Sample Sermon: A Pastor’s Job
Editor’s Note: This sermon was preached at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, Maryland on June 29, 2014. We think it’s a commendable example of using biblical theology to instruct and edify a congregation.
This morning I’m going to talk about the job of a pastor. What does a pastor do? Why do we want pastors? How do we know if the pastor is doing his job? What is his job? What kind of authority does the pastor have?
You might wonder, why I am doing this sermon now?
In part it is because of the recent discussion regarding the vision packet that the deacons and I brought to you.
As I shared with you, I think hiring an associate pastor would be a good use of the resources we’ve been entrusted with as a church. I’m doing this message on the job of the pastor to explain the value of pastors based on Scripture in order to persuade you that the vision we’ve shared reflects biblical priorities and worthy of consideration.
I’m also doing this so that you can understand how I’m thinking through the role of the pastor in the church. There were some questions as to why I, with the deacons would bring this to the membership. Therefore, I think it would be fair if you understand how I see my role as a pastor.
How am I going to talk about the job of the pastor? It is not through church growth status; not by best leadership practices; not by talking about our constitution and by-laws, although we could go there, and at some point we will need to go there. I want to begin with something more basic: what God has revealed in Scripture.
God’s word gives his people instructions so that they might know how to function as his people. Part of this function includes the role of pastors. Therefore, I conclude, that God’s Word will be sufficient to understand the role of a pastor.
Now there are many ways we could go about looking in the Bible for the role of pastors, but the way I want to do it is to explore the metaphor of a shepherd.
The first thing I want us to see is that a pastor is a shepherd. That’s where the word “pastor” comes from. It means shepherd. The two are interchangeable.
Now a pastor does not shepherd physical sheep. No, I don’t have a flock of sheep in my house. Our kids would probably like that, but it is actually against GHI rules in the rulebook. So no literal sheep.
But God’s people are called sheep. God has one big flock of all his people throughout all time and they are divided into little flocks, called churches.
Peter writes to pastors in various cities and says, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you, being an example to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5
There is a chief shepherd who is Christ, but a pastor is an under-shepherd who charged with shepherding and caring for a group of sheep.
I’m convinced that if you really want to understand the role of a pastor as a shepherd, you need to begin with God’s overall purpose of shepherding. In his book, Shepherds after my own heart, Tim Laniak says something helpful. He writes, “[Pastoral] leadership can only be understood in terms of a fully integrated theological vision of God and his work on earth.” I think that’s true. (By the way, I used this book a lot to organize this message).
To get us thinking about shepherding, let me begin with the most famous shepherding verses of the Bible, Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
That’s a beautiful passage. I was just thinking about how I read that at a graveside recently. What a comfort it is to know that God is our shepherd.
From this passage, I think we can understand three aspects of shepherding.
These are the three things a shepherd does, and we see God doing them.
God protects: “Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” The shepherd had two tools. The shepherd’s staff was hooked at the end. It would be used to pull the sheep out of harm’s way. The other tool was a rod used to fend off wild animals if they came after the sheep.
Because of the shepherd’s protection, the sheep felt safe even when they walked through danger.
The shepherd also provides: “I shall not want” (no needs) “He leads me beside the still waters.” “My cup overflows.” “Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”
It is the shepherd’s job to get the sheep out of stifling heat and bring them to shade, to green pasture, and to clear water. This would restore them.
Finally, He also leads “He leads me beside still waters.” “He makes me lie down.” The whole idea of the Psalm is that the sheep want to follow this kind of shepherd. The sheep will have no good thing unless they do follow the shepherd.
Now, who is the shepherd in Psalm 23?
The Lord, right?
Friends, if we are His people, He is our shepherd, too. This passage is used in funerals because in our darkest times, we need to know that God is our shepherd.
If you aren’t a Christian, I hope you see that you have no reason to expect anything good in life unless God is your shepherd, and you follow Him.
Now that we understand that God is our shepherd, I want to, very quickly, take you on a roller-coaster ride through the entire story of the Bible and see how this idea of shepherding unfolds.
God provided, protected and led His people by putting them in the garden.
