The Pastor’s Responsibility to the Church
The Lord has given us both a great privilege and responsibility in watching over the flock of God. Peter said we were to “Feed (shepherd) the flock of God which is among you” (1 Peter 5:2 KJV). Paul in challenging the elders of Ephesus said, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28 NASB).
Notice he said, “purchased with His own blood.” What a proof text for the divinity of Christ. It was the church of God which God purchased with His own blood. You just can’t get any clearer than that. God purchased His flock or church with His (God’s) own blood. It was Jesus who died on the cross yet Paul says here that God paid the purchase price for the church with His own blood, clearly signifying Jesus, the one who paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, was very God.
The privilege and responsibility God has given to pastors is that they are to look after (shepherd) those who belong to Him and who were “Purchased with His own blood.” Wow! That’s a great honor for a pastor and also a heavy weight. Let’s not take it lightly. If the church was so valued by God to shed His own blood for it let’s give our best, with His help, Amen?
“I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NASB).
Here a few things that all good shepherds (pastors) must do:
Feed the flock. We must make sure the church gets a healthy diet of God’s word. This is why Paul exhorted Timothy to, “Study to show yourself approved a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightfully dividing (accurately handling) the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). If you are going to properly feed God’s people you will have to spend much time in diligent study. Don’t just throw a message together. God and His people deserve better then that.
I feel expository teaching or preaching accomplishes this best. Even when preaching on a topic you can simply find a passage that deals with that particular topic and give an exposition of it. If you take your people through a particular book of the Bible verse by verse you will be forced to deal with everything in it and will inevitably give your people a balanced diet of His word and at the same time help prevent yourself from getting off on extremes.
This takes a lot of work to do an adequate job. This is one of my favorite things to do. I especially like those passages that are hard to deal with. You know, the ones most don’t want to touch but usually skip right over. When doing an exposition of a passage I usually take a minimum of three but more often seven or more commentaries. I take one passage at a time and thoroughly study each commentary. I write down on paper everything that seems slightly significant. Then I read over and over the notes I took while prayerfully meditating on the passage. Little by little the Holy Spirit begins to give you understanding of the text and ways it applies to yourself, the church as a whole, people’s individual lives, and the vision God has given you for that particular local body.
Your study should develop into something like this: The background (setting and customs of the time), the meaning of the passage, practical applications, and the exhortation to putting what they’ve learned into practice. Your people need to be equipped in understanding the word, but they also need to see how it applies to their daily lives. Most of our time should be spent in practical application. The background and interpretation (meaning) prepares the way for the application and exhortation. A professor once said, (whose name I have forgotten) “There is one interpretation of scripture but many applications.” Let’s properly equip ourselves to feed the flock of God.
Another way of insuring your people are properly fed is by bringing in guest ministries. Let’s face it, your people need something fresh once in a while. It’s good for them to get something from a different perspective. This is part of our job in making sure they are well fed. Find some ministries that you are confident in and know they will faithfully minister to your people. It’s good to get varying styles so as to give them some diversity. Music as well as preaching and teaching ministries can be used. This will also help build and grow your ministry. Guest ministries and special events are easy avenues for your flock to invite people to the church. If done regularly and over a period of time, people will begin to realize something is happening at your church.
Training and raising up leaders in the church is also one of the ways you can make sure the people are getting proper nourishment. Paul told Timothy, “The same (these things) impart (entrust) to faithful men, who will also be able to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2 KJV). You can’t do all of it yourself. God will give you people who are gifted and with your help will be able teach and preach the word of God right alongside of you. It is important to note he said faithful men. You need to make sure those you raise up are faithful to you and your ministry. If not division could arise. It is easy for good men to let things go to their head. That’s why Paul said leaders should be not a novice or new convert lest they “become conceited and fall into the condemnation” (1 Timothy 3:6 NASB). Warn, encourage, and watch over them. Many train leaders through a small groups setting. You can also train leadership by giving them the opportunities to minister in the public services. You can start by letting them do the offertory, brief devotionals and gradually move them into doing full messages. An added benefit is that you will have those who will be equipped to fill in for you when you’re on vacation or out of town for some reason.
Set office hours. To properly shepherd your people you must be there for them. You need to have regular office hours where they know how to reach you. This will also protect your home life. If your people know there are set times you are in the office, they are not as likely to bother you at home. Many pastors may think, what am I going to do in the office all those hours? Here are some suggestions:
- Prepare. Study your Bible, read and research. This is where much of your preparation is done to properly feed your people. Research books of the Bible. In my first few years as a pastor I taught through a different book of the Bible every service and had three services a week. This laid a wonderful foundation. I don’t have the time I did then and this time of study gave me resources I can draw from today.
