Monday, January 10, 2011

The Marks of a Faithful Pastor (1 Peter 5:1-4)

This is a longer version of this message than I actually preached. Time constraints forced me to eliminate several lengthy portions of the message, but I retained them in the manuscript because I thought they were essential to the full development of the message. The audio of the shorter version is available through this link.

I was scheduled to meet with a pastor in a New England town about a mission project we were involved in in his city. I didn’t know what he looked like, and he didn’t know what I looked like. When I got to the church I asked a guy, “Are you the pastor?” He chuckled and said “No, but you’ll know him when you see him.” Several others said that to me as well. I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking for that would be such a dead giveaway. But suddenly, bouncing down the steps from an upper floor, I saw first the tennis shoes and black socks, then the bare legs and khaki shorts, then the black shirt with the white clerical collar, then an enormous cross that hung around his neck, then a smile that stretched from ear to ear. “Ah, you must be the pastor,” I said. Sure enough, I knew when I saw him. In contrast, almost daily people come to our office and I greet them at the door and they ask to speak to the pastor. I confess that sometimes I am tempted to say that he’s not in at the moment, but I never do. When I say that I am him, people regularly say, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to be the pastor.” I’m never quite sure if that is a compliment or not. I don’t know what they were expecting … an older man, perhaps; a suit and tie maybe; more hair care product; a collar or something like that? Traditionally Baptists have shunned the use of a collar among pastors, and even the robe to a large extent. I chose a number of years ago to begin wearing the robe on occasions that I felt demanded a higher degree of formality and gravity, such as today when we observe the Lord’s supper, or on significant occasions and ceremonies. But I do not presume to think that wearing a robe makes me more spiritually qualified or a more holy person. It is, for the most part, just for appearance and symbolizes the seriousness of the moment.

Policemen wear badges, doctors and nurses wear scrubs, soldiers have uniforms. Each of the identifying marks of the person’s respective vocation. But what are the marks of a pastor? Is it the robe or the clerical collar? Is it the big Bible or the heavily sprayed hair? No, according to Peter in our text today, the marks of a faithful pastor have nothing to do with how he looks or what he wears. Peter, who identifies himself as a pastor, here sets forth an exhortation to his fellow pastors about the marks that should distinguish them in their faithful service to Christ and his church. His qualifications to give these instructions are based in a description of himself that he provides. He is a fellow elder, perhaps having even been the pastor of many of the Christians to whom he is writing when they lived in Rome. He is also a witness of the sufferings of Christ, indicating his apostolic ministry that began as he walked with Jesus during His earthly life. We also have the confidence that he is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and can therefore say that this is God’s Word for the church in all generations.

These words are particularly relevant to us today for a number of reasons. First, they set forth, together with 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Acts 20:17-38, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Titus 1:5-9, the standard that pastors should be measured by. Second, we see from this passage and others that the biblical descriptions of pastors have far more to do with the kind of people they than the kind of tasks they do or results they produce. And third, we are on the precipice of a major crisis in pastoral ministry today. Fewer and fewer seminary graduates are entering traditional pastoral ministry, opting instead for roles as church planters, specialized church staff roles, missionary service or parachurch ministry roles. This means that small churches in particular will have a far more difficult time finding willing men to serve as pastors in the years to come, and if we do not have some sort of objective standard for measuring candidates, disaster could loom large over the church.

