Anyone who has been attentive to the debates within conservative Reformed denominations will notice that there is a growing disagreement about the mission of the Church and the role that the Church plays within American society. There is growing pressure that the Church must speak out concerning matters of politics, race, economics, social justice, environmentalism, and a large array of cultural issues. This raises the question: what should we expect from pastors today? From my perspective as a layperson, there are three non-negotiable traits that a pastor must have.
Pastor as a Servant
First, a pastor must view himself as a servant of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1). By using the word “servant”, the apostle Paul informs us that pastors are those who carry out the commands of their superiors. First and foremost, a pastor is to serve Christ, which means that the pastor’s primary job is to carry out the will of Christ.
Practically, a pastor demonstrates his servanthood to Christ based on how he cares for his congregation. From my perspective as a layperson, if I know that my pastor loves me genuinely, many other shortcomings and misunderstandings will be forgiven. The best pastors that I’ve had were the ones who encouraged me when I was afflicted, who admonished and corrected me when I was unruly and foolish, and who prayed earnestly for my soul. In this way, a pastor fulfills his role as an undershepherd for the congregation. It has also been disheartening at times to see some pastors neglect this basic responsibility due to a busy travel schedule or other priorities. I thank God for pastors who shepherd the flock of God well (cf. Acts 20:28).
When I think of a pastor as a servant, I think of a man who is content with his calling and clothed with humility (cf. 1 Pet. 5:4). Rather than seeking for self-promotion, he is one who can say “I am an unworthy servant and have done only what was my duty” (cf. Luke 17:10). Such a man is satisfied with the congregation and the sphere of influence that the Lord has given Him. I’m reminded of the words of Peter:
“… 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; not domineering over those in your charge” (1 Pet. 5:2–3).
As a servant, the pastor realizes that the local church doesn’t stand or fall based on how well he performs and understands that he needs his congregation as much as they need him.
The Pastor as a Steward
Second, a pastor must view himself as a “steward of the mysteries of God” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1). The image that Paul paints for us is that of a household steward, which is a person who manages and dispenses goods to the household at the request of the owner. Pastors are household stewards because they have specifically been tasked to manage and dispense to the congregation “the mysteries of God”, which is the gospel of God.
Pastors are to steward the gospel of God by making sure it is faithfully taught in their church. Hence, pastors should treat this stewardship with the utmost care. No one has the expectation that their local minister will be the best preacher in the world. However, it is expected that a minister of the gospel is competent with the Scriptures. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Hence, it is expected that a minister performs his due diligence and labors in the Word so that he may teach us effectively and efficiently. As mentioned above, there is a myriad of issues that may fight for our attention as Christians, but nothing deserves the central place in our lives than the Word of God. Although there should be times when pastors must confront contemporary issues, pastors are uniquely trained and called as stewards of the gospel. For this reason, he should labor to preach faithfully from the Scripture and to preach in such a way that the Spirit of God can apply the Word of Christ to the heart of the congregation. Pastors are charged to faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God to His people week in and week out. Even in times when it may appear that the congregation is disinterested, pastors are called to reprove, rebuke, encourage, warn, and exhort with great patience and instruction (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1–3).
The Pastor as an Example
Finally, pastors are expected to be examples to their congregations. It would be irrational and unrealistic to hold pastors to the standard of perfect, but it should be said that a pastor is pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (cf. Phil. 3:14). There’s nothing more encouraging for me to see a pastor, who already is a godly and mature man, growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. This means that a pastor should be an individual whose character is above reproach on moral, family, and financial matters. I rejoice to see pastors who abstain from all appearance of evil (cf. 1 Thess. 5:22) and hate even the clothing stained by fleshly corruption (cf. Jude 23).
I don’t think that this can be stressed enough. Virtually all formerly professing Christians that I have met in my life have blamed their apostasy on the behavior of former pastors, and I sympathize with them. Throughout my life, I have met pastors who exploited the poor so that they may live extravagant lives; I’ve met pastors who had affairs with multiple women within their own church; and I’ve met pastors who have gone through multiple divorces. Within evangelical circles, there is an epidemic of sexual immorality from the pew to the pulpit, and the question is: who will serve as an example of godliness? It is definitely praiseworthy to observe the fruits of the Spirit abounding in the life of a minister. For this reason, pastors should be men of godly sincerity who can serve the Lord and their congregation with a clean conscience. It is this type of man who is worth emulating.
Within our society today, there are myriad opportunities for pastors to lose focus on what they have been specifically called to do. It is my prayer that God will continue to raise up pastors who do the ordinary, yet indispensable, work of shepherding the flock of God.