We won’t take the time to do so now, but if you read the opening account of Creation, you see that Adam and Eve’s first home, the garden of Eden, sounds a lot like this ideal pasture land in Psalm 23. It is a safe place.
God also provided for their every need. The trees in the garden were good for food. A spring watered the garden. It was not good for Adam to be alone, so in the garden, God provided a helper.
He also led them by giving instructions on how to live and not die. He was their shepherd King, and as long as they followed Him, they would be safe.
But they didn’t follow their shepherd. They didn’t want to obey His word. They wanted the freedom and autonomy to choose to go wherever they wanted to go.
The Bible describes their sin and all subsequent sin like this: This is from Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”
As a consequence of their rebellion, they had to leave the safe place and go out into the valley of the shadow of death where there would be danger, pain and death, where they would die.
Yet, in God’s amazing Love, he continued to be their shepherd. He continued to watch over them and care for them.
God did not plan to leave them in that valley forever. He would lead them into green pasture, and make them lie beside still water. This was the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. That land is called Israel’s pasture.
To lead them there, God appointed an under-shepherd, Moses.
Moses was shepherding actual sheep when God called him. This is important because it shows us the kind of person God wants to entrust with his sheep.
God is a shepherd to his people. Therefore, He wants those who lead His people to have a shepherd’s heart too.
The book of Acts tells us that Moses wanted to lead the people out of Egypt while he was still young and strong, but, no doubt, if Moses had tried to do it then, he would have relied on his own strength.
In Moses’ older age, he realized his inability in himself. God calls him to sphered the people, he says, “Who am I that I should go?” And God replies, “I will be with you.”
You see, it was God’s plan to be shepherding the people through Moses.
Through Moses, God protected the people form the Egyptian army, from the crushing weight of the red sea, from the invading armies that threated to destroy them, and even from the consequences of their own sin.
Through Moses, God provided the people with food in the wilderness, with water in the desert.
God was with Moses to lead the people out of slavery into freedom.
Through Moses, God did everything that a shepherd does.
Psalm 77 sums it up well. It says, “You led your people like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
Moses is an example of God using an under-shepherd to accomplish his plan.
The next example of an under-shepherd is David.
Like Moses, David is also a literal shepherd when God calls him. When it is time to appoint one of Jesse’s sons as king, they don’t even call David because he is just a shepherd boy, out with the sheep.
Samuel says that God looks on the heart. God wants the person to lead His people to have a shepherd’s heart. So David is anointed to be king.
The next time we meet David, he is bringing food to his brothers who are fighting the Philistines. His brothers mock him, “Oh, shepherd boy, what did you do with your sheep?”
They think his identity as a shepherd is his greatest weakness, but it is his skill as a shepherd that will bring him victory.
The people have to get used to the fact that David isn’t the same kind of king that the other nations have. He’s young. He’s a shepherd. Back then no shepherd could ever rise up and be king of a nation. It could even be embarrassing.
But he is exactly the kind of king that God wants. You see God wants to shepherd His people. Therefore, the kind of ruler He wants to set over them is a shepherd-ruler.
David’s commissioning as a king reveals his shepherd role: God says, “I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.”
Two things are clear.
1. David must shepherd the people. David can’t get out of the job. He is called and commissioned to be the shepherd.
2. But they are God’s people. They aren’t his people. They are not under his charge so as to do whatever he wants with them for his own interest. They are God’s people.
David was a great shepherd-king . . . until he forgot this.
One spring when the king should have been out leading the army to protect his people, David was at home, on his roof, looking at a naked woman. Then he sent for her and slept with her. And then, to cover it up, he had her husband killed.
Think about what David did wrong in terms of the shepherding metaphor: David should have been out sacrificing himself for the sake of the flock, but instead he was in sacrificing the flock for the sake of himself. It is interesting how the Prophet Nathan confronts him on his sin. He tells him a story about a man who “took a lamb that belonged to a poor man.”
David realizes that he was not being their shepherd. He was feeding off of his sheep, rather than laying himself down for the same. David repented, and God restored him.
What was an unfortunate exception for David became the norm for shepherds who followed.
· Solomon seduced many women, and hurt the people with high taxes.
· Rehoboam crushed the people with even more taxes, and he built temples for false gods.