There may be some who would criticize me for addressing this subject here today for a couple of reasons. First, it may be said that we are not all pastors, and therefore we do not all have a need for this instruction. To that I would say that if it was important enough for God to record in His book, then it is important enough for our consideration in this setting. Additionally I would say that while we are not all pastors, we all need pastors (myself included) to shepherd us in the Christian life, and therefore we must know what the Scriptures teach about pastors. Second, some may suggest that it is self-serving for me to preach about the work of pastors. I would have to respond to that by saying, initially, that if it can be shown how this message is in any way self-serving, I will apologize for mishandling it. I would add that, on the contrary of being self-serving, I am actually setting before you today a standard that I hope you will use to judge my work as a pastor, and that of any other pastor. This passage and the others I have mentioned are ever before me as a lofty standard that I know, apart from the enabling of the Holy Spirit, I can never attain to. So daily I reflect on these as my own marching orders from heaven and seek His help to abide by them. And, though I have no intention of leaving Immanuel for another place of service, none of us knows what the future holds. If the Lord tarries, we can be quite sure that death, or the call of God, or some other unforeseeable circumstance will necessitate you calling another pastor someday. And if and when that day transpires, if I have not taught you the Word of God concerning the role of pastors, I will have failed to equip you in a matter of fundamental importance for the life and health of this church. My own pastor used to regularly teach the congregation on matters of pastoral ministry, saying, “If I don’t do this, who will?” I would echo that sentiment here today. And then of course, there are some who would be critical of this message today simply because they are critical people. In fifteen years of pastoral ministry, I have yet to discover the best way to deal with that kind of criticism, except to just pray for them, love them anyway, and press on in service of the Lord knowing that ultimately He is the one I have to please in the end.

Now, that said, let’s dive into this text and examine what God’s Word teaches us here through Peter’s letter about the marks of a faithful pastor.

I. The faithful pastor is marked by his titles.

I walked up on a church in another city and noticed that the sign indicated who the speaker was to be for the upcoming Sunday service. Since I have forgotten his name, we’ll call him John Doe. But what I have not forgotten was his title that was spelled out in full on the sign: The Very Right Reverend Monsignor John Doe. That sounds impressive doesn’t it? While I assume that John Doe did not select this title for himself, but rather it was granted to him by the denomination in which he ministers, I was taken aback that none of this impressive collection of titles is found in Scripture. In fact, most of the titles that are commonly used to refer to church leaders around the world are not biblical titles. Not Reverend, Priest, Father, Monsignor, or even the collective title “Clergy.” Rather, these titles come from centuries of man-made traditions and hierarchies. Any time you see the title “Reverend” in front of my name, you can be sure that I didn’t put it there. When I write a title before my name, I use “Pastor.” Pastor is found in the Bible; Reverend is not. When we turn to the pages of the Bible we find something far more simple, far more humble, and far more appropriate for those who would serve Christ in His church than all of these elaborate and honorific titles that have arisen through history.

There are, in the New Testament, only two “offices” or positions held within the church. They are the deacon and the pastor. When it comes to the office of the pastor, we actually find that there are three terms used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. First, the word pastor, which is the least frequent title used in Scripture, and which translates the Greek word poimen, which means literally, “a shepherd.” Second, we find the word presbuteros, which is most commonly translated as “elder” in our Bibles. And third, we find the word episkopos, which literally means “overseer” but which was translated in the King James and other English versions as “Bishop.” While some churches today hold that these three titles refer to three different positions, we find in the New Testament that all of them actually refer to the same position. Take this passage before us, for example. Here, Peter is addressing the presbuterous, the elders, and he exhorts them to poimanate, that is, to shepherd or pastor the flock of God, by exercising episkopountes, or oversight, of the congregation. The elders are admonished to pastor as overseers, or bishops. Turning to Acts 20, we find the same thing. There Paul calls together the elders (the presbuterous) of the Ephesian church and reminds them that God has made them overseers (or Bishops, episkopous) and that their responsibility is to shepherd or pastor (poimainein) the church of God. So, in at least these two passages, and others could be cited, we see how the terms are used interchangeably to refer to the same office in the church.

But what do these titles teach us about the faithful pastor? Is he faithful simply because he wears one or more of these titles before his name? Certainly not. Many have taken up these titles and abused the office that they held and failed to serve the Lord or the church faithfully. Rather, these titles give us insight into the kind of person who is to hold the office and the kind of work that he is to do. What does it mean that this person in this position is called an elder? Does it mean that he must be elderly? I think that is what some people think because often when people meet me they say, “Oh you are too young to be a pastor!” I still get that, even after doing it for so long. But we know that this cannot be the case, because in 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul actually tells the young pastor to not let anyone look down on his youthfulness. Rather, the idea of being an elder has to do with a person’s spiritual maturity. That is why, for instance, Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:6 that a pastor must not be a new convert. He must be seasoned in living the Christian life and wise according to the Scriptures in order that he might be able to teach and preach them faithfully. He must have walked closely with Jesus for a long enough time to be able to lead others to do the same.

