaching is not an end in itself, but it is the means to an end. One is careful to deliver a sermon because he is consumed with growing disciples. One is a speaker because he is a shepherd. A man preaches from behind the sacred pulpit because he has been called to pastor those in the sacred pews. Therefore, while the faithful minister loves his Bible, his books, his computer, his pulpit, and his ecclesiastical institution, he loves his people even more. He is a preacher because he is a pastor; he is concerned with the what [preaching] because he is consumed with the Who [God] and the who [people].
Likewise, governing is one of the roles of the elder or presbyter. Administrative oversight is the responsibility of the man called by God and God’s congregation. Institutional health and growth is his concern. It is right for him run a tight ship, for God would have his church do things efficiently, decently, orderly, and gloriously. However, administrative acumen is not an end in itself; it too is a means to an end. One is an elder because he is a shepherd. Therefore, while the faithful elder appreciates his organizational charts, sessional minutes, Book of Church Order, financial updates, and committee reports; he is passionate about the Word, prayer, fellowship, and the ongoing discipleship of those entrusted to his care. He is concerned with the what [ruling] because he is most concerned with the Who [God] and the who [people].
So where in Scripture can one see such a biblical passion for the Who [God] and the who [people] from the who [pastor/elders]? A beautiful portrait of the preacher and the group of elders is found in Acts 20:
Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:17–38
Before his friends, Paul expressed his pastoral ministry.
- He was a servant who labored persistently for the Lord.
- He was a servant who labored persistently and intimately amongst his brothers and sisters; he was not aloof.
- He was a servant who was humble.
- He was a servant who was passionate and emotional; tears from the heart were shed for his friends.
- He was a servant who preached the whole counsel of God’s Word; nothing was left out; faith, grace, and repentance were heralded.
- He was a servant who was both a pulpiteer and a small group leader; in public and in houses he taught.
- He was a servant who discriminated not; it mattered not to him whether one was Jew or Greek.
- He was a servant who obeyed special revelation; he was faithful to obey whatever God said and go wherever God led.
- He was a servant who persevered; daily and persistently he did the next right thing despite internal and external trials and tribulations.
- And as a result, he was a servant with a clean conscience. Paul was able to stand before God and man and declare, “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink.”
Paul then exhorted the elders of Ephesus. They were to follow his ministry model.
- The elders were to pay careful attention to their own spiritual health and growth.
- The elders were then to pay careful attention to the spiritual health and growth of the flock about them.
- The elders were to never conclude that the flock belonged to them; they were merely called by the Spirit to shepherd the flock of God — his blood-bought church.
- The elders were to protect the flock from internal and external heresy; twisted teachers were coming.
- The elders were to give their hearts away. Paul expressed his own passion, “For three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears,” and implied in these words is his call for sympathetic shepherding.
- The elders were to teach and trust the Word of God which is powerful and effective to build, bless, and sanctify.
- The elders were not to discriminate; they were to pay no attention to silver, gold, or apparel.
- The elders were to be generous and hospitable.
- The elders were to be industrious men of action; they were to work hard.
- The elders were to shepherd regardless of what they received in return; givers they were and not receivers.
Therefore friends, what sort of pastor and presbyters do you have in your church? And more personally, what manner of ministers and elders are you? Or perhaps two more gracious questions:
- How should you pray for your pastor and presbyters?
- How would you like for the Holy Spirit to improve you as a minister and elder?
The characteristics listed above would make a great prayer list and to-do list. Friends, it is fair to say the modern-day church has been guilty of shrinking the job description of our pastors and elders. We have been focused on golden-tongued speakers, impressive and comfortable buildings, and membership growth, and have forsaken the personal touch. We are better known as preachers and speakers, and lesser known as shepherds and pastors. And our elders are viewed more as members of boards of directors and not as brothers who shepherd. Too often and too sadly, we have allowed the what [preaching, administrating] to supersede the Who [God] and the who [people].
So preach on! Excel in administrating and stewarding the visible house of God. Let’s build great, healthy ecclesiastical institutions. This is good worship! However, let not our job descriptions and ministerial expectations be shrunk. We are under-shepherds, and as such we are to be consumed with the Master and his flock.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.