· Ahab doesn’t stop his wife from killing the prophets of God and he seizes land that didn’t belong to him.
· Israel’s history is replete with example after example of wicked shepherds who were quick to sacrifice the people to advance themselves.
In the course of Israel’s history, we hear this refrain, “They did not walk in the ways of their father David.”
In other words, the leaders of Israel did not have a shepherd’s heart.
What does God think of this?
Ezekiel 34 reads:
“Ah shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
These people have been butchers, not shepherds. They see it as their job to feed themselves from the sheep, not feed the sheep.
Therefore, God says, “Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hands, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”
Then we hear God say, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
Ezekiel 37 says that God will do this by raising up someone like David who will shepherd them.
Who is like David who will be Israel’s shepherd-King?
Jesus is the “Good Shepherd.”
I think Jesus is clearly referring to Ezekiel 34 when he says in John 10, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Jesus says, “I am the one who will go out and gather the scattered sheep.” Jesus has compassion on the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd.
When Jesus arrives on the scene, it’s like the sheep have been ravaged by a pack of wolves. They are scattered. Some are dead. Others are lame. They are hungry. They are scared. Jesus comes to heal and gather.
Jesus does the opposite of what the wicked shepherd did. The wicked shepherds sacrificed the sheep for the sake of themselves. Jesus sacrificed himself for the sake of the sheep.
He lays down his life for the sheep.
All we like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has cause the iniquity of us all to fall on him.
You see, the greatest danger that the sheep faced is not the wolves but the punishment for their own sin. God is the good shepherd. There is no reason at all to leave Him. We are leaving the Good Shepherd who is all powerful and all good. This is a great offense to Him. We deserve His wrath.
Jesus becomes a sacrificial lamb and He takes the punishment that His people deserve.
Jesus protects the people.
Jesus also provides for the people. He feeds them in the way that they need it most. He gives them Himself.
We see that clearly in John 6.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus gives us the only kind of food that can restore our soul: Himself. Jesus says, “Feed on me.”
Do you see the great extent that Jesus will go for His sheep? He lay down His life to receive the wrath that they deserve. He feeds them with His own life.
This is indeed a Good Shepherd.
He calls us to follow. Jesus says, “Follow me.”
Friends, consider who wouldn’t want to follow a shepherd like that?
Why wouldn’t you want to follow a shepherd who loves his sheep enough to give up his life for them, and who feeds them with what they need most, Himself? He leads them with gentleness and kindness.
Jesus calls us to follow Him, He calls us to follow him willingly, with joy, because there is nowhere else in the world that we would rather be than behind this Good Shepherd.
Friends, if you are here this morning and you are not following this Shepherd, I plead with you, put your trust in Him, and follow Him. He is the only one who can protect you from that which most threatens you, and He is the only one who can give you what you need most.
Trust in Him and follow Him.
What does Jesus do with His authority? He commissions under-shepherds?
Here we get to the part where we are looking at pastors:
Christ commissions people to be His under-shepherds. Before Jesus leaves the earth, He says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The apostles are being charged to go and gather Christ’s sheep and to lead and care for them, in the name of Christ.
We see that in the specific commissioning of Peter. After Peter sins, Jesus confronts Peter and asks, “Do you love me.” Peter says, “Yes,” and then Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Three times Jesus tells him that.
Similar to David, two things are clear.
1. Peter is responsible for the sheep. He can’t get out of his job.
2. They are Jesus’ sheep. They aren’t Peter’s sheep. He is responsible to Jesus for how he feeds them.
When the Good Shepherd left the earth, He entrusted His under-shepherds to protect, provide for and lead His people, until Jesus who is the chief shepherd appears.
Pastors are given by God with delegated authority to shepherd the sheep.
Let’s see how pastors do the work of a shepherd.
First they Protect:
The need for protection of the sheep is very clear in Scripture.
Peter tells us, “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.” 2 Peter 2,
Paul warns Timothy that there will be “Men who oppose the truth.” They will “Creep into households and capture weak woman, burdened with sin.”
That’s why Paul tells Timothy that he left him in Ephesus to, “Charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,”
Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders who could, “Instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it.”