The primary exhortation that Peter gives to the elders here is that they shepherd or pastor the flock of God. Throughout the Bible, the people of God are compared to sheep, and the comparison is not always complimentary. Sheep are meek, gentle, and tranquil creatures, but they aren’t very bright. They require the care of a shepherd to provide for them, to protect them, and to nurture them. But the pastor must be under no delusion in thinking of the church in this way, for he himself is first of all a sheep before he is a shepherd. I have often referred to pastors as sheep in shepherds’ clothing. We pastors are not immune to the challenges of life as sheep. Left to our own devices, we are just as spiritually dumb as any other sheep. That is why we must be anchored to the Word of God and desperately adhered to the power of the Holy Spirit in our ministry. Though we are shepherds, we are under-shepherds; Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, as Peter indicates in verse 4. We have to be guided by Him and by our fellow shepherds as we do our own shepherding. Shepherding sheep is a multifaceted task, as is pastoring a church. There is the element of guidance, the element of caregiving and nurturing, and the element of feeding, which in the spiritual realm occurs through the proclamation of God’s Word. His Word is the food for the Christian’s soul, and the faithful pastor must be committed to feeding the flock with a healthy diet of the Word.

Then, when we think of the term overseer, there seems to be some suggestion of the responsibility that the pastor has among the church. I prefer the term overseer to Bishop because it is a literal translation of the Greek word, and it is a much more descriptive term. In this passage, the phrase “exercising oversight” is adverbial, describing how the pastor is to shepherd the church. He does so while exercising oversight. The pastor has a responsibility before God to oversee the spiritual well-being of the church and its members. This means that there must be a certain degree of authority invested in the pastor’s position, but it is not unlimited or unaccountable authority. He is accountable both to the Lord and the church for the exercise of that authority and oversight. Hebrews 13:17 says that the leaders of the church will give an account for your souls before the Lord, and therefore, there should be some degree of submission and obedience given to them in light of this responsibility. If he leads the church astray, he will answer to God for doing so. But, should the members of the church make his work grievous rather than joyful, that same verse indicates that it will be unprofitable for the church. In other words, the pastor will answer to God for his leadership, but the church will also answer to God for their “follow-ship.” There are individuals in many churches who have gained reputations as “pastor-killers”, and Hebrews 13:17 stands as a warning to those individuals that they will be held accountable before God for their attitudes and actions toward their pastors.

So, as an elder, the pastor is to be a spiritually mature person who is able to lead others in their walk with Jesus. As a shepherd, he is to provide care to the flock, chiefly in the form of teaching the Word of God to them. And as an overseer, he is an administrative leader and a spiritual guide for the church. Paul summarizes these responsibilities in 1 Timothy 5:17 when he speaks of elders who rule well and work hard at preaching and teaching. These, we may say, are the biblical responsibilities implicit in the titles that the faithful pastor bears.

II. The faithful pastor is marked by his relationships

The Christian life is entered into individually. Each person must make his or her own decision to follow Christ. But the Christian life cannot be characterized by individualism; it must be lived out in the context of relationships. As Christians, we have a certain relationship with the Triune God: with our Heavenly Father, with our Lord Jesus, and with our indwelling Holy Spirit. We also have a relationship with other Christians: those within our own church family, those in other church fellowships, those who live all over the world, and even to an extent with those who have lived at all points of Christian history. We stand in a line with them, receiving much from those who have gone before us and leaving something behind for those who come after us. And then of course, we also have a certain relationship with those who do not know Christ, as witnesses and missionaries who testify in word and deed of the saving grace of Jesus to those who do not yet know him. And these same relationships also mark the life of the faithful pastor.

