The Pastor’s Responsibility to the Church
The privilege and responsibility God gives pastors is to shepherd those who belong to Him. It’s a great honor, and also a heavy burden. It’s incumbent on us to take our calling seriously.
1 Peter 5:2 says that pastors or shepherds must “feed the flock of God.” In Acts 20:28 Paul challenged the elders of Ephesus to “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.”
What a proof text for the divinity of Christ! It was Jesus who died on the cross, yet Paul said God paid the price for the church with His own blood. Jesus, who was God, paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. Let’s not take it lightly.
If the church was so valued by God that He shed His blood for it, we should always give it our best. “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).
1. Feed the Flock
We must make sure the church gets a healthy diet of God’s Word. This is why Paul told Timothy to “study to show yourself approved a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightfully dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). 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.
I believe expository teaching and preaching accomplishes this best. Even when preaching on a specific topic you can find a passage that deals with that particular topic and give an exposition of it. If you take your people through a book of the Bible, verse by verse, you will be forced to deal with everything in it, and will give your people a balanced diet of the Word. You will also be protecting yourself from extremes.
This takes a lot of work, but is one of my favorite things to do. I especially like those passages that are hard to deal with, the ones most preachers tend to skip over. When doing an exposition of a passage I typically use at least 3-7 commentaries. I take one passage at a time and thoroughly study each commentary.
I write down everything that seems significant then read over the notes while prayerfully meditating on the passage. Little by little, the Holy Spirit gives me an understanding of the text and how it applies to the church, people’s lives, and the vision God has for that local body.
A general outline for study should include the background, setting and customs of the time, the meaning of the passage, practical applications, and the exhortation to put what they’ve learned into practice. Your people need to understand the Word, but they also need to see how it applies to their lives.
Much of our time should be spent in practical application. The background and interpretation prepares the way for the application and exhortation. There is one interpretation of scripture but many applications. Let’s properly equip ourselves to feed the flock of God.
Another way to insure your people are properly fed is through guest ministries. Let’s face it, people need something fresh once in a while. Bring in individuals and groups you know will minister well to your church body. It’s good to have varying styles to give them some diversity.
Music as well as preaching and teaching ministries can be used. Bringing in guests will help your church grow. Guest ministries and special events are easy ways for members to invite people to the church. If done regularly, over a period of time, people will start to see something is happening at your church.
Training leaders in the church is another way to make sure your people are being fed. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “The same impart (entrust) to faithful men, who will also be able to teach others.” You can’t do it all yourself. God will give you people who are gifted and with your help will be able teach and preach the Word of God alongside you. It’s important to make sure people you raise up are faithful to your ministry (Luke 16:12). If not, division could arise.
It’s easy for people to let things go to their head. That’s why Paul said leaders should not be a novice or new convert lest they “become conceited and fall into the condemnation” (1 Timothy 3:6). Warn, encourage and watch over them. You can train leaders in a small group setting or by giving them an opportunity to minister in a public service. Start with an offertory or brief devotional then gradually move them to full messages. An added benefit is having people who are equipped to fill in when you’re on vacation or out of town.
2. 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 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). Jesus made it 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’s 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 stop it before anyone is 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 will be overwhelming.
Be alert and watch, you never know when they may rise up or who they may be. It may be someone who just finished pledging their support and loyalty to you, so beware. Shortly after the people praised Jesus on Palm Sunday the very same ones 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 wanted to stone them (Acts 14:8-19). The one patting you on the back today could be stabbing you in the back tomorrow.
Often it isn’t someone coming from outside bringing in false doctrine, but someone from within trying to plant negative seeds and cast doubt about leadership. It will often go something like this, “What do think about the pastor’s message today? What do you think about 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’m not sure if this might have been a better way to go. Did you hear this about so and so?”
We must teach people to look out for things like this and put a stop to it immediately. By the time it gets to the pastor, the damage has probably already been done. Negative seeds, even if not believed, have a way of coming to fruition. Romans 16:17 says, “Mark them which cause division and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned; and avoid them.”
This battle usually begins with envy, bitterness, or a desire for power, to be noticed and feel important (James 3:13-17). Once it moves from the heart and through the tongue, a fire has erupted that will soon blaze out of control if not quickly extinguished.
James 3:5-6 says, “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.”
Gossip and negativism will defile the whole body. It begins with a few people, but quickly spreads until the entire church is destroyed. The devil knows it’s not the battles that come from outside the church that destroy us – they usually make us stronger. It’s the battles from within that get us.
James 3:15 says, “This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual and devilish.” When someone tries to draw people away, remember where it’s coming from and don’t allow the devil to take advantage of you by being “ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Sources of false wisdom:
- It’s earthly. It comes from this world, not from above.