My point in reading these verses is so that you see the need for the sheep to be protected. There is a danger that false teachers would seduce the sheep. Thus, they need to stand up for the truth and insist on what is right.
The shepherd needs a staff so he can, as Jude says, “Snatch people form the fire,” who are beginning to be seduced by false teaching. He needs a rod so he can refute the false teachers.
God has put under-shepherds in the flock to protect the sheep. Under-shepherds need to know the truth so they can oppose false teaching.
Another means of protecting the flock that we often don’t realize is prayer. The apostles say, “We must give ourselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word.” Therefore, I understand prayer is one of the two primary things a pastor ought to do.
Some might say, why do we need a pastor to spend time in prayer, can’t he actually do something. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that prayer does do something. Prayer is how we put on the defensive armor of God so that we can stand against the evil one.
This is important because the church today is not in safe pasture, but traveling through the wilderness. This world is not our hope. We are like aliens and strangers. We need protection, and God provides pastors.
How do they do that? Primarily, they feed them the word.
As with Moses and David, God isn’t looking for people who look like great leaders in the eyes of the world and inspire confidence because of who they are in and of themselves. Rather, he is looking for humble people who will get out of the way and preach Christ.
In the passage we looked at two weeks ago, Paul says he did not come with persuasive words of wisdom, but preaching Christ. He knew nothing but Christ crucified.
What people need most is not the pastor’s wit, or wisdom, or skill, or even his compassion, but Christ. Christ is present when His gospel is preached. Therefore, the most important thing a pastor needs to do is preach Christ.
Paul models this in Acts 20, “You know …how I did not shrink form declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in Christ.”
Paul instructs Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with compete patience and teaching.
Paul further instructs Timothy to, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
Not everyone agrees that the most important thing a pastor does is preaching.
Some say the pastor provides for the church by running programs. Some sat that the pastors should give themselves to meeting the physical needs of people in the church. Some want a pastor they can hang out with and who meets people’s needs for companionship.
It all comes down to what is our primary need? If the primary thing people need is Christ, then the pastor’s primary duty—above all else—is to preach Christ, because scripture is perfectly clear that it is through preaching that people receive Christ.
Finally, They lead:
Let me share some verses that explain this:
In I Timothy 5, Paul talks about the elders who “rule well.” The word “ruling” isn’t so much the ruling of a king, but the ruling of a shepherd: Leading, guiding, directing.
1 Thes 5:12, “Respect those who are over you in the Lord.”
The pastor is called an “Overseer.”
Hebrews 13 states clearly, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.”
This teaches us that the church has an authority structure. God puts His under-shepherd out in front to lead. He calls His people to follow.
Now right away, people think, that sounds like a potential for abuse of authority. Doesn’t there need to be some sort of check on that?
Let’s look at what the Bible says is the check on that authority.
They are supposed to have oversight, but not “domineering over those in your charge.” Why? Because there is a chief shepherd. When He comes, He will sort everything out.
The under-shepherds ought to never think for a minute that they are the chief shepherd. That’s when they get into trouble.
Also, Hebrews 13 says, “Submit to your elders, for they watch over your souls, as those who give an account.”
Under-shepherds must give an account.
You see, with greater authority comes greater accountability. They are charged with leading God’s sheep, and God will make them give an account for how they do.
The reason behind God telling people about this greater accountability He will demand of pastors is to say, trust them to let them lead you.
Doesn’t it make sense that the person whom you should follow is someone who is especially accountable to God for how he leads?
Do you want a boss at work who basically things he is god, and he can get away with whatever he wants. Or do you want a boss at work who clearly realizes that he is under someone else’s authority?
Likewise, under-shepherds must know that they are under authority, and only then can they do good to the people. As the congregation realizes that they are under authority, it helps the congregation to follow.
One way to prevent abuse is to only follow a shepherd who clearly knows he is under authority. Follow a shepherd who has a high view of the authority of Scripture, who sees himself bound to Scripture, and who submits to Christ.
The reason God has told us of the authority he has over the under-shepherds so that it will be easier for you to trust them and follow them.
Now because God is the one who holds pastors accountable, it is important to recognize that the pastor is not anemployee of the church.
