Some years back we surveyed the members of our church about what they expected from their pastors. It was hard to know what to do with the results. There were almost as many ideas as there were respondents. Some emphasised preaching, whereas others played it down. Some focused on personal visitation, while others sought good administration. Some highlighted the importance of vision and leadership, while others desired warmth and relationship. There was a lot of confusion.
Among all the ideas of what a pastor should do, we mustn’t lose sight of who a pastor should be. Who he is on the inside is even more important than what we see on the outside. It’s the heart of the pastor that matters most. What does God desire of a pastor?
Let’s take a look at 1 Peter to be reminded of God’s will for pastors…
1 Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: 2 Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Before we get into the significance of this passage, a quick word of clarification is needed. Three different terms are used to refer to pastors – elder, overseeing, and shepherding. Depending on our church traditions, we have elders (or presbyters) in some churches, pastors in others, and bishops (or overseers) in others. While we may think of them differently, the Apostle Peter doesn’t. Peter writes to them as elders, calling them to do the work of shepherding (or pastoring) and overseeing. It all belongs together.
Pastor to pastor
Peter writes as a pastor to his fellow pastors because he is concerned with the spiritual health of the church. He is concerned that Christians honour God in how they live, that they seek the welfare of those around them, that they point people to what God has done through Jesus. The church is to have a positive influence in the world. God’s people are to be different – in a godly way – and this means the pastors too.
In this day and age where the church and it’s leaders have such an appalling reputation, where scandal after scandal is now being uncovered, where vulnerable people have been abused and mistreated, it’s so important we listen again to what God wants. Let’s get right to the heart of the matter.
God calls pastors to treat the church with great care. We’re not talking about a building or an organisation or an institution. We’re not thinking of St Blogs or a particular denomination. The church pastors are to treat carefully is made up of people who belong to God. People who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ. The church belongs to God. It’ his precious possession. He purchased it with his own blood, through Christ’s sufferings. The Apostle Paul put it this way in his final words to the Ephesian elders…
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)
The church is God’s flock. It’s not my church, or your church, or our church. It’s the church of God. It belongs to God. The church should matter to us, because it matters so much to God. How we treat the church matters. What we do in church matters. How we lead the church matters. How we relate to people in church matters. Our use or abuse of money, sex, and power matters. There are no excuses for mistreating what’s so precious to God. Our hearts need to be changed so that we see things as God sees them, so that we love people as God loves them.
The Apostle Peter encourages his fellow pastors to have pastors’ hearts, and he describes what this will look like…
1. not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will
The pastor is called to oversee God’s church voluntarily. He’s to do it because he’s willing, not because he must. It shouldn’t be the position, or the job description, or the performance review, or the boss, or the demands of the congregation, that motivates the pastor to serve. It’s not to earn his pay, or to gain a promotion, or to satisfy his own performance standards. The pastor is called to serve freely, willingly, voluntarily, of his own accord, not because he has to, but because wants to. Just as God loves cheerful givers when it comes to our money (2 Corinthians 9:7) so he loves cheerful givers when it comes to pastoral ministry. This is pleasing to our Father in heaven.
But what about when ministry becomes a chore, a drudgery, a ball and chain? What about when the only thing that gets us out of bed in the morning is our sense of obligation and responsibility? Then it’s time to pray. It’s time to remind ourselves of the gospel. It’s time to dwell again on the grace of God who has given us everything we need to serve him. It’s time to ask God to fill us with his Spirit, so that we rediscover the mindset of Jesus Christ who delighted in serving others. It’s time to draw on the strength of God who delights in working through our weakness and frailty.
2. not for the money but eagerly
The Bible makes it clear that we can’t serve both God and money. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Greed is idolatry and it’s a slippery path to destruction. Many ministries have been ruined because the pastors have been in it for the money. This shouldn’t be.
Peter calls us to banish greed from our hearts. Ministry is not about the money. It’s not about earthly rewards. It’s not about making ourselves comfortable. It’s not about what we can get, but what we can give. If we have the opportunity to pastor God’s church then we should remember what a privilege it is to be entrusted with something so precious to God and give of ourselves eagerly.
It’s so tempting to put our own needs first. Our world tells us to do this all the time. We’re urged to make sure we get all we can and to protect all we’ve got. Looking out for our own interests is simply ‘normal’ behaviour, isn’t it? No. Not for people who have already been given everything from God. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have already received so much. We have every spiritual blessing in Christ. We’ve been adopted into God’s family. He’s our Heavenly Father, who knows all our needs, and promises to watch over us.
The implications of this are profound. Because God has promised to take care of our needs, we don’t need to spend our time worrying about them. We don’t need to protect our own interests. We’re liberated to look to the needs of others. We’re freed to serve God and serve others eagerly.
3. not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock
The Apostle is passing on a lesson that he received directly from Jesus…
42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
Now Peter passes it on to his fellow pastors. The overseer is to be the servant. Authority is to be exercised with humility. The supreme example of this is Jesus himself. He humbled himself, even to death on a cross. Jesus wasn’t in it for himself. He didn’t stand on his rights. Jesus made no claims to position or prestige, even though he had every right to do so. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, offers us the ultimate example of what a pastor should be like.
Humility flows from following the example of Jesus, but it doesn’t happen without a profound change of heart. Let’s pray that God will liberate us from our selfishness, our controlling desires, and our quests for recognition. Let’s ask him to remind us daily of his generosity and grace towards us. Let’s dig deep into God’s Word and read again of God’s amazing love for his enemies. Let’s ask God to help us forget ourselves and to focus on serving those around us. Let’s ask God to give us pastors’ hearts.
…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
We live, breathe, think, act and speak in the light of eternity. Pastors, here is your reward. As you live and even suffer for Jesus now, so you will one day share in his glory. This isn’t something we deserve, we don’t earn it, and we can’t demand it. It’s not payment for services rendered. It comes freely from God to the undeserving.
Let our hearts be satisfied in Jesus. Let’s fill our minds with the things of Jesus. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s trust him, serve him, seek to honour him, proclaim him, model our lives upon him, and point others toward him. For this is the pastor’s heart.