- Pray. Jesus said “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13 NASB). What better place to start than with the pastor who is to be setting the example and leading the way. The Prophet Samuel said, “As for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23 KJV).
- Plan. Your time in the office can be when much or your planning, organizing and vision for the church is developed. Much of the structure you develop to enable the church to grow will be given to you during this time. As pastor you should continually be thinking of new ways to structure your church to allow for further growth. This can also be a time when you dream. In these hours the seeds of new and fresh ministries can be birthed to better enable you to meet the ongoing needs of the congregation and reach out to your community.
Go after the wayward. The Bible makes it clear that people are prone toward drifting and falling away. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6 KJV). Peter said, “You were continually straying like sheep (1 Peter 2:25 NASB). This is a heavy responsibility on pastors. We can’t make people come to church and be faithful but we do have a responsibility to go after them, doing our best to bring them back into the fold. Jesus made this abundantly clear in the parables of the lost sheep, coin and son in Luke 15. Once we’ve done all we can, we must simply “Commend you (them) to God and the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32 NASB).
This should be the natural tendency of a shepherd. Jesus said, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:4-5 NASB). There would be a lot more rejoicing in the church if we could bring back all those who have drifted away and slipped through the cracks. This indicates that he grabbed hold of the sheep while it was still running and wondering, throws it on his shoulder and brings it home to the fold while still offering resistance. There are so many who have gone through problems, discouragement, and even fallen into sin – and no one has gone after them. I’m not referring to those who leave the church mad and discontented and go down the road to some other church. You should never go after those folks, and if you do, you’re inviting trouble. I’m talking about the wayward, those who have fallen out of church and drifted from the things of God. Those you must go after.
So often people who once loved the Lord have fallen away and haven’t received so much as a phone call from the church. I realize the pastor can’t call and go after everyone himself, especially as the church grows, but people should be trained to help the pastor go after wayward sheep. As the church grows, leaders should be raised up with so many under their care that when they see a member has missed so many weeks they give them a call. They should set up a time to meet with them, find out if anything is wrong and ask what they can do to help. This will take commitment and organization. I believe this to be faithful shepherding and has become a lost art in the church today. The pastor or someone on the pastoral staff should stay in touch with the leaders (under shepherds) to make sure they are remaining faithful to the task given them.
Guard the flock. Paul, when leaving Ephesus, gathered the leaders together and said, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage (grievous) wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore be on alert” (Acts 20:29-31a NASB). Jesus made it ever so clear that an identifying factor of a true shepherd is that they defend the flock against wolves (John 10:12-13).
There will be those who attempt to lead your people astray. It is up to us as pastors to properly feed and train our people to have discerning spirits so that when someone is being deceptive or divisive, they will be able to discern and stop it before many are affected. It’s up to the pastor to fight against such wolves with every thing he has. If we don’t stop it right away, the turmoil that will be ahead of us could be overwhelming. These wolves will often rise up from among us. Be on alert and ever watching, you never know when they may rise up or who they may be. It very often may be the one who just finished pledging their support and loyalty to you, so beware. Shortly after the people praised Jesus on Palm Sunday they were crying out “Crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:20). Paul and Barnabas, after the lame man was healed, could barely restrain the people from sacrificing to them as gods. When they were not allowed to sacrifice to them, they proceeded to stone them (Acts 14:8-19). Beware, often the very one patting you on the back could soon be stabbing you in the same.
Often it isn’t someone coming from outside bringing in false doctrine, but someone from within trying to plant negative seeds and cast doubt concerning leadership. It will often go something like this, “What do think about the pastor’s message today? It sounded really good but I’m not sure about this. What do you think about the pastor’s (leadership’s) vision or the direction the church is taking? What do you think about the worship leader? I really think it’d be better if they did it like this. I wonder about the decision they made. I’m not sure if this might have been a better way to go. Did you hear this about so and so? I just thought we should agree together in prayer.” We must teach our people to look out for things like this and put a stop to it before it goes too far. If it gets to the pastor there has probably been some damage done already. Negative seeds, even if not believed, have a way of coming to fruition. The Bible says, “Mark them which cause division and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17 KJV).