Yes, the pastor is hired by the church. The pastor is paid by the church (we really appreciate that, by the way. Thank you). The pastor can be fired. But he doesn’t work for the church, as an employee. He works for God. God is his boss.
The pastor’s first aim must be to please God. This is what Paul is getting at when he says, “The one who examines me is the Lord.” Paul is saying there, “At the end of the day, I really don’t care what you think of me. I only care what God thinks of me.”
Only if he ultimately does not care what they think of him, can he really lead them effectively, because sometimes he will have to say things to them that they do not like. Sometimes he will correct them. The only way he can represent God to them, is if he doesn’t care what they think of him. Otherwise, he is not preaching Christ, he is preaching himself.
If a pastor cares what the people think of him, then he will not be preaching Christ to them. He will be preaching himself. He will be trying to shepherd the people to his own ends, of being liked and respected. He will be like the wicked shepherds in Ezekiel 34.
At the end of the day, even if you disagree with the shepherd (which no doubt, at some point, you will), you want a pastor who works for God. Otherwise, you don’t have someone who is feeding you, you have someone who is feeding off you.
Now how do we apply this? Three brief things.
First, Make sure that you are thinking biblically about roles in the church. Don’t presume that your natural inclination for the relationship between the congregation and the pastor is correct.
Search the scripture. Pray about it.
As I was preparing this message, it struck me that the only way the congregation and pastor can work together is if they both have a high value for the authority of Scripture.
God has not given the pastor the authority to demand obedience from the congregation. God says, “Don’t lord it over them.” In other words, don’t’ be a despot. At the same time, God has not given the congregation authority over the pastor that they can tell the pastor to do whatever they want him to do.
Rather, he has put both the pastor and the congregation under the authority of the Word. God’s Word tells the pastor to take responsibility for the shepherding care of the congregation—as one who is accountable before God. God has told the congregation to follow good shepherds.
The relationship works only when both the pastor and the congregation are submitted to Scripture.
If you ask, why are there so many fights between the congregation and pastor, Why are there pastors who demand too much, who neglect their responsibility, and why are their congregations who won’t follow good pastors and want bad pastors? The answer is because there is not submission to Christ.
The relationship between the pastor and congregation only works if both are submitted to Christ. This is by God’s design, so that, at the end of the day, it is Christ who is clearly the shepherd of the congregation. Christ is feeding His people. Christ is protecting His people. Christ is leading His people.
That’s a beautiful thing.
The church is not the place where anyone leads with because of a strong personality or by being domineering. The church is the place where we all submit to Christ, and He leads. He leads the church through His Word and Spirit, and through his under-shepherds.
So, Friends, whether you are aspiring to the office of the pastor (which Paul says is a good thing, and I want people to do), or if you hold the office of a member, the most important thing you can do for the welfare of the church is to be one who is faithfully following Christ.
Second point of application is to realize that it matters.
Paul tells Titus to appoint elders and set the church in order, and I think those two are related. Without proper authority, the church is in disorder. A disorderly church is not a good witness for the gospel.
Sadly today many churches are in disorder. I once invited someone to go to a church, and this is what he said: “I won’t go to that church, there is too much drama, and I don’t like drama.”
Without submission to Christ, there is much drama, and power struggles.
When we are submitted to Christ, the drama in the church is a loving shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, and who continually protects, provides for and leads them. We want a church that is filled with that drama.
Finally, pray that God would raise up more shepherds. God says that the one who desires to the office of an overseer desires a good thing. I believe that our congregation needs more shepherding. Please pray that God would raise up more shepherds in our congregation.
Let me say one more thing. The point I want to leave you with is not shepherds in the church, but I want to lived our eyes to something higher.
Right now, the church is in the wilderness. Through His under-shepherds, Christ is taking the church through the valley of the shadow of death. One day the church will arrive at her destination.
In Revelation 7 we read:
“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
What is the reason or this? Listen:
For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Just as God led his people through the wilderness to the promised land in the days of Moses, so He will lead His church to their ultimate place of rest.
Every tear will be wiped way. No more valley of shadow of death. No more suffering. No more pain.
Friends, be sure of this: Those who follow Christ in the scorching sun through dry and thorny ground, will find the ultimate place of rest.
Will you follow him?