We see in this text something of the pastor’s relationship to the Lord. As an elder, we have already mentioned, he is a person of spiritual maturity that has been nurtured through walking with the Lord by faith over a period of time. But in his role as a shepherd, he has a somewhat unique relationship to the Lord Jesus. After all, it was Jesus who said, “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:11). Since that is the case, pastors should seek to emulate the shepherding ways of Jesus as we serve Him. Peter actually makes the case here that we are “undershepherds.” In verse 4, when he refers to the return of Jesus, he calls Him the “Chief Shepherd,” using the word archipoimenos, the highest of all shepherds, in the Greek. So in a very real sense, Christ is our Lord and Savior first, but also our “boss” if you will, serving as our example in shepherding and our master to whom we will give account for our ministry as His undershepherds. Incidentally, this text is the reason why I despise the term “Senior Pastor.” This term “Chief Shepherd” is the closest thing we have in Scripture to “Senior Pastor,” and it is a title that belongs only to Jesus.

We also see in this text something of the pastor’s relationship to the church at large, throughout history. This is suggested in Peter’s description of himself as a “fellow elder.” We stand in line with a group of Christians who have served Christ’s church since the time of the apostles and include even some of the apostles. While we do not know for certain how many of the twelve actually served as church pastors, we do know that Peter did, and John did, and Paul to a great extent did as well. And we know that wherever in history and geography the church of Jesus Christ has been present, there has been someone called by God to lead and feed that church on the Word of God. On the one hand, there is honor in this reality. When we are tempted to think of our work as insignificant and meaningless, we are reminded by this that the calling of Pastor has been foundational to the work of God since the earliest period of church history. But there is also something humbling about this. Many of these who have held this office throughout history have suffered and died for their calling as pastors, and therefore we must not be surprised by suffering if it comes or way or think that we deserve something better. Also, we are reminded because of these relationships with pastors throughout history that we are not irreplaceable in the program of God. While the office of pastor seems to be a fixed reality for the church until Christ returns, no individual pastor holds the keys to the kingdom all by himself. Should he fail to exercise his calling faithfully, should he abuse his authority, should he mistreat the flock in any way, or should calamity fall upon him in the ordinary coming and going of life, he can and will be replaced. Therefore no pastor should think himself to be irreplaceable in the purposes of God, and no church should think of their pastor in that way. You will have another pastor some day unless the Lord returns before my death or before God calls me to serve elsewhere. And it is a fundamental part of my work as your pastor to prepare you to follow the next person to occupy this position. It has always been one of my goals as a pastor to make the job of my successor easier. Understanding our relationship with the church at large, throughout all time and over the span of the whole world helps us keep this fresh in our minds.

Now, we also see something of the pastor’s relationship to the local church among whom he serves. I had just begun my first pastorate when an older man in the congregation came into my office to talk about some issues with me. He began to address thirty years of church problems with me, before I finally asked him, “Why are you telling me all of this?” He said, “Well, you are the pastor, and you are the head of the church, so you need to do something about it.” I agreed with him that perhaps there were some things I could do about some of these problems, but I said, “If anyone in this church thinks that the pastor is the head of the church, then THAT is the root of all of our problems.” We’ve already established that pastoral ministry involves some degree of accountable authority, but no pastor must ever think that he is the head of the church or that the church belongs to him. In the same way, neither the deacons, the church council, nor any other individual or group of people must think that the church belongs to them or that they are the head. Jesus Christ was very clear in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church.” The church belongs to Jesus and, as Paul says in both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 1, it is Christ who is the head of the church. Here in this text, when Peter speaks of the church, he says that it is the flock of God. Though the pastor is called to shepherd this flock, he never becomes the owner of it or the head of it. The flock belongs to God. And as such, the pastor does not stand above the congregation, but alonside of them on level ground before the Lord. This is why Peter refers to the pastor shepherding the flock of God among you. They are not beneath him, nor are they above him. The pastor and the people are brothers and sisters under the Fatherhood of God; coworkers together under the Lordship of Christ; and fellow pilgrims indwelled and empowered equally by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has gifted each of us for the service of God in some avenue of ministry. Some are gifted and called as pastors, but those are not more important than those who are gifted and called to serve Christ as teachers, businessmen, stay at home mothers, plumbers, carpenters, or any other vocation. Whatever skills and gifts we have are to be exercised in the service of the Lord, and for some those gifts and skills are carried out under the divine calling of pastoral ministry. Pastors must remember that there was a gracious work of God going on in their lives when He set them apart for His service. I don’t deserve to do what I do. I haven’t jumped through certain hoops to earn this position. I stand here by God’s grace and nothing else. You didn’t call me to serve in this position because you couldn’t find anyone better to do it. It was because we both recognized that God was bringing us together in His sovereign grace for this purpose. Thus, Peter says that the pastor must always bear in mind that the church he happens to serve is one that has been allotted to his charge, as he says in v3, by the grace of God. And we must each recognize the sovereign hand of God in bringing us together in this way: His calling me to serve you as pastor; His allotting of you to my charge. This comes into sharper focus as we examine the third mark of a faithful pastor …