This is a raging battle that must be fought constantly. It usually begins with envy, bitterness, or a desire to be noticed and feel important (James 3:13-17). Once it proceeds from the heart and out the tongue a fire has begun that, if not extinguished right away, could blaze out of control. “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things, behold how great a matter a little fire kindles. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, so is the tongue among our members that defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature and is set on fire of hell” (James 3:5-6 KJV). Notice the tongue has the potential to “defile the whole body.” How often someone’s tongue has spread destruction and defilement throughout an entire body of believers. It usually begins with just a few but soon spreads like a mighty fire blazing out of control until an entire church is destroyed and rendered ineffective. The devil isn’t stupid. He knows it’s not the battles that come from without that destroys us, they only make us stronger. It’s the battles from within that get us. James says, “This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, and devilish” (James 3:15 KJ). Notice the source of this kind of so called wisdom:
- Earthly – comes from this world not from above.
- Sensual – originated from our flesh and not the Spirit of God.
- Devilish – straight from the devil himself.
When someone comes along and tries to draw people after themselves, lets be reminded where it comes from and not allow the devil to take advantage of us by our being “Ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11 NKJ).
Flee temptation. If the devil were going to attack anyone his number one priority would be the shepherd. He knows that if he’s able to strike the shepherd the sheep will be scattered and left without protection. Paul writing to Timothy said “Flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:11 NKJ) and again “Flee also youthful lust” (2 Timothy 2:22 NASB). The devil is going to do everything he can to trip you up, he knows your areas of weakness. You must be on guard continually. Especially when you think you’re on top of everything. “Wherefore, let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 KJ). Let’s look at some of the “things” the pastor must flee:
- Discouragement. As we have already mentioned discouragement is one of the greatest battlegrounds those in the ministry face. It doesn’t just hit those with the small struggling ministries, but also those flourishing ministries as well. Everyone in the ministry is hit with it at one time or another and usually quite frequently. It comes from a myriad of different fronts. It may be as Elijah that we feel all alone (Romans 11:3), frustration in not feeling as if we are able to fulfill the vision the Lord has given us, inundated with criticism, and on and on it goes. Be assured it will hit you in one way or another. It’s wise to have a support group of other pastors you meet with regularly for prayer and encouragement. I remember one church I was starting that was going very slow and it was the weekly time I had with a small group of ministers that pulled me through.It is also good to have regular times with your wife where you just simply enjoy yourselves and have fun together. Foolish is the man of God who thinks he’s so spiritual he doesn’t need this. Let me say a word to the man of God’s wife. (The opposite is true for the man when the woman is the one in the ministry.) Your greatest ministry is to your husband. You can make his ministry. Your times together may not seem all that spiritual, but they are much more so than you will ever know. My wife is my major source of encouragement to me and what a wonderful job she does. I cherish and desperately need our times together alone.Wise is the congregation who is continually doing things to bring encouragement to their pastor. This can come through notes or cards of encouragements, special offerings, buying the pastor and his wife a few nights away in a nice hotel and so on. Use your imagination. Don’t ever take the man God has given you for granted.Pastor, there will be times no one is there to encourage you, times when everyone and everything seems to be against you. It’s during these times you will have to draw your strength from God alone. It’s easy during these times to get overwhelmed and lean toward giving up. When the temptation is there to sink deep into the pit of discouragement and give up, you will have to do as David did when he had lost all and everyone was blaming him for their problems. The Bible says, “But David encouraged (strengthened) himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6 KJ). To give in to this temptation could cause you to miss out on all God has for you. It was shortly after this that David entered into his reign as King. What would have happened if he had given up? Never, Never, ever give up!
- Financial indiscretions. Great care must be given both in the area of your personal finances and that of the ministry. In your ministry make sure everything is always above board and that you are free from accusation. I know many have no choice at the beginning of your ministry but to handle the finances yourself. As soon as possible, get an administrative assistant or someone to take care of the books under your oversight. It is also a good idea, in the case of a church, to always have two ushers count the offering together and have a slip in which each sign verifying the amount. After which the bookkeeper will also count it and give an account of it to the pastor. This gives multiple checks and balances cutting down the chance for accusation. Also, make sure you clear all expenses beyond the normal bill paying through the board with signed minutes on file in case any questions ever arise. In this way you are able to cover yourself and silence accusations.As for the minister’s personal finances, do your best to stay clear of debt as much as possible. You may not always have that much to work with, especially in the beginning of your ministry, and the less you owe the least likely it will be for you to fall into financial difficulties. In the ministry there are often deductions that aren’t in other professions. Make sure you have a good accountant familiar with clergy tax laws that can lead you through this process. Also, take special care to be sure you have good documentation of any correspondence with the IRS. If you don’t have things in writing, it can easily come back to haunt you.
