Published: 25 July 2022

What Does The Bible Say Pastors Are Supposed To Do?

pastors
Shepherd with his flock. Photo: BiblePlaces.com

Christians expect pastors to wear a lot of hats. In addition to spiritual responsibilities, medium and large churches tend to cast their pastors into the role of a CEO or business expert. They expect him to formulate short and long range plans to ensure the growth and success of the church. They tend to measure success by attendance numbers and large budgets. 

Some congregations want their pastor to be a political pundit. They want him to weigh in on current events and tell us how Jesus, Peter, and Paul would vote in the next election. Smaller churches might expect pastors to clean the church building, unlock the doors and have the building ready on Sunday morning, print the bulletin, maintain the church website, etc. Suffice it to say, pastors are sometimes expected to do it all and their spiritual responsibilities are overshadowed by physical concerns. Are these the kinds of things God wants pastors to focus on?

What jobs does the Bible assign to pastors?

It might come as a surprise that the Bible assigns very few jobs to pastors. While the biblical duties are few in number, they represent a huge responsibility with eternal implications. What are those duties? The descriptions the Bible assigns to pastors (shepherds, elders, overseers, or stewards) serve as a hint, and perhaps there is no richer imagery of the role than that of a shepherd.

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:1–3 ESV)

What do shepherds do?

The primary role of a shepherd is to lead his sheep to food and water. He also cares for sick and injured sheep by nursing them back to health. He seeks out sheep that have strayed away from the flock and become lost. Lastly, he protects the sheep from thieves and predators. 

All of these responsibilities are vital to the wellbeing of the flock, but some of these duties are not everyday tasks. Shepherds who oversee their flocks well minimize sickness and injury. Likewise, closely watched sheep probably aren’t able to stray. With a little luck, thieves and wolves won’t be prowling on a daily basis. While it will be necessary to perform these tasks occasionally, the one thing a shepherd can count on every single day is feeding the sheep.

A pastor’s primary job is feeding the flock

The job a shepherd does most often is feeding sheep. Likewise, a church pastor’s primary job is feeding his sheep in the form of teaching. One of the basic qualifications for a church overseer is that he must be able to teach and give instruction.

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Tim. 3:2 ESV)

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9 ESV)

It is the responsibility of pastors to impart knowledge in the form of sound teaching to those under his care. 

“[Teaching] is one of the more significant requirements of an overseer and sets him apart from the deacons. The elders are the teachers; the deacons are more involved in the day-to-day serving.”1

Teaching is one of the primary ways in which pastors fulfill their duty of equipping individuals within their congregation.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Eph. 4:11–12 ESV)

It is the shepherd’s job to teach, train, and empower Christians. His edification of those under his care equips them to perform their own ministries. 

Pastors must rebuke

According to Titus 1:9 (quoted above) another very important responsibility that a shepherd has is to rebuke those who contradict sound teaching. A pastor must not only teach the truth, but he must also make sure that he allows no one to subvert it. Contradicting sound doctrine could come in the form of someone teaching that which is false. It can also appear in the form of ungodly conduct. Those who subvert the truth either by their words or their behavior put their pastor in the position of having to rebuke them. 

Pastors must care for and protect the church

There will be times when a pastor must protect his congregation from other “pastors.” It is a sad fact that many so-called pastors are not pastors at all. They are really wolves. In Acts 20, Paul offered this advice and warning to the Ephesian elders:

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28–30 ESV)

Paul predicted that “fierce wolves” would arise from a few of the very elders he was speaking to! The letter of 1 Timothy demonstrates that Paul’s prediction came true. Some of the leaders of the Ephesian church became the false teachers who Timothy was sent to rebuke.

Pastors must care for those who have become spiritually sick by ingesting the poison of false teaching. It is the pastor’s job to tend to those in this condition by teaching them the truth. Of course, some may become sick through discouragement or any number of traps devised by our enemy the devil. While teaching is important, it may not be enough to encourage those who are weary. It may be in this situation where being an example of endurance may be most important.

Pastors must be an example

not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:3 ESV)

Shepherds must not only teach us how to live, but also show us how to live. They lead by example, not by domination. It is perhaps through a pastor’s example that he teaches most effectively. It is not enough to know, we must also do. Many have mistaken knowing with doing and fail to actually live as God wants us to. Our pastor’s must lead the way by showing us how to live as God would have us to.

A pastor is to exercise oversight of his flock to ensure sound doctrine is taught. This oversight also included rebuke of those who contradict the truth. He cares for the flock and protects it from threats which are both outside and inside the church. These are all spiritual responsibilities.

Pastors must not be distracted

Managing the church’s finances and property is not the role of a pastor. The pastor is not the chief fundraiser or head political activist for his congregation. God has assigned deacons the duty of caring for the physical needs of the church. The duties assigned to pastors by God are spiritual in nature.

Too many (so-called) pastors today focus on building a religious empire. They see their present church as a stepping stone to the next larger congregation. Their ambition and determination to climb the corporate ladder (so to speak) makes it hard to tell them apart from Fortune 500 executives. They measure their success by the size of the Sunday morning crowd, the amount of money collected, and how much prestige and status they have among their peers and congregants.   

Biblically, the role of a shepherd is one of self denial. A true pastor will put the good of the congregation ahead of his own ambition. He understands that the true measure of his success is a congregation that is spiritually strong and healthy. He understands that the Bible teaches that his role is simple (by comparison) and that any job he takes on which is not spiritual in nature distracts him from his God given role. A shepherd’s role is teaching sound doctrine, edifying, equipping, and the spiritual care and protection of the flock. Anything else is falling short of a shepherd’s God given assignment.

References

  1. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 445.