III. A faithful pastor is marked by his attitude

As we look at the New Testament passages concerning pastors and their service to the church we find that there is always more emphasis placed on who and how than what. That is, the priority in all of these texts are on the spiritual qualifications of the man, and the manner in which he conducts his ministry, rather than on the specific tasks listed under his job description. Every pastor is unique in his gifts and abilities. Some are better teachers and preachers, others are better counselors, others are more compassionate in their personal caregiving, and others more effective as organizational leaders. While all pastors must engage in all of these tasks on an ongoing basis, each one will excel at differing aspects of pastoral ministry. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” Different gifts, different ministries, different effects; but all of it is empowered by the same Spirit, rendered unto the same Lord, and accomplished by the divine work of the same God. And this sovereign God who calls pastor and church together knows with perfect knowledge the strength that each pastor brings to his office, and the needs that each church has in that season of its history. So, we mustn’t begrudge the fact that Pastor Jones is a better preacher, but a worse counselor than Pastor Smith; or that Pastor Davis is a better leader, but a worse caregiver than Pastor Murphy. Rather, we trust that God knew what He was doing when He brought the pastor and people together, as it were, “for such a time as this.”

But, though there are great varieties among pastors in terms of their strengths and abilities, one thing must remain constant. There is an attitude that must pervade all pastoral work if the pastor is to be found faithful. That attitude is expounded here in this text in the form of three contrasts.

First, Peter says that the Pastor must shepherd the flock of God “not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.” Essentially, Peter is here speaking of the difference between doing what you’ve got to do and what you get to do. The pastor must not engage in any of his duties with a begrudging spirit as if he is being forced to do something against his will. Rather, he must see all of the aspects of his ministry as part and parcel of what God has called him to do, as God’s will for him, and therefore engage in those tasks joyfully and willingly.

