A number of years ago, one of my boys came up to me around Christmas with a very serious question. He said, “daddy, is Santa real?” In my head, I quickly reviewed all thing things a parent might say either for or against Santa Claus. I paused, and replied, “of course he was. Santa’s real name was Nicholas. He lived in the fourth century and was such a great person that we still remember his generosity to this day.” I went on to tell the story, and then concluded, “and you know what son—he was a pastor!” My son’s eyes got real big at that point. Until that time, I don’t think it impressed him all that much that I was a pastor.
Then I told him the story of Valentine and said that he too was a pastor. I went on about St. Patrick and said that he was also a pastor. Then I told him the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and said that even he was a pastor. As I elaborated on each, he muttered a “really daddy” after each example and I could see that his esteem for my own calling was going through the roof!
Some time ago, I heard a story about three grade school boys in Nashville who were waiting at the bus stop for school. On one particular morning they got bragging about their dads and how important they were. The first boy said, “My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper. He calls it a poem. They give him a hundred dollars.” The second boy then said, “why that’s nothing. My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper. He calls it a song. They give him hundreds of dollars.” At this, the third boy looked intimidated, until, in a moment of insight, he bragged, “I’ve got you both beat. My daddy scribbles a few words on a piece of paper. He calls it a sermon. And it takes twenty people to collect all the money!”
Well, pastors do more than scribble a few words on a piece of paper. According to the New Testament, their job is to be spiritual shepherds. In the book of Acts, Paul spoke to the people who would take his place as leaders in the Ephesian church and admonished them to “keep watch over. . . all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God” (Acts 20.28, NIV).
In the New Testament, the controlling metaphor for how we are to think about pastors is the shepherd metaphor. A pastor is a shepherd. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of the church. Pastors are under-shepherds. Leaders of the church are not primarily CEO’s, therapists, motivational speakers, or social activists; they are shepherds.
So what does a shepherd do? Think basic. Think sheep. A shepherd of a flock of sheep does six things. He gathers the flock. That is the first thing. You can’t be a shepherd if you don’t have a flock. Second, he knows his flock. Jesus said a good shepherd knows his sheep by name. Third, he leads the flock to green pastures so that the sheep may thrive. Fourth, the shepherd guards the flock from predators and other dangers. Fifth, the shepherd feeds the flock. He makes sure they are well nourished. Finally, the best shepherds care so much for the sheep that they will even sacrifice their lives for the flock.
While we don’t see many shepherds today in our cities, they still exist all over the world. In Biblical times they had a prominent role in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Perhaps that is why both the leaders of Israel and the leaders of the church were thought of as shepherds.
In the church, a shepherd is one who cares for the souls of people who are part of the congregation (or flock). A pastor-shepherd does this by means of the Word, prayer, the sacraments and spiritual discipline, so that people trust, love and follow Christ—conforming to his likeness and engaging in his ministry. Ideally pastor-shepherds work as part of a pastoral team.
I like to describe the role of a pastor in terms of six Gs. What does a pastor do?
1 First, pastors gather the flock. A pastor does this by prayer, evangelism, good works, missions, and creating a missional mindset in the congregation. You can’t lead a flock if you don’t first gather a flock. Gathering is not a one-time, but an on-going activity.
2 Second, pastors must get to know the flock. This involves spending time with people. You learn about who they are and where they are at spiritually. Jesus said that sheep follow a shepherd because they know his voice (John 10.4). As we get to know our congregation, it will help us preach and teach to them in a way that connects with their lives.
3 Third, pastors guide the flock. This involves individual guidance—where we are actually shepherding people. But it also involves corporate guidance—where we guide the flock to a good place as a whole.
4 Fourth, pastors guard the flock. Paul warned that there would be savage wolves who would seek to destroy the flock. For that reason, shepherds must not only watch over their own lives, but also guard the flock of God. You guard through prayer, teaching, pastoral oversight and discipline.
5 Fifth, pastors give food to the flock. That is, they make sure that the congregation is well fed with a well balanced diet. He expounds the Word and proclaims the gospel. Paul himself said that while he lived in Ephesus that he did not hesitate to proclaim the whole will of God.
6 Sixth, pastors are to give their lives for their flocks. These days, I hear few people talking about the sacrificial nature of pastoral ministry. Jesus said that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10.11). Anyone who pastors long and well will know the cost of pastoral ministry. We learn this from experience. But we also learn it from the one who himself laid down his life for his sheep.
The pastoral calling is set forth clearly in 1 Peter. There we read Peter’s charge to a group of overseers. He wrote, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be: not greedy for money, 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, NIV).
There is, however, one short coming with the shepherd metaphor. It’s that the Bible offers more than one metaphor to guide pastors in thinking about their role. Yes, we are shepherds. But before we are shepherds, we are sheep. And the primary need of a sheep is to follow the shepherd—the ultimate good shepherd.
So we could say, that before we talk about any of the functions of shepherding (the 6 G’s), we need to remember that our first duty as pastors is to stay close to Jesus and follow him. Why? Because before we are shepherds, we are first sheep!
In part three of this series, I will tell you about how we might affirm our pastors.