Where are the Shepherds?

Philippians 2:19-22 – 19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

The word for pastor in Greek is a word that means shepherd. It is not at all complicated or confusing. Pastors are supposed to care for the sheep. Sometimes that means a warning. Sometimes it means a comforting word. Sometimes it means driving off enemies with a stick. Pastors care for their sheep.

The reason that this is on my mind is that, as I read the above passage, I see the uniqueness of Timothy. Paul says that he has nobody like Timothy who will truly be concerned for the wellbeing of the sheep. Something about the way that Timothy does ministry stands out and makes him a powerfully useful tool in the ministry of Paul and in the church of God.

What makes me sad is that I wonder how many would say something similar. I’m not wondering if people would highlight a Timothy and say how helpful and loving he is. But I do wonder how many would look at a Timothy, a man who cares for others, and say that Timothy is unique. Do we truly not have men like Timothy who will be genuinely concerned for the good of others in their care?

I fear, as I watch many a person in the church, that there are too few, far too few, who genuinely seek the good of others. We have many who will fight to be right. We have many who will happily call out error. We have many who will seek to gain a bigger audience. We have many who will go to the mat for novel doctrines. But do we have many who will simply pour out their lives to care for and seek the good of the sheep?

May we never need to find Timothy unique. May the Lord bless our church with elders and laypersons who will have lives marked by the genuine care of others. May we see pastors who love to shepherd. May we know that warning and comfort, preaching and compassion, church discipline and restoration are all part of those who care for the flock of God, shepherding as overseers.

What Makes a Pastor

There are many attributes that should mark a biblical pastor. There are things that should be true of your pastor. Sadly, I do not know that many churches these days have this all figured out.

Years ago, I looked on line for a new pastoral position (Long story, Maybe I’ll tell you someday). As I looked, I found something disturbing. Churches listing for a new pastor listed what they wanted. They sought men who are leaders, organizers, driven, visionaries. They advertised for the men who would take their church to the next level or who would specialize in engaging the lost.

What was so often missing, however, was anything to do with the actual calling of a pastor. No, I’m not meaning a spiritual inner calling; I’m talking about the things that God has listed in his word that pastors are called to do and to be. I probably saw one church in ten, maybe twenty, looking for a man who would care for the church, who would be diligent in prayer, who would preach the word faithfully. Oh, many churches looked for a man who would be a good communicator, they wanted engaging and relevant sermons, but almost none listed a desire for a man who had a passion to feed the people of God with the clear, glorious, deep, unadulterated word of God.

Think of what Paul said about himself when he thought about preaching the word.

1 Corinthians 9:16- For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

Paul said that he could not stand it if he did not preach the gospel. Something about bringing the inspired word of God to the people around him drove Paul. He pronounced woe on himself if he failed to preach. And, no, this passage is not merely referring to evangelism. Paul is clearly speaking of faithful biblical teaching of believers too.

I do not have any problem with a pastor being a good organizer or communicator. I’m fine with a man who is good at developing systems. But let us not be so foolish as to miss that a passion for proclaiming the word of God to the people of God is a clear necessity for a man to be a good and godly pastor. If a man has no fire in his bones for bringing the word of God to the flock, something is very wrong.

If you have a man who loves his systems and loves his organizational charts and is great at planning programs but does not love—I mean deep down in his bones love—the preaching of the word, pray hard. Pray either that God will bring that man spiritual healing and personal revival, or pray that God will give that man an understanding that he is in the wrong line of work. And if your church will tolerate a successful business man who does not love the word of God and who does not love proclaiming the word of God for the glory of God, for the benefit of the people of God, and then for the lost to hear afterward, be concerned. Your church might have a lay elder or two who still does not love preaching, and that makes sense. These guys are stepping out way past their comfort zones to do something many of them have not formally trained to do. But when your church is looking for the pastor who will regularly be preaching the word, may they not settle for anyone who does not love the proclamation of the word.

Respect Your Pastor Enough to Talk with Him

The word of God is clear that the role and duties of elders in a local church is a tough role. Elders are charged by God with faithfully handling his word, with shepherding the flock, and with caring for souls. Pastors (elders are the same as pastors) are called to pray for the church, to correct the doctrine of those who stray, to call people back from sin, to comfort the hurting, and so very much more. And all of that is while regularly preaching and studying—and perhaps even writing on a regular basis in the modern world.

I would not give away my job for anything. I love the role to which God has called me, even though it can surely be hard. I love to teach the word of God and care for the people of God. And I pray that, by the grace of God, I might do this work well.

