The Portrait of a Pastor
The Priorities of Pastoral Ministry
Being raised in a non-Christian home, I didn’t have a healthy model of a biblical pastor or church. I began ministry nearly 40 years ago and, while I had some head-knowledge from a seminary education of what it meant to be a pastor, I knew little of what it really entailed. After two assistant pastor positions I was called as a church planter and then as a senior pastor of a church. But I struggled early on with what I was supposed to be and do.
Disillusioned by a Success-Driven Model of Ministry
Sure, I knew I was to organize worship, preach the Bible, recruit volunteers, and develop ministry teams, but I was strongly influenced in the direction of a marketing and attractional model for church growth. I grew very frustrated and dejected, unable to emulate the strengths and strategies of several successful pastors of mega churches. I was tempted to spend my energies on trying to be an entrepreneur, a program developer, and even an entertaining pulpiteer. I soon approached burnout and didn’t know if I would survive as a pastor, or if my church would survive me!
But God graciously led me out of this downward spiral. He revealed to me my idol of success and led me away from the worldly means of church growth. God brought me back to the biblical essentials of being a pastor and reoriented my heart toward finding satisfaction and joy in Christ alone.
Five Foundational Truths
I want to distill what I have learned over the years about the portrait of a pastor with five brief foundational truths. These essentials are basic in Scripture, but I hope they will be an encouragement for pastors and for church members in praying for their pastor.
- First, the pastor is to be a preacher of God’s Word. Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2). Since the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God, we must not forget that it is the primary means God uses to grow His church. Therefore, a pastor should spend significant energy in exegeting and developing expository sermons to feed God’s people. Preaching through large segments and books of the Bible should be the staple of a pastor’s pulpit ministry. A great deal of effective discipleship—especially over the long haul—takes place as pastors faithfully preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Faithful preaching emphasizes that every text relates to Christ and His Saving work. Effective preaching communicates how the indicatives of God’s nature and grace in Christ lead to the imperatives of obedience to His commands.
- Second, the pastor is a shepherd. Peter exhorts the elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). Shepherding involves teaching and modeling how believers handle the trials and temptations of life by growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:18), mortifying sin (Rom. 8:13), and pursuing the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5). To accomplish this a pastor should continually point his flock to the means God has given believers to grow in their growth—ordinarily the Word of God, the sacraments, and prayer—which most often takes place in the context of the biblical worship, fellowship, and service of the local church.
- Third, the pastor is an equipper. In Ephesians 4:12, Paul writes that pastors are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Pastors should spend a part of their time and energy discipling the elders of the church so they can, in turn, shepherd and equip those they serve. This follows Paul’s model in 2 Tim. 2:2: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Integral to equipping leaders is teaching them that their motivation to serve comes from continually remembering Christ’s love and service to them.
- Fourth, a pastor’s life is to be saturated in gospel truths. The relationship he has with his wife and children, and then with his church and community, ought to show forth a life of continual repentance of sin and faith in Christ’s redeeming work. Paul modeled this when he admitted his continual struggle with sin as a believer, ever clinging to the forgiveness and freedom that he had in Christ (Rom. 7–8). This gospel-saturated life will lead to increased humility and dependent prayer. Close to the end of his life, Paul freely admitted he was the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). But he didn’t stop with that identity; he gloried in the mercy and grace of Christ in his life. The gospel and the sanctifying cycle of repentance and faith is what compels a pastor to preach, shepherd, and equip with humility and dependency on God’s grace.
- Fifth, a pastor’s power comes from his abiding with Christ. Jesus said in John 15 that we must intentionally remain in Him—as a branch does a vine—to live and bear fruit. The Holy Spirit continues to supply us with Christ’s benefits as we daily commune with Him through the means of grace. Pastors are prone to seek their needs of significance, belonging, and power through people and success, leading to a false identity, discouragement, or burnout. But the Spirit reminds us through His Word of what we have in Christ, especially our justification, adoption, and sanctification.
God blesses and grows a church through a pastor who is a preacher of God’s Word, a shepherd of God’s people, an equipper of the saints, and one who lives a gospel-saturated life—empowered by his abiding with Christ. It has been my experience that it is easy for a pastor to be distracted from these fundamentals. May God help you, pastor, to remain steadfast to these basics of biblical ministry, for His glory and the health of His church.