- It’s sensual. It originates from our fleshly desires, not the Spirit of God.
- It’s devilish. It comes straight from the devil himself.
3. Give Yourself to the Flock
To minister in a way that pleases God you must give yourself for those to whom you minister.
John 15:13 – “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
John 10:11 – “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.”
1 John 3:16 – “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 brethren.”
1 Thessalonians 2:8 – “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls because you were dear unto us.”
Paul gave his heart to those to whom he ministered. For many, being a pastor is just 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 and has with it much danger. When we give people part of us we become vulnerable. It’s easy get hurt. When people criticize, gossip, get mad, or leave the church it rips your heart out. This is why many pastors just “do their job” – It’s safer! We must allow the Holy Spirit to tenderize our heart so we can give ourselves to the church, following His example (Ephesians 5:1-2). God expects nothing less.
4. Be 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. God must be first in:
- Our relationships (Luke 14:26).
- Our flesh and personal ambition (Luke 14:26).
- Our possessions (Luke 14:33).
Matthew 6:24 – “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.”
It’s difficult to be in the ministry and work a secular job at the same time. Your interest will inevitably be divided. Paul is usually cited as being a tent maker, but he only did so for a few brief periods of time then promptly went back to full time ministry.
Some pastors need to be bi-vocational for a while, but it shouldn’t be for very long. As soon as the ministry begins to grow, you must take a step of faith. Often either the church isn’t willing to make the commitment to their pastor, or the pastor isn’t willing to step out in faith and leave the security of his job. There will be lean times and times of blessing, and we must make the commitment of faith to trust God in it all.
2 Corinthians 5:7 – “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Hebrews 10:38 – “The just shall live by faith.”
In Mark 1:16-20, when Jesus called the disciples they immediately left everything and followed Him. In 1 Kings 19:19-21, when Elisha was called while plowing, he sacrificed the oxen and burned all the implements and followed Elijah. He burnt all bridges to the past so there was no turning back. Peter asked in John 6:68, “Lord, where shall we go?”
5. Go After the Wayward
The Bible makes it clear that people are prone toward drifting and falling away.
Isaiah 53:6 – “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.”
1 Peter 2:25 – “You were continually straying like sheep.”
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 and bring them back into the fold when they stray. 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 “commend them to God and the Word of His grace” (Acts 20:32).
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). 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 the shepherd grabbed the sheep while it was still running away. He grabs the sheep, throws it over his shoulder and brings it home to the fold while it was still offering resistance. There are so many people 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 go down the road to another church. You should never go after those folks. I’m talking about those who have fallen out of church and drifted from the things of God. Those you must go after.
Many people who once loved the Lord have fallen away and haven’t even received a phone call from the church. I realize the pastor can’t call on 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 people under their care. When they see a member has missed a number of weeks, they should give them a call and set up a time to meet with them. They should find out if anything is wrong and ask what they can do to help.
This will take commitment and organization. Faithful shepherding has become a lost art in the church today. The pastor or someone on the pastoral staff should stay in touch with the leaders to make sure they are remaining faithful to the task given them.
6. Flee Temptation
The enemy knows that if he’s able to strike the shepherd the sheep will be scattered and left without protection. Paul told Timothy to “flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:11) and again “flee youthful lust” (2 Timothy 2:22).
The devil knows your areas of weakness. You must be on guard continually, especially when you think you’re on top of everything. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Wherefore, let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” Things pastors and church leaders must avoid:
Discouragement. Discouragement is the greatest threat people in the ministry face. It doesn’t just hit small, struggling ministries, it also targets large, flourishing ones. It comes from a myriad of different places and sources. It may be like Elijah that we feel alone (Romans 11:3) or believe we can’t fulfill the vision the Lord has given us.
It’s important to have a support group of pastors you meet with regularly for prayer and encouragement. One church I planted was not going well and it was the weekly time I had meeting for prayer with a small group of ministers that pulled me through.
It’s also good to have regular times with your wife where you simply enjoy yourselves and have fun together. Yes, pastors and their mates can have fun together. Foolish is the man or woman who thinks they are so spiritual they don’t need this.
Always draw your strength from God. It’s easy during these times to get overwhelmed and want to give up. When the temptation is there to sink into a pit of despair, you will have to do as David did when he had lost all and everyone was blaming him for all their problems.
1 Samuel 30:6 says, “But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” Giving in to this temptation will cause you to miss out on all God has for you. It was shortly after this that David became king. What would have happened if he had given up? Never give up!
Financial indiscretions. 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 a ministry but to handle the finances themselves.
As soon as possible, get an administrative assistant or someone to take care of the books under your oversight. Always have two ushers count the offering together and have a slip each signs verifying the amount.