Then Peter says that this shepherding must be done “not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.” Here Peter is saying that the motivating factor in a pastor’s ministry must not be the power, privileges, prosperity, or other personal benefit that he would hope to gain from it. Moreover, the word that Peter uses actually goes farther to suggest that he must never resort to dishonest or manipulative means to acquire such benefits from the work of the ministry. Rather, he is to serve with eagerness, ready to do what God has called him to do, even if there is no reward or recompense this side of heaven at all. This raises the question of whether or not it is right, and to what degree, a pastor should be compensated for his work in the church. There are two issues here. First, the New Testament is clear that a church who benefits from the ministry of a pastor should compensate the pastor for his labors. And chief among these labors is the duty of preaching and teaching the Word of God. We see this in 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul says that the elders (or pastors) who rule well are worthy of double honor, particularly those who work hard at preaching and teaching. He goes on to say that withholding compensation from such a pastor would be equal to muzzling an ox while it is threshing, thus preventing it from eating of the grain beneath his feet; or withholding the wages of a laborer. In 1 Corinthians 9:14, Paul says that the Lord has directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. So, there is a biblical expectation among the churches that they will financially support the pastors who serve them faithfully with the Word of God. But then, the other side of that coin has to do with what is right for a pastor to expect. First of all, according to this and other passages, we see that the pastor’s primary motivator is not to be his salary but his calling to proclaim the gospel. If that is so, then he will do it whether he is being paid to do it or not. As Paul says 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” If this is what God has called me to do, then a paycheck or the lack thereof will have no bearing on whether or not I obey that call. And then secondly, understanding the true nature of the church and the pastor’s relationship to it, each pastor must be willing to live on what the church provides, according to its means based on the giving of each member. And if that figure is unreasonably low, then perhaps the church needs to adjust its expectations of the pastor so that he may take up some other vocation to supplement his income, even as Paul did with tent-making. Think of it this way: if a church has a hundred members, and all of them tithe, and ten percent of that church’s budget is devoted to the pastor’s salary, then he would be receiving the average income of his congregation, without placing an undue burden on the church budget. When I met with your search committee in the summer of 2005, they asked me, “How much salary would you require?” And my answer was that I trust God to provide, so if He is calling me here, then whatever the church offers me will be sufficient to meet my needs. The committee was shocked by such an answer. They told me that they had met with numerous candidates who insisted on six-figure salaries. How many of you draw a six-figure salary? If you were supporting a pastor with that kind of salary, his standard of living would be far beyond that of the average church member, and this should not be. So, while the church has a biblical mandate to support the faithful pastor in his work, the pastor is to serve God in obedience to the call and trust Him to provide, with or without a church paycheck.

The third contrast concerning the pastor’s attitude is found in verse 3: not “lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” You want to know the must humbling, stressful, anxious part of being a pastor? No, it’s not moderating business meetings, but that comes close. Rather, it is this reality -- my spiritual leadership must never be that of just telling you what to do. I have to show you what to do by my own life. That means that when things in the church aren’t going in what I think is a good direction, the first place I have to look is at the mirror and see what kind of example I am giving you. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” It would be much easier for me to just say, “Follow Jesus and do what I tell you to do,” and you know, kind of boss people around in the name of Jesus. But this is not the calling of a pastor. Rather, the shepherd walks in front of the sheep, showing them the way to go by leading them along in his footsteps. If you are going to have a close relationship with Jesus, then I must make sure daily that I have a close relationship with Jesus. And that is really humbling when I think that I will answer to God not just for my sermons but for my example as well. Jesus told His disciples that the rulers of the Gentiles “lord it over” the people. They demand things of the people and insist on being served by the people. But Jesus said that this was not to be so of His followers. Rather, the greatest disciples of Jesus will be those who serve others. Jesus said that even He Himself did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. If I would be an example to you, then I must follow Christ’s example. I must not think of you as my servants, but of myself as your servant; and I must be willing to give even my very life for you. I have preached this sermon to myself for 15 years, and I have a long way to go in living it out. These words are ever before me, and I hope they will work their way into your hearts and minds as well as you consider your church and your pastor, whether that is me or any other pastor in the future.

Now, in closing, I want to point out what Peter says about what the faithful pastor has to look forward to. Throughout his ministry, he will have hard days, he will make hard decisions, he will bear heavy burdens, he will suffer, sacrifice, and struggle. But if he remains faithful, if he carries out the responsibilities that come along with the titles he bears, if he nurtures the relationships that God has placed him in as a pastor, and if he maintains the proper attitude, then the pastor can look forward to a great reward when we see Jesus face to face. When the undershepherds stand before the Chief Shepherd, those who have been faithful to their calling will receive the unfading crown of glory. It is not fair to call it a reward, because it is of grace. It will not have been earned or deserved, but freely bestowed by the One who freely called and freely empowered us to serve. I pray that I might be found among that number of pastors who receive that crown on that day. But if I am, don’t look for me to be wearing it in heaven, for it will be cast with all other crowns at the feet of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, the Senior Pastor, to whom belongs all glory and honor forever and ever, Amen.

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