Last week we read from Ephesians 4 that pastors are an essential part of our individual and corporate life as Christians. In John 10 we see the characteristics of Jesus that mark him out as the Good Shepherd, today we pick out 5 of those characteristics that his under-shepherds, the pastors of the church should share.
1. Pastors Preach The Word
John 10:1-2, 7: “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep…Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”
A pastor’s authority derives only from the fact that he is a minister of God’s Word, this is what it means to “enter by the gate”. A pastor only has authority if he is preaching or teaching what Jesus Christ has revealed. A pastor has no other type of authority over others. It is only God’s Word that does the work of shepherding God’s people, that has the authority to lead, the sustenance to feed, the power to rescue and the solidity to protect.
In practical terms this means that a pastor’s main job is the teaching and preaching of Scripture and the application of God’s Word to the life of individuals and the church. Scripture is God’s gift to the church, and has proved to be an inexhaustible treasure. It is Scripture that teaches us how to understand and interpret God’s general revelation in creation and providence, Scripture that infallibly records God’s primary revelation in Jesus Christ, Scripture that points to and explains Christ and Scripture that shows us us how to apply his truth to every part of life.
This is why we preach and teach from the Bible each week, exploring and explaining the text. Pastors should avoid teaching on subjects not revealed in Scripture (e.g. angelology, the exact nature of heaven, speculative theology etc) and, while teaching the whole counsel of God, should prioritise those subjects which Scripture itself prioritises. (See, for references: 2 Peter 2:10, Colossians 2:18, Titus 3:9, Matthew 23:23, 1 Timothy 1:3-4)
2. Pastors Bring Life Not Death
John 10:9b-10: “They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
If a pastor is preaching God’s Word correctly then this should bring life to those under his pastoral care. The Pharisees that Jesus was speaking to in this passage seemed to teach Scripture, but the result was that they crushed people’s spirits and distanced them from God and produced the works of the flesh in people’s lives. By contrast, the sign that Christ is being preached is that there spiritual life, the fruit of the Spirit. This doesn’t mean that pastors will only ever say what people want to hear, or that God’s Word won’t ever prune us or rebuke us, but, overall that it should bring freedom and flourishing to God’s people. There are many examples from church history of destructive doctrines that seemed to be God’s Word but actually brought destruction to the church, from hyper-calvinism to prosperity preachers to the heavy shepherding movement.
In addition to this, it is not enough to apply God’s Word indiscriminately, even the truth when spoken carelessly can be harmful to people. It must be carefully and skilfully applied, God’s Word is like medicine and pastors are to be physicians of the soul. When ministering the Word it is not always as straight forward as baldly stating the truth, but of bringing people to God’s Word in the same way that God does, gently, patiently and winsomely.
3. Pastors Should Pursue Humility
John 10:11-13: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”
Humility is a vital requirement to lead before God. The power of God’s Word is such that God will only allow it to be ministered fully by those who serve his people with humility.
True humility consists in the correct estimation of the value of others before God. Just as Jesus lays down his life for his sheep so a true pastor should value God’s flock above all else, even his own interests. The true value of a pastors ministry does not lie in the things the world values – polished programmes, numbers at church, slick services – but in the spiritual health of the people in their love for God and each other.
For this reason pastors should pursue humility in their character and circumstances to enable what is truly precious to God in their ministry to be made known (see, for example the Apostle Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 9:13-15).
Humility in ministry should be prized by Christians too, too often the marks of worldly success can obscure the true value of things, or even mask serious failing. This is especially important in our culture when we are conditioned to respond positively to highly polished and meticulously produced media. The urbane TV pastor or slickly beautiful worship group may subconsciously convince us of the value of their ministry, but the only true measure is their spiritual fruit.
4. Pastors lead people to Christ not to themselves
John 10:14-15: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father”
Bad shepherds in Scripture are portrayed as waterless springs who draw people to themselves rather than to God. They use people for their own ends, for fame, money or personal gratification (see e.g. 2 Peter 2:10-19). One of the driving forces in the Reformation was abuse of this kind, the structure of the church and the relationship between the church’s pastors and people was such that people were drawn into dependence on the Church, or saints, or priests, or the Sacraments, rather than into relationship with Jesus and the people were often manipulated for political or financial ends.
In contrast, pastors are meant to lead people to deep, personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, and him alone, we come to the Father in the Spirit.
Thus, even though pastors are necessary, we should ensure that we are personally pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ rather than riding the coat-tails of ministers or other Christians. Also we should steer clear of pastors and teachers who claim special, unique revelation from God that makes us dependent on them.
5. Pastors Foster Unity With The Wider Church
John 16b: “…there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
The fact that we are part of the universal church is one of the most significant aspects of our faith, we believe in the communion of the Saints, that we have spiritual fellowship with every Christian who has ever lived. We are part of a family of faithful which has impacted the world more than any other movement or cause. An overly narrow view of the true church robs us of the security and perspective that being part of this incredible family offers us.
For pastors this unity has a negative and positive outworking. Negatively, it means that pastors should avoid teaching novel doctrine as this creates division with the wider church. It is good to articulate our faith in new ways and to explore it more deeply, but if a pastor is teaching something that actually contradicts two millennia of Christian consensus, the chances are he is wrong. Likewise attempts to rethink core doctrines of the faith should be avoided as divisive and unnecessary. The media’s bias towards novelty and popular content along with the availability of Christian teaching through the internet and Christian TV means that most Christians are exposed to more diverse teaching than in the past. It is important that we bear these points in mind if we listen to other teachers and preachers.
Positively, pastors should foster a generous attitude to Churches who differ in theology or practice from ourselves on theological issues. They should assume the best of other ministers and churches and only highlight or teach against differences where it is necessary to do so when they understand them clearly and the facts are clearly established. By doing this we keep in mind that our unity is not one of sameness but a unity that leads to diversity. The church of Christ consists of every tribe and tongue and nation, it is a heavenly city made up of every precious jewel and containing all the treasures of the kings of the Earth. (Revelation 21:24)