The bookkeeper should also count the offering and give a report to the pastor. This gives multiple checks and balances cutting down the chance for accusation. Also, make sure you clear all expenditures beyond the general operating expenses through the board with signed minutes on file in case any questions arise. This way you cover yourself and silence any accusations.
As for the minister’s personal finances, do your best to stay clear of debt as much as possible. Ministry positions offer deductions that aren’t available for many other professions. Make sure you have a good accountant familiar with clergy tax laws that can lead you through this process. Keep copies of any correspondence you have 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 temptations. Some people will be attracted to you just because you are in the ministry. Most people in the ministry are there, at least in part, because they have a passionate personality. This makes you particularly susceptible to this area of temptation. Ways to avoid sexual temptation:
- 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 to be ministered to. Stay away from anyone of the opposite sex who flatters you beyond a brief word of encouragement. Women see the pastor caring for the people and often see in him everything their husband isn’t or that they think he should be. 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 attractions, which can be just as damaging as a physical affair.
- Beware of social media traps. It’s very easy to access pornography and temptation online. It’s also easy to get involved in an online affair, and no one knows, or so you think. I have friends who have paid a huge price because of online indiscretions. Another trap is spending too much time participating in social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, etc.
This also includes exchanging personal emails, texts and messages. I know pastors who became addicted to their “virtual” world. Eventually, a relationship developed which led to a physical affair. Just ask the thousands of pastors and their wives whose churches and lives were destroyed after photos, emails, texts, Facebook posts, and cell phone logs were distributed to the congregation.
- Maintain intimacy in your marriage. There is no better way to thwart off sexual temptation than having a good 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 couples in the ministry have such a relationship.
If you don’t this type of openness and sexual freedom in your marriage, 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. 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.
7. 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. Pastors must never get caught up in gossip of any kind.
A pastor’s entire ministry can be ruined if he doesn’t keep things to himself. At the very least, trust in you and your ministry will be greatly damaged if you ever violate confidentiality. This can make or brake your ministry. Ministry hinges on your people’s ability to trust you.
When I was young in the ministry I started two youth outreach centers for non-churched, 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 lingering outside. After the surrounding businesses 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 at the time.
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. 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 said, absolutely not! If I did the kids wouldn’t trust me and I wouldn’t be able to help them. I told the officers I would always encourage them to do the right thing, but I couldn’t divulge anything told to me in confidence. They understood, respected our commitment to the kids and went to the landlord on our behalf. Consequently, we were able to stay where we were. Confidentiality is a must!
8. Set Office Hours
To properly shepherd your people you must be there for them. You need to have regular office hours so they know how and when they can reach you. This also protects your home life. If people know there are set times when you are in the office, they are not as likely to bother you at home.
Some might think, “what I am I going to do in the office all those hours?” You might think about:
- Preparation. Study, read and research. This is where much of your preparation is done to properly feed your people. Study the Word and research books of the Bible, use commentaries. In my first few years as a pastor I taught through a different book of the Bible every service and we had three services a week. I also studied works on theology and taught it to my people. This laid a wonderful foundation. I don’t have the time I did back then and that time of study gave me resources I can draw from today.
- Praying. Jesus said “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13). What better place to start than with the pastor who is to be setting the example and leading the way. 1 Samuel 12:23 says, “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.”
- Planning. Use your time in the office to plan, organize and develop vision for the church. You should be continually thinking of new ways to structure and restructure your church to allow for continued growth. During these times, the seeds of new and fresh ministries can be birthed to better enable you to meet the ongoing needs of the congregation and community.
Pastors must set an example in tithing for their people if they want the blessing of God to be on their 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 firstfruits (Proverbs 3:9-10).
This brings with it personal financial blessing (Malachi 3:8:10), blessing in ministry, spiritual insight, vision, and an understanding of the Word of God. Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches” (Luke 16:11)?
The pastor’s tithe can be given to the church in the general offering like everyone else. However, many feel that the pastor’s tithe should be given elsewhere, otherwise the pastor is giving into his own ministry. Tithing options for pastors and ministers:
- Set aside your tithe for guest ministries that are coming into the church. This enables you to increase the offerings you take up for the itinerant ministry so they are well taken care of.
- Give your tithe to the fellowship or denomination your are affiliated with. Many feel this is scriptural since it is your spiritual covering.
- If you pastor an independent church, you might consider giving your tithe to a ministry you look to for personal feeding, encouragement and 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.
10. Develop a Sanctuary
To balance total dedication and love, pastors and their families must have a place of sanctuary. Typically, this is 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 at any time. This makes it very difficult to have any down time or personal space, which you and your family desperately need.
At a pastor’s conference a number of years ago, my overseer in the ministry was speaking on 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.
Pastors need to make sure their home is set apart for them and their family. Without this they 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 ministry marriages have been greatly damaged or even fallen apart for this very reason.