Life in the Local Church
Belonging to a local Church of the Lord Jesus Christ entails all sorts of things: Membership, fellowship, mission, corporate worship, discipleship, spiritual growth, spiritual discipline, and more. But, belonging to a local Church also means that Christians are to be pastored. Christians are to be led, fed, and watched over by a group of specially qualified men set apart for the work of God.
But, what does that mean? What does it look like? Plenty of people attend Church and claim a man or a group of men as their Pastor(s), but what is the practical side of that? What does it mean to have a Pastor?
What is a Pastor?
When Jesus establishes His Church, He does so through 13 specially called and qualified men called Apostles: The Original 11 (minus Judas), Matthias, and Paul.
Peter notes in Acts 1:22 that the special qualification for Apostleship was being an eyewitness to Jesus’s resurrection. These men were given a special measure of grace and authority from Jesus Himself to establish the New Testament Church. And, with the passing of these men, the special office of Apostle closed and is no longer active.
The role and burden of Church leadership was passed to a perpetual office called the Elder (also called Overseer and Pastor; the titles are used interchangeably with Elder being the most common).
And while Elders do not possess the same authority as the Apostles, they do share a measure of that authority, and are charged with the leadership and oversight of individual local Churches and the members of those Churches.
Their titles indicate the nature of their role:
Elder: Signifies standing, maturity, and honor.
Overseer: Outlines the nature of the work; Pastors oversee the life of the Church.
Pastor-Shepherd: The means of the Elder’s oversight; he shepherds through teaching the Word of God with authority.
-For more on the role and identity of the Pastor-Shepherd, read here…
What does it Mean to be Pastored?
Now, it's one thing to understand who Pastors are and what they do; you might even belong to a Church and claim a man as “your pastor.” But, what does it mean to be pastored by that man? What does it mean to have qualified Elders overseeing and shepherding your life?
In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter tells Elders that they are to “Shepherd the flock of God that is among them.” That’s their calling and role. They are shepherds of God’s people.
But, what does it look like to receive that shepherding? What should you expect from your Pastor?
In other words, what does it mean to be pastored?
We can answer this question most easily by simply observing the tasks that God calls Pastors to perform among His people…
1 - Being Pastored Means Being Fed.
-The first, and primary responsibility of a Pastor is to teach his people the Word of God. Rightly teaching the Bible is the only skill required of Elders in Paul’s list of qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). They must rightly divide the Word of God for the people of God, for the Word of God is life, power, gospel, and guidance (Mt. 4:4; Psalm 19, 119; Rm. 1).
We see the early Church gathering daily, to hear the Apostles teach the Word of God (Acts 2:42), setting the ongoing precedent for the Church.
Paul notes in Ephesians 4 that Pastor-Shepherds are to teach the Word in a way that equips the people of God for the work of God. Therefore, to be pastored means to be taught the Word of God in correct and authoritative ways, but also to receive that teaching in such a way that you respond and obey.
The Westminster Confession of Faith describes it this way:
Question: How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called to preach?
Answer: They that are called to labor in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.
Question: What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
Answer: It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine: What they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
To be pastored is to be taught the Word of God, and to be shaped, changed, and molded by that teaching.
2 - Being Pastored is receiving godly Spiritual Leadership.
Pastors are called to represent God to their people: They bring God’s Word, they bring a measure of His presence, and they bring His guidance.
Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people are led by Shepherds. God Himself is a Shepherd (Jn 10), Who leads His people into lush pasturelands, through dark valleys, and protects them from enemies (Ps. 23).
In the same way, Pastor-Shepherds provide spiritual leadership for their people. As Peter says (1 Pt. 5), they shepherd their flock of God’s people, providing leadership, guidance, and protection. They lead their people to the places of God’s blessing and refreshment, they guide us away from spiritual danger, and by God’s help, Pastors help to meet our spiritual needs.
3 - To be Pastored means Having a Spiritual Role Model.
In Heb. 13:7, the writer notes, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Church members are admonished here to pay attention to the way their pastors live. Watch their health, their personal lives, their marriages, their families, watch their spiritual devotion…and imitate it. One of the reasons why the spiritual qualifications for the office of Pastor is so high is that God intends His pastors to serve as spiritual role-models for His people.
4 - Being Pastored means Being Loved.
In 2 Cor. 12:15, the Apostle Paul notes that he “is ready to spend and be spent” for the souls of the Corinthian Church. He loves his people. In context, Paul is grieving over their sinful choices, but because he loves them, he corrects them and plans to come to them again, even at great cost to himself.
The Apostle John, in his letters, makes his pastoral love clear by his repeated usage of the term, “Beloved.” He loves his people.
And then, as we think of the vast imagery the Bible provides when speaking of Shepherds and their sheep. Christ Himself, our Great Shepherd, said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” We know that this is the supreme act of love carried out by the great Shepherd of our souls. And we see this very same attitude reflected in Paul, ready to spend his very soul for the sake of his people.
To be pastored means to be loved.
5 - To be Pastored Means being Equipped.
In Ephesians 4, Paul notes that God, “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd-teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
One of the primary tasks of Pastor-Shepherds is to teach the Bible so as to equip the people of God for the work of God. God is doing something in the world; He’s carrying out His grand mission. Which, earlier in Eph. 1:10, God tells that His mission is to unite all things in and through King Jesus.
Thus, to be pastored means to be taught and equipped to be a part of what God is doing in the world.
6 - Being Pastored means Being Watched Over.
In 1 Tim. 3, Paul notes that any man aspiring to the office of Overseer desires a noble task. The title Overseer shows up 5 times throