Responsibilities of Pastors to the Church
God’s organized organism is the local church. The local church is made up of sinners who have placed their trust in Christ alone for forgiveness and restoration of relational worship with God having become saints. God has placed leadership over his church to guide her and protect her, not to lord and control the church’s saints (I Pet. 5:1-4). God gave the church two categories of gifted leaders both to form the structure and to facilitate growth and expansion of the church (Eph. 4:11-13). God’s ultimate intent is glory in and through the church (Eph. 3:21). God’s glory in building his church is accomplished when God’s leadership and God’s people function in harmony with each other. There is a Biblical pattern for how this is accomplished.
Formative Gifts (Eph. 4:11)
Originally, God gave Apostles to form the structure of the church, this was the job of the twelve, Paul calls himself one born out of due time, and the least of the Apostles. In other words, he recognized that the original twelve were apostles, and he was the exception to the rule. God used the Apostles to give Spirit led structure and teaching to the church. As the Apostles died off, so did their gift, but their teaching remains in the NT which really is God’s teaching as he led each one specifically in his writing (II Tim. 3:16; II Pet. 1:20-21). Prophets were other individuals God used along with the Apostles to form doctrine and correct understanding of God’s Word—Mark, James, Jude, Luke, were examples of Prophets. As the Word of God was completed and the Apostolic age came to a conclusion, the prophetic gifts also ceased to be necessary for the church. The Apostles and Prophets were used of God to form his church, and God used the next two gifted leaders to expand and lead his church.
Expansive Gifts (Eph. 4:11)
Evangelists or literally, gospelizers, were those individuals who were led by God to expand the ministry of the church by preaching the Gospel and organizing together those who accept the Gospel into local churches. I believe many have misunderstood the gift of evangelists and have characterized them as itinerate preachers who travel in RV’s doing week long revival meetings. I hardly believe that is what Paul had in mind when he told Timothy, the young pastor, to do the work of an evangelist. The fourth tier of leadership God gave is called Pastor/Teacher. These men are called in other places, elders (I Pet. 5:1; Titus 1:5; I Tim. 5:17). Whereas it was the Apostles’ job to institute God’s church with the correct doctrine and the Prophet’s job to proclaim and write down God’s Word-both being formative gifted leaders, it was the evangelists’ and pastors’ job to grow and strengthen the church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (which is the gospel of Jesus Christ). I believe this has been manifested over and over again as church planters are led into an area to preach the Gospel where people have not heard or no church is established. As evangelists, they plant the Good News seed, water it and nurture it and as it sprouts and begins to grow, God leads that new church to choose elders/pastors/bishops to lead the church in growing in the grace of God. Obviously if Apostles and Prophets are no longer necessary with the completion of Scripture, the role of evangelist is necessary (or we might call them missionaries today) and the role of pastors or elders is necessary to continue to guide the church. As the church grew, the infrastructure of the church needed to keep up with discipleship, so the Apostles thought it good to have the church choose out men who were honest, of good report, and spirit-filled, so that the Apostles could appoint them to different areas of service for the infrastructure of the church. These men were eventually called deacons, which mean servants. All are called to be servants, but these served in a more formal capacity than most, and their primary responsibility was to relieve the Apostles (teachers) from duties that would keep them from prayer and study. Deacons were individuals chosen not because of human ability, or potential, but because they were already devoted to Christ and to the ministry of the church (Philip and Stephen are examples). The elders and deacons have extensive character and spiritual qualifications given in Scripture, not to separate them from the rest of the flock as more spiritual; but rather, these are the only two offices chosen by the church therefore the church needed guidance in selecting them. Sadly, many pastors and deacons are not chosen based on the qualities in Timothy and Titus but on more carnal means (wealth, style, personality, vocal, etc.)
What then is the purpose of the leadership within the church, the body of Christ? Considering mainly Pastors or elders, the purpose is found in their three titles– Elder (Mature), Bishop (Overseer), Pastor (Shepherd) (I Peter 5). From this text we see that a pastor should be a mature shepherd who watches over God’s people. The role of pastor is primarily spiritual; therefore we need to add that word into the description. He should be spiritually mature feeding the people (sheep) with spiritual food, while watching over the spiritual well-being of the people of God. Hebrews 13 tells the church to obey these leaders and submit to them, not because of any superiority on their part, but because they must give an account to how they lead; and also that it is for the benefit of the church that she submit to their leadership. Obviously, we don’t want to be a stumbling block toward someone who must give an account to God, and if a pastor is frustrated and constantly fighting the people; he is less likely to sincerely care for, pray over, feed, and love them. It is similar to children who routinely exasperate their parents can expect the leadership in the home to become less and less pleasant. This is, of course, with the understanding that all pastors will fail and all congregations will fail, but blessed are those pastors and flocks that admit and repent of their sin and failure.
Elder (Mature) (I Peter 5:1-4)
The most common word used to describe the pastoral role is elder. This word, presbuteroV, means older or mature in its normal use. It came to refer to the office of the church responsible for the spiritual oversight of the church. Elders were ordained by the Apostles in every city (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) there were believers (a local assembly). In Titus, I Peter, and I Timothy 5, it appears that these elders were the same as the bishops and pastors. The description of elder denotes dignity and maturity in the office of pastor. Elders were to be chosen out of the flock because of their spiritual maturity. In Timothy 3:6, there is a qualification that an elder/bishop not be a new novice or a new convert. The chief reason for this is to protect the new elder and the church from pride. Pride is mark of spiritual immaturity and so a warning is issued that the elders are not immature spiritually. Timothy was considered an elder at the time he was leading the church at Ephesus; Paul even telling him not to let anyone despise his youth so it seems the main component of being an elder was a spiritual maturity that could be emulated by the people of the church.
Shepherd (feed) (Eph. 4:11-13; John 21:15-19; Acts 6:1-4)
In Ephesians 4:11-13, we see that the primary job of the pastors is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry so that the body of Christ is spiritually built up. We know from many passages in the Bible, especially in Ephesians, that we are only equipped to serve God through two graces, the grace of God’s Word, and the grace of prayer. It stands to reason that the main shepherding ministry of the pastors is to equip with the Word and to equip with prayer. The Apostles recognized this early on and quickly mobilized deacons to meet the needs of the widows so that the Apostles (spiritual leadership of the church at that time) would not be forced to neglect the study of the Word and Prayer. A congregation must expect and demand that their pastors spend the majority of their time in the Word, so that when preaching and teaching is done, the flock is genuinely and continually being equipped to do the work of the ministry. Sadly, many congregations would rather the pastors do the work of the ministry and suppose that they (the flock) will equip them (the pastors) to do the work. A common phrase, some might say, “Whatever you need pastor, I will help.” That sentiment is a good one, and a servant mindset is to be applauded. However, when something is relating to ministry, it probably should be the pastor saying, “Whatever you need in your ministry, brother, I will help.” The pastor helps primarily by teaching systematically, and preaching expositionally sound doctrine. But the grace of prayer cannot be overlooked. Far too often, pastors spend so much time in “busy” ministry that they neglect persistent, efficacious prayer. Just as the church should expect and demand that pastors “stay in their study;” they should also expect and demand that pastors “stay in their prayer closet.”
Bishop (Overseer) (I Peter 5:1-4)
It cannot be stressed enough that the position of a bishop is spiritual. No, pastors are not to micro-manage the flock. They are not to tell them how to live, who to marry, what to wear, where to work or other such things. In fact, a pastor’s responsibility is to teach and preach principles and allow the Holy Spirit to teach, convict, and guide the Saint. Too many pastors take on the role of Holy Spirit when it comes to God’s flock. Two things will keep a pastor from doing this. One, recognizing that if a pastor is regulating the living of the flock, he is being a lord (I Peter 5) and that is taking the place of God. Too often we think that lording is being mean or angry. But a pastor can lord over God’s people and do it out of sincere love-that doesn’t make it right. The second is recognizing that the people of God are God’s possession, not the pastors’ pets. This mindset frees the pastor. He can trust God to lead his people; he simply must help them follow Christ.
This does not mean that pastors should never confront, warn, admonish, or correct God’s people; that is partly what it means to “oversee” them. But rather, when he speaks he must do so from the authority of God’s Word, not his opinions, traditions, likes, or dislikes. In other words, if it is something that cannot be accurately and contextually broached in Scripture, he must let God work on his own people in God’s own time. Rather the pastor should be confronting with Scripture and its applications constantly in a direct yet gracious manner.
To spiritually oversee God’s people implies (and is constantly supported in later general epistles) protecting them from spiritually destructive teaching and practice. This might sometimes even be protecting the sheep from themselves. I like the illustration of pastoral leadership that uses guardrails as the model. It is not that the pastor draws a line down the middle of the road and then tries to get everyone to follow his line. Instead, it is that he points to Christ in the Word as the line, and he is the guardrails to keep the people from drifting from Christ. This, of course, necessitates that pastors must know, love, and make much of Christ. A pastor who makes much of his positions, his standards, his opinions, his issues is likely to be placing himself as the line people should follow instead of being the guardrail pushing people toward Christ. The guardrail approach also leads to more member initiated ministry. Instead of the pastor determining what ministries and programs will be in the church, the members, as they are led by the Holy Spirit, originate ministry opportunities, outreach, evangelism, and disciple-making while the pastors help guide those ministries according to the Word of God. This is freeing because people no longer must wait for the pastor to “tell them how to serve.” Instead they serve and the pastors give them spiritual oversight over ministry.
The pastors’ responsibilities therefore are primarily to feed the people of God spiritually by spending much time in study of the Word of God and prayer. The pastors also provide spiritual oversight over the people of God by protecting them from false teaching and teachers and providing spiritual guidance as the people of God serve through the church. The pastors should be continually growing personally in their walk with the Lord, increasing in maturity that they might lead the church in godliness. There are many practical considerations that flow from these principles, and each pastor must work through how these responsibilities will be implemented in his particular ministry.
The congregation’s responsibility, according to the Word of God, is to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-13). A pastor’s heart would be more encouraged by active, serving saints engaged in evangelism and discipleship and all the support structures that accompany such service, than encouragement coming from just having a “packed house” to preach to (although there is great encouragement in people that listen to the preaching and teaching of the Word). The congregation also shares the responsibility to support the equipping work of the pastor. This is done by financially caring for him (I Tim. 5:17-18), submitting to his leadership (Heb. 13:17), praying for him (Heb. 13:18), protecting his reputation (I Tim. 5:19), and generally pursuing unity (Phil. 2:1-4).
When the pastors and people, shepherd and sheep, being led by the Spirit fulfill their responsibilities (and not try to usurp each other’s responsibilities) there is tremendous blessing as Ephesians says, the building up of the body of Christ occurs. This building up is both numerical and spiritual. To put it bluntly, when pastors do what they are supposed to do and congregations do what they are supposed to do, the church grows and God is glorified.