With the pastor’s job in mind, let me share with you an issue that pastors face that I think could be something all church members need to hear about. I have come across something that is necessary in the church, but which I think many Christians shrug off. If you need a prooftext verse for what I’m going to suggest, try this one from Hebrews:

Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

This verse of Scripture calls for church members to do their best to make shepherding them easy for pastors. This is by no means a verse that allows pastors to lord authority over people in the body. It is not the Bible saying that, if the pastor wants you to fund a new building, you whip out the checkbook without hesitation. It is simply a reminder that, because your pastors keep watch over your soul, you should help them do their jobs well, with as little pain as possible.

So, what do you do when your pastor holds to a doctrine with which you are struggling or with which you disagree? I would like to suggest, as a pastor and as a student of the Bible, that you have the respect for and love for your pastor to actually talk with him about your struggle. It is wise for church members who are trying to work out their beliefs, or who are even struggling with what the pastor teaches, to actually sit down with the pastor, hear his rationale for his argument, and see what can be done. It is possible that this discussion will sharpen or even change one or both of the people in the discussion.

I have seen a church member call up his pastor, ask for time, and then sit down to talk through a challenging and often-debated doctrinal issue. The young man came with his argument ready, but he also came with grace and humility. The conversation did not end with anyone’s mind totally changed, but the conversation certainly ended in fellowship, in love, and with both sides understanding each other better. This was good.

On the other hand, there are those in churches who disagree with their pastor doctrinally who simply make the decision that they will figure out the issue on their own without ever sitting down with their pastor to talk it through. As a pastor, let me simply say that this is a discouraging decision at the least. Pastors are surely not better than anyone else in the church. But pastors have, by the grace of God, often been given the privilege of years of study in which to wrestle through tough doctrines. To simply refuse to talk with your pastor about a doctrine may communicate to your pastor that his years of study mean nothing to you, and that you, in a few months on your own, will do a better job of figuring out a thorny theological problem. It can come across as a person saying that they will trust an author or a speaker from the Internet more than they will trust the wisdom of one who is in their own church.

The sad thing is, we will sometimes see that church members who do not talk doctrine through with a pastor may bring about division in the body because of their conclusions. They may leave the church. Or they may bring about a major conflict in the church. And often, these conflicts bring great sorrow to the body. All the while, had the person chosen to sit down with their leadership, the pastors the members said they would submit to, they could have avoided a great deal of the pain of the process.

Of course, I do not believe that every church member will agree with his or her pastor on every issue. In truth, I need to be challenged and corrected, and so do all other pastors. Which is why, for a church member to decide that nothing would change from a conversation is counterproductive in the body. Perhaps the pastor will learn something. Perhaps the church member who has his or her mind made up might actually find out that the pastor can lovingly present a truth to them that they had not yet understood. But to not give your pastor the opportunity for this, that is certainly not helping him to keep watch over your soul.

As always, thinking an issue like this through requires wisdom. I am not asking that one brings every petty preference issue to the pastor’s study for a four-hour discussion. There are surely doctrines that are of lesser importance, doctrines that will not demand division or policy changes in the church. Such doctrines do not always have to be addressed. But, then again, why not at least have a single conversation with your leaders about such issues if you are noticing them. No, do not become a thorn in your pastor’s side. But neither disrespect your leadership by assuming that they are wrong and they can say nothing that might influence you.

Also, we understand that not every person leaves a church over doctrine. People may desire to worship in a different setting or to serve a body they find fits them better. There are surely good and godly reasons to leave a church that do not require a doctrinal division.

Hebrews 13:17 commands us to help our shepherds shepherd our souls. Think along those lines as you think about tough doctrines you struggle with or doctrinal disagreements you have with your church. Perhaps thinking this way will help you to love your shepherds enough to talk with them about your struggles. Such conversations, if handled with love and grace, would glorify God and be good for all the souls involved.

What do you do, then, if you have a pastor who is not interested in doctrinal conversation? I have been in such a church in the past, and it was a really hard place to be. When you find out that your pastor is not interested in theology, or that he will not have a conversation about theology, then you may well need to consider another place to serve the Lord. But give the pastor the chance first. Respect him enough to speak with him. Make sure he knows what you are thinking and why you think it is important. Then, if you need to move on, if you have heard his thoughts on your doctrinal issue, you can go with a clear conscience, knowing that you have tried to be led by the shepherd the Lord placed over you.