- Sexual temptation. I don’t care who you are, what you look like, or how charismatic you may or may not be there will be temptation in this area if you are human at all. There will be those attracted to you just because you are in the ministry. Most in the ministry are there, at least in part, because they have somewhat of a passionate personality, which makes you particularly susceptible to this area of temptation. Here are a few suggestions to help safe guard you in this area:
- Have an open door policy. Never have a lock on your office door. Let it be known that anyone can enter your office at any time.
- Beware of flattery and excessive praise. As men, we have an ego that not only likes but also needs ministered to. Stay away from anyone of the opposite sex that begins to flatter you beyond just a brief word of encouragement. Women see the pastor from the pulpit and caring for the people and often see in him everything their husband isn’t. Run from this as fast as you can. The temptation will be there to want to soak it all in, especially if you aren’t getting this kind of attention at home. Wise is the wife who builds her husband up at home so he has no need to look for it elsewhere. The same holds true for women in the ministry, except women tend to develop more “emotional” relationships – which can be just as damaging as a physical affair.
- Beware of the Internet. As we all know, it’s easy to access pornography on the Internet. It’s easy to get involved and no one knows (or so you think). This has become a snare to many Pastors and they are being caught in it’s trap at alarming numbers. It’s good accountability to have someone near you who knows how get on a computer and see where you’ve been. There are more than a few pastors who sit in their office and browse. My wife builds computers and also built our website so she could potentially get on my computer at any time and see where I’ve been. What better accountability could there be? A good rule is to never do anything you can’t do with your mate.Another trap church leaders fall into is spending too much time participating in social networks like Facebook, chat rooms, role playing games, and forums. This also includes exchanging personal (intimate) emails with those of the opposite sex. I know many people, including pastors, who became addicted to their “virtual” world, and before they knew it, a relationship had developed which eventually led to a physical affair. Just ask the thousands of pastors and their wives whose churches and lives were destroyed after emails, Facebook posts/photos and cell phone logs were passed around the congregation. It almost always leads to disaster.
Maintain intimacy in your marriage. There is no better way to thwart off sexual temptation than having a good, healthy and strong sexual relationship with your mate. The more open and free you can be with one another the better. I believe with all my heart God meant for it to be this way between a husband and wife. The sad thing is, few have such a relationship. If you don’t have such a relationship you are in serious danger, no matter how spiritual you are. If we don’t take care of each other spiritually, emotionally, and physically, someone or something else will – you can depend on it. Work on it, get help, do whatever is necessary to get your sexual relationship where it needs to be before tragedy has an opportunity to strike.
Be totally dedicated. If God has called you into the ministry, total dedication is required. In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus demanded full surrender and commitment in every area of our life if we are to follow Him. He insisted on being first in:
- All relationships in life – 14:26.
- Our relation to self, the flesh and personal ambition – 14:26.
- Our possessions – 14:33.
Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters; either he will hate the one love the other, or he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (In Matthew 6:24 NASB).
I personally believe it is difficult to be in the ministry and work a secular job at the same time. Your interest will inevitably be divided. Paul is usually used as a reference to being a tent maker but he only did that for a couple of brief periods and than went right back to devoting his full efforts to the ministry. I understand that often one will have to work a secular job (be bi-vocational) for a short time but it shouldn’t be for very long. As soon as the ministry begins to grow a step of faith must be taken. Often either the church isn’t willing to make the commitment to their pastor or the pastor isn’t willing to step in faith and leave the security of his job and trust God.
There will be lean times and times of blessing, and we must make the commitment of faith to trust Him in it all. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV). “The just shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38 NKJV). When Jesus called the disciples in Mark 1:16-20, they immediately left all and followed him. When Elisha was called while plowing he sacrificed the oxen and burned all the implements and followed Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-21). In essence, he burnt all bridges to the past so there was no turning back. I’m reminded of Peter’s words, “Lord, to whom (or where) shall we go” (John 6:68 NASB)?
You must give yourself to the flock. If you are to minister with effectiveness, and in a way that pleases God, you must have a love that gives yourself for those to whom you minister. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 KJV). “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NKJV). John wrote, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethern” (1 John 3:16 KJV). Paul wrote concerning himself as a pastor/apostle, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own soul because you were dear unto us” (1Thessalonians 2:8 KJV). For Paul it wasn’t just a job but he gave his heart to those to whom he ministered.
