I feel called by God to serve him in pastoral ministry. So, over the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about and reflecting on the natural and purpose of ministry within the local church. Based on Scripture and guided by the helpful insights of those who’ve gone before me, here is what I think a pastor is supposed to do and be.
The Context of Pastoral Ministry
Pastoral ministry takes place within the particular divinely-appointed context of the church. A pastor does not minister in isolation; rather, he serves as one member of the body of Christ. Pastoral ministry thus cannot be understood apart from a clear grasp of the identity and mission of the church. I like to summarize this as follows:
- the church is the new community of God’s redeemed people established in Christ Jesus and expressed in individual congregations which are all bound together in the unity of the Spirit;
- this community exists to experience, express and extend to all people the amazing grace of Christ our Savior in the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.
The work of a pastor takes place in the context of this new community and is directed to fulfilling this divine mission. Of course, this is true of every believer. We are all called to use our gifts to build up the body of Christ and make disciples. A pastor is just as loved and called by God as all his brothers and sisters – no more, and no less. Nevertheless, though a pastor is no more valuable to God, pastoral ministry does have a unique and crucial strategic role in enabling the church as a whole to fulfill its mission.
1 Cor 12; 1 Pet 2:9; Gen 12:2-3; Eph 2:6-10; 19-22; 3:10; Mat 28:18-20
The Purpose of Pastoral Ministry
Pastors are given by the Holy Spirit to equip particular congregations with the gospel of Jesus Christ for the growth of God’s church both in numbers and in maturity. A faithful pastor thus works and prays for more people to know Christ, and for people to know Christ more. These two aspects of growth naturally go together, for as God’s people see and know more of Christ and his saving work for them, their joy in their salvation will overflow into loving and effective witness to that salvation. The pastor’s continual task will thus be to proclaim the good news that God has responded to our sin and rebellion by graciously sending his Son into the world to become one of us, suffer and die in our place, and rise again so that all who trust in him may have peace with God and eternal life in his glorious kingdom.
Eph 4:7-16; Rom 1:15-16; Col 1:5-6, 19-29; 2:6-7; Acts 6:1-7
Responsibilities of Pastoral Ministry
As a shepherd of the flock of God under the Lordship of Christ, the Chief Shepherd, every pastor is called to equip the church for gospel growth through some combination of the following tasks:
- Feeding the flock. The first and most important function of a pastor is to supply the flock with the life-giving food of the word of God. He must be able and faithful to preach the whole counsel of God rather than the doctrines of men. Because Christ is the center of all of Scripture, all preaching must feature the proclamation of the gospel. Because the gospel message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is what gives and sustains spiritual life, this focus on the gospel must extend beyond public teaching to permeate every facet of pastoral ministry. Whether leading, tending or guarding, a pastor should always be proclaiming the word of Christ in dependence on his Spirit.
- Leading the flock. Together with the other elders, a pastor is responsible to exercise wise and faithful oversight of the flock under his care. First and foremost, this involves exercising spiritual leadership of the congregation by pointing them toward Christ through biblical teaching and godly living. In addition, a pastor must labor alongside the other elders to discern the Spirit’s leading on behalf of the congregation in setting direction and responding to challenges and opportunities facing the church. When such matters should be considered by the congregation as a whole, the elders are responsible to facilitate the process of seeking the mind of the Spirit and to assist their brothers and sisters in making wise and biblical decisions.
- Tending the flock. A pastor should pay careful attention to the spiritual needs of the entire flock under his care. As pastors, the elders should work together to ensure that each member receives spiritual care and direction, whether through one of the elders or through another trustworthy, mature believer. They should both invite and seek out the hurting, broken, confused and guilty and minister to them according to their needs. In particular, they should pray for and anoint the sick in the expectation of God’s gracious healing power on behalf of his children.
- Guarding the flock. A faithful pastor will be aware of and ready to face the dangers that threaten the flock. The pastors must confront and rebuke sin, both privately and (when necessary) publicly as they lead the congregation in loving and honest discipline. They must also correct errors and refute false teaching, so that the church will not be led away from the truth of Christ. Above all, they must constantly watch over the flock in prayer, calling upon God to guard and protect his people from every attack of the evil one.
Mark 4:14-20; Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 21:15-17; Acts 6:2-4; 20:17-35; 1 Tim 3:1-7; 5:17; 2 Tim 3:14-4:5; Tit 1:5-9; Heb 12:12-15; 13:17; Jam 5:14-16
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5 thoughts on “A Philosophy of Pastoral Ministry”
Joel great post. Can I make one suggestion? I think you are missing one more key responsibility of pastoral ministry. Equipping the flock. See Eph 4:11-ff and 2 Tim 2:2.
Love your heart for the church. Praying for you
Great summary. Thanks for sharing it! I love this line… “A faithful pastor thus works and prays for more people to know Christ, and for people to know Christ more.”
Michael, I totally agree that equipping the flock is key to pastoral ministry, and you could list it as a distinct responsibility. I didn’t do so, because I view each of these responsibilities as means of advancing the overall purpose of equipping the flock. I tried to communicate that in the Purpose section and the opening paragraph of the Responsibilities section, but maybe I could be more explicit?
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