By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
Everybody needs a pastor! Even a pastor needs one. But just what is a pastor to be and do to meet our needs? Today we use so many words to describe the role of pastor that I feel the need to put a laser focus on why I say everybody needs a pastor. I’m talking just about the one “somebody” God gives a church to preach and shepherd our souls in and at all of life’s turns.
No one person can be and do all that a church of any size expects of its pastor. I know that because I was a pastor for 11 years in Texas. I served for a time on the staff of a mega-church. Also, over a dozen years during the last 50, I’ve been an interim pastor in Tennessee. Interim pastors are kind of like granddads: while they’re present, they’re going to love on the church and be loved. Then they’re gone. When an interim pastor was about to leave a church, an old-timer said, “You’re the best pastor we’ve ever had!” To which, the interim said, “I’m not really much of a pastor.” The old-timer said, “Well, the church didn’t want much of a pastor, and you filled the bill.” Actually, most churches do want a lot in a pastor. They want their pastor to be all things to all people and then some. But no pastor can do that. So let’s get down to brass tacks.
“Pastor” and the Bible: In the whole Hebrew and Greek Bible, the original word for “pastor” is the word for “shepherd.” The Geneva Bible of 1558-60 is the first English Bible to use “pastor” instead of “shepherd” in Ephesians 4:11. The apostle Paul let us know that God gifts churches with a pastor/teacher as shepherd. In the Geneva OT, only in Jeremiah does “pastor” appear instead of “shepherd.” The KJV came along in 1611, about 50 years after the Geneva Bible. But the Geneva Bible remained the most popular English Bible until about 1650. Why did the Geneva Bible — and other later ones — use the Latin word “pastor” instead of “shepherd”? Why not be consistent in using “shepherd” — as in the rest of the translation? No one knows. But since we do know the biblical role and usage of “shepherd,” we also know the role a pastor is to have in a church and how the flock — the church with its sheep — is to respond to the pastor.
The role of a pastor: I said everybody needs a pastor, and that is true. When I was a pastor, I didn’t have one — except myself. During that pastoral time, I began to understand that the Lord was my pastor. So I started quoting, “The Lord is my ‘pastor’; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). In the New Testament, we see the role of pastor fleshed out in what Jesus taught in John 10. And we learn through Jesus’ words to Peter that a pastor shows his love for the Lord by feeding and shepherding the sheep (John 21:15-19). A pastor is to feed and shepherd the sheep and always follow Jesus. God loved all the world so much that He gifted us with Jesus as the Chief Shepherd to pay for our sins, give us eternal life, and empower us with His Spirit (John 3; I Peter 5:4; John 14-16). Both Jesus and the pastor of a local church are God’s shepherd-gifts to feed and equip the church for ministry.
What churches expect of a pastor: Churches and church members often forget their pastor is human and liable to fall into the temptations and weaknesses of humanity. But aside from that fact, pastors find themselves in a context of expectations that vary widely and don’t necessarily match all that the Bible calls a pastor to be and do. A pastor may be expected to fit in one or more of these categories: know everybody’s name; be good friends even with those that Will Rogers wouldn’t have liked if he met them; win the Super Bowl every year — or at least be a winning coach; be a cheerleader to pep up even the dyspeptic; and be capable in every category a church might need: preacher, pastor, administrator, etc.
I don’t mean to be hard on churches, and I’m aware that many pastors and churches have a relationship as good as a marriage made in heaven and lived out on earth. But as a young minister called to pastor, criticisms often hurt and bruised my thin skin and tender heart. I learned how to be what one person called “a velvet-covered brick” without losing my compassion and sense of Jesus as my model. I enjoyed pastoring. So I was surprised in God’s amazing maze that He led me along a path into Christian publishing and a move to Tennessee.
In that transition, I determined that I would always be a supporter of my pastor and make a positive contribution to the church. I’ve never had a bad pastor in my life. But in Tennessee, I began the practice of telling my three pastors over almost half a century something like this: “I will be one of your strongest supporters. And if you hear me cited as the source of a criticism of yours, you’ll know it’s not true. Because, if I have anything to say to you, I’ll tell you myself; and I’ll consider it coaching rather than criticism.” I’ve been true to that commitment.
What do pastors expect from the sheep? Obviously, the answer to that question would be another article. So I’ll simply summarize a bit. Pastors expect a church to stand behind their calling of him with love, shared ministry, and a durability in friendship and following God’s Word and will. They would love for the church to receive them as God’s new Elisha instead of the church wanting ol’ Elijah back. Pastors would love for the sheep to be responsive and learning and then commit themselves to shared service with the pastor. In other words, the sheep are called to minister with their pastor and not expect him to minister in their place. That’s a bit of what sheep are to do. I’ll offer more later!
— Copyright 2018 by Johnnie C. Godwin. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.