Far too often pastors are just there doing a job. It’s not a calling but a vocation or occupation for them. This must not be the case. If we aren’t called of God, we shouldn’t be there. We must not preach the gospel only, but in doing so we must also give our heart and soul to them. This is not easy. It has with it much danger. When we give people a part of us, it makes us vulnerable. It’s easy to open ourselves up to getting hurt. When your people criticize, gossip, get mad, and/or leave the church it will rip your heart out. It is for this reason that many have gone to just doing their job. We must constantly allow the Holy Spirit to tenderize our heart before Him and give all of our self to the church, the ministry, and those to whom we minister. God expects nothing less.
Develop a place of sanctuary. To balance out total dedication and passionate love, the pastor, his wife, and family need to have a place of sanctuary. Typically, this should be your home. A church parsonage sounds like a great deal, but the home being a place of sanctuary is nearly impossible in this scenario. Usually the parsonage is next to the church making it easy for congregants to stop by unannounced any time. This makes it very difficult to have any down time – it’s like being on duty 24/7.
At a pastor’s conference a number of years ago, my overseer in the ministry was speaking about this subject. He said he lived twenty miles from the church on purpose. He went on to say, in jest somewhat, “What am I suppose to do; let you kill me?” He was overstating the point a little, but declaring a truth none the less.
The pastor needs to make sure his home is set apart for his wife and family. Without this the pastor, his wife and family can easily get burnt out. Everyone needs a degree of privacy and the pastor’s household is no exception. They should be able to have alone and intimate times together without worrying about being interrupted. I wonder how many couples in the ministry marriages have fallen apart for this very reason.
Maintain confidentiality. Whether in counseling or casual conversation, confidentiality for the pastor (and his wife) is imperative. Every precaution must be taken to keep everything told to you in confidence to yourself. Above all pastors must never get caught up in gossip of any kind. The pastor’s entire ministry could be ruined if he doesn’t keep things to himself. At the very least, trust in you and your ministry will be damaged or lost altogether if you ever violate confidentiality. This can make or brake your ministry. Ministry hinges on your people’s ability to trust you. If confidence is ever violated it will destroy the credibility of your entire ministry.
When I was young in the ministry I started two youth outreach centers for non-churched or at risk youth. One of the centers was located above a music store. There were also other businesses located around us. Being upstairs, it was hard to keep a close eye on the kids once they left our place. Some of the businesses began to complain about kids hanging around outside. They weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just inclined toward lingering around. After complaining to our landlord, he asked us to find another place for our center. This was potentially devastating to our ministry. Our place was very reasonably priced, and we hadn’t been able to find any place else that we could afford.
While praying over our dilemma, I felt led to ask two local detectives for help. They liked what we were trying to do for the kids so I thought I would ask them to vouch for us with our landlord so we could remain where we were. When I approached them, they asked if I would do something for them as well if they were to help us. They asked me to keep my ears open and to tell them if I ever heard of the kids being involved with anything illegal. I responded, absolutely not! I said, If I did this the kids wouldn’t be able to trust me and I would not be able to help them. I said that I would always encourage them to do the right thing, but I could not divulge anything told to me in confidence. They understood and went to our landlord on our behalf. Consequently, we were able to stay where we were. Confidentiality must be maintained at all cost. Your ministry and credibility depends on it.
Maintain your tithe. Finally, the pastor must set an example in tithing for his people if he expects the blessing of God to be on his life and ministry. You can’t expect your people to do what you are unwilling to do. God expects nothing less of His ministers. This should be one of your first priorities, your first fruit (Proverbs 3:9-10). This brings with it personal financial blessing (Malachi 3:8:10), blessing in your ministry and labors, as well as spiritual insight in both vision for ministry (your church) and the Word. Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches (Luke 16:11 NKJV)?
The pastor’s tithe can be given to the church in the general offering like everyone else. Many feel that it should be given elsewhere, otherwise the pastor is giving into his own ministry, as if he is in some way giving to himself. There are a few options I suggest:
- The pastor’s tithe can be set aside for guest ministries coming into the church, as is explained in The Church’s Responsibility to Visiting Ministries. This enables you to increase the offerings you take up for the itinerant ministry so that they are well taken care of.
- If you are affiliated with a particular fellowship or denomination you can designate your tithe there. Many feel this is scriptural since it is your spiritual covering.
- If you are an independent church/ministry, you might consider giving your tithe to a ministry you look to for your personal feeding, encouragement, and/or counsel. This too falls under the scriptural precedent since you are deriving at least part of your spiritual nourishment from this ministry. However, it is best to maintain consistency with one ministry.
Next article in this series: Ethics in Ministry: The Church’s Responsibility to its Pastor