what is a pastor?

John Frye has a helpful series going on over at his blog, considering what a pastor is. I think without oversimplifying the issue, he is hitting on something which I think about as well from time to time. Considering just what a pastor is, or the whole concept of pastor in this day.

I used to sense a call to be a pastor, but I was too unsettled in life I suppose, trying to find where I fit, indeed even trying to find where my own feet fit on the ground. Interestingly enough for me I think the place I most fulfilled this perceived calling from God was in a fellowship which doctrinally was farthest removed from where I am. I was an elder and did some teaching, maybe a message or two of preaching (aside from my regular nursing home ministry) and simply enjoyed the people there, trying to be present for them. Of course we had a pastor, and he was a good pastor as far as trying to teach and preach faithfully the word, as well as seeking to be present and accessible to the sheep.

I scratch my head over what the church does today, as well as over what people, including those with influence in the church, think a pastor is. Boards consist of those who are competent on worldly terms. Maybe the hierarchy of a denomination either dictates that, or suggests it. Within a context where there is close association and a certain amount of dependency so that it may be indeed hard to buck the trend.

A pastor is this or that, in some kind of professional understanding within some kind of model which seems removed from the New Testament, at least to me. Of course no two pastors will be alike, and we should not expect that. Everyone is gifted differently, and as one pastor, Charles Swindoll discovered in his own life, which set him free, each one simply needs to learn to be themselves in the Lord and by the Spirit. But what essentially is a pastor?

A pastor is one of the group listed in Ephesians 4 consisting of apostles, prophets and evangelists, and pastor-teachers (fits Greek, see Klyne Snodgrass). They are given by Christ for the church, to build it up, equipping God’s holy people so that God’s holy people will do the work of the ministry. Certainly not exactly in line with what has been embedded in our own tradition, the people expecting the pastor to do the work of the ministry, in large part by tending to them.

John Frye aptly takes us to John 10 to understand what a pastor is in terms of the good pastor himself, Jesus. Of course pastor can also be translated, “shepherd.” In our non-agrarian culture shepherding and sheep are not known. Jesus is said to be the gate of the sheep, that they go in and out and find pasture, that he has come that they may have life, and have it to the full. That he knows them each by name, he takes a personal interest in them; indeed the Shepherd and the sheep know each other. That he lays down his life for his sheep. And that he has other sheep who are not in this fold who he must also bring in, so that there will be one flock along with the one shepherd.

Peter wrote of elders being undershepherds to the chief shepherd, Jesus. That they are to serve faithfully as such. And as Jesus told Peter, Peter was to both feed and take care of Jesus’ sheep. That is essentially what pastors are to do. They are to feed God’s people with the truth as it is in Jesus, from God’s word. And they are to take care of them, watching faithfully over them in love, being present to gently help them in the way of the Lord. To the end again that Paul brings out in Ephesians 4. That they might mature into the fullness no less of Christ himself, in love each one doing their work for each other, yes doing the work of the ministry.

So much more should be said from this. This is something of the basics of what a pastor is as I understand it. Again I used to have the sense of a special calling from God in this, but over time I lost heart. I couldn’t overcome a deep inward sense of being troubled in terms of certain lies Satan had been able to work in my mind stemming from earlier times and occurrences I never got over. I wish this or that would have been true, but I need to be thankful for the good that was present and how God did work in my own life to bring me to where I presently am.

We need to pray for our pastors, and stand by them. Not criticize them week after week, but instead encourage them. At the same time holding on to what scripture teaches pastoring actually is, in line with the good and chief pastor himself, Jesus. Together in him for the world.

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