Rethinking the Role of the Pastor

by Nathan Rose May 24, 2016

Pastor. This word conjures up many different ideas in the minds of church members and leaders alike. Some view the pastor as a chaplain; for these people, he exists primarily to meet the emotional needs of the congregation, traditionally through home and hospital visitations. For others, a pastor functions like the CEO of a business. He sits at the top of a hierarchal structure and is tasked with making savvy business decisions, which will ultimately lead his organization to greater levels of success. Still others view a pastor like a contracted worker. He is the hired hand, paid to carry out the will, wishes, and desires of the congregation, which pays his salary.

Although there may be a sliver of truth in each of these conceptions, I think each one is inadequate. The reason is because they fall short of the biblical imagery used to describe this scriptural office. So, instead of thinking a pastor is like a chaplain, CEO, or contractor, I want to suggest three alternatives, and, in so doing, help us to rethink the role of a pastor.  

1) A pastor is like a shepherd.

The word translated “pastor” in our English Bibles comes from the Greek word for shepherd. It’s significant that the word used for a shepherd of a flock is the same word used to describe a pastor of a church. This term is employed because the roles of the two occupations are remarkably similar. In fact, all throughout the Bible, spiritual leaders, and even God himself, have been referred to as shepherds because of their many functional similarities. 

So how are they similar? Faithful shepherds feed, guide, protect, correct, and care for their sheep. This means that pastors feed their flock by preaching God’s Word (John 21:15-17). They guide them into greater levels of obedience and holiness (1 Pet. 5:2-3). They protect them from bad theology and false teachers. Oftentimes these false teachers are depicted as “wolves,” a characterization that provokes more shepherd imagery (Acts 20:29). They care for the general wellbeing of the flock that has been entrusted to their care (Acts 20:28). Sometimes sheep go astray and the faithful shepherd will lovingly pursue and graciously correct them (Ezek. 34:12). And, one day soon, the Chief Shepherd of the flock will return, and when he does, he will reward those pastors who have faithfully shepherded in this way (1 Pet. 5:4).

2) A pastor is like a father.

One of the scriptural qualifications for a pastor is that he is a competent father. Scripture states that an elder “must manage his own household well” (1 Tim. 3:4). What Scripture is teaching is that, in order to be a qualified for pastoral ministry, one must also be a good father.* The rationale for this qualification comes in the form of a question, “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” (1 Tim. 3:6). The obvious answer is, “He can’t and won’t.” Incompetent fathers make crummy pastors. Why? Because leading a church is a lot like leading a family. And those who do well in the latter will excel in the former.  

In a sense, the members of the church are like the pastor's children. I am not implying that all church members are childish, but, rather, that the relationship between a pastor and his congregation is very similar to a dad and his kids. Like a good father, a pastor must instruct, correct, love, encourage, and lead the church family God has entrusted to his care.  

3) A pastor is like a physician.

Honestly, when was the last time you thought of a pastor like a doctor? But this is exactly how Christians for centuries have viewed this important office. The Puritans considered the pastor as a “physician of the soul”. In a discussion about English Puritans, J.I. Packer explains what they meant by this:

A physician’s business is to check, restore, and maintain the health of those who commit themselves to his care. In the same way, the minister should get to know the people in his church and encourage them to consult him as their soul-doctor. If there is any kind of spiritual problem, uncertainty, bewilderment, or distress, they are to go to the minster and tell him, and the minister needs to know enough to give them health-giving advice.

Like a doctor, a pastor will ask questions in order to assess and diagnose one's spiritual condition. In the same way that a doctor encourages his patient to stop eating junk food and exercise more regularly, a pastor will point out sinful delicacies to avoid and godly attributes to pursue. Additionally, a pastor, like any physician, will not merely tell someone what he or she wants to hear, but rather what he or she needs to hear. And if his counsel is biblical, then it should be heeded. In the same way that a doctor seeks to help improve and maintain one's physical health, a pastor exists to care for one’s soul.

So, whether you’re a church leader or a church member, if you’ve found yourself viewing the role of a pastor in a way contrary to Scripture, then I strongly encourage you to please reconsider. 

*This does not mean that those who are single or without children are unqualified to pastor.