During 2020, right in the middle of our COVID-19 season, I wrapped up a decade of pastoral ministry within our local church. Needless to say, when I was called to return back home and serve the local church where my wife and I grew up as children, I had envisioned something much different for the 10-year outlook. Last year was a hard year for many local churches for obvious reasons.
Over the past few months, we have seen an explosion of sudden growth. It’s the kind of thing you often pray for, but you rarely see. I’m leading our PMBC Discovery Class which is our membership class that we offer in the Spring and Fall each year—and we have record numbers going through the class. Beyond that, we have new families and young couples showing up each week who are expressing a desire for a biblical church. These families seem to be hungry for truth and dissatisfied with trivialities that are often commonplace within evangelicalism.
As I meet with our elders, we are recognizing this providential season of growth, and while we are overjoyed by what we see happening, we also recognize that God expects us as pastors to be prepared to receive these families and to care for them properly. At the end of the day—they are God’s sheep and with church growth comes various levels of pastoral responsibility.
The Responsibility of Shepherding (Leading and Feeding)
The roles and responsibilities of a pastor are multifaceted, but at the top of the list is the calling of a pastor to feed the sheep. That was exactly what Jesus commanded of Peter when he was restoring him to fellowship following his resurrection (John 21:17). That is precisely what Peter understood his responsibility to be as he articulated the roles of a pastor in 1 Peter 5:1-4). The most important role of a pastor is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5) and to make sure the sheep have a proper well balanced biblical diet.
One aspect of pastoral leadership is to also shepherd families as they assimilate into the life of the church. It can be overwhelming at times for new families to come into the church when everyone is a stranger. It can also be challenging to find areas of service as a new member. Sometimes members have a territorial spirit that prevents new members from getting engaged in areas of ministry—and the pastors need to be aware of this challenge and shepherd the entire church through the process of receiving new members.
The Responsibility of Oversight (Protecting and Correcting)
One of the great responsibilities of a pastor is to protect the sheep from danger. That’s what shepherds do and that’s why there is so many allusions and illustrations in the Bible that connect the local church ministry to the work of shepherding a flock of sheep.
Just as wolves lurk in the shadows of the field seeking to devour the sheep—religious wolves do the same thing. They seek to divide the flock. They seek to devour the sheep. They will often disguise themselves as sheep in order to enter the fold and do great harm. Paul recognized this danger and warned the elders of the church at Ephesus. Notice the sobering warning Paul issued to his fellow elders:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:28–29).
The role of the pastor is to defend the flock of God. This means, that we must keep our guard up as we receive new members to be certain that one of these prospects isn’t a wolf. We likewise have a responsibility to protect the church from wolves who seek to divide, destroy, and do great harm to the church. This can be through books, online resources, and parachurch ministries. Pastors have a responsibility to speak the truth about those who speak error and cause spiritual harm within the hearts and minds of God’s people.
The Responsibility of Discipleship (Equipping)
One of the great joys of a pastor is to engage in biblical discipleship. This is the process that goes beyond assimilation to genuine spiritual growth. The goal of a pastor is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not for sitting on a pew and watching others engage in ministry. Notice the words of Paul to the church at Ephesus:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:11–14).
Notice the language of equipping. It’s the job of faithful pastors to invest in the church through the weekly preaching and teaching of God’s Word in order that the church will grow spiritually and will experience maturity in the faith and be equipped by the Spirit of God to engage in faithful gospel ministry in and through the local church.
When all of this is done properly, the church builds itself up in love and is able to efficiently serve together and serve one another which will at times result in numerical growth as well.
If you’re a member of a local church—recognize these responsibilities of your pastor and pray for them as they faithfully serve you. Receive their ministry and seek the spiritual maturity and growth that will enable you to be a profitable member who contributes and enables the church to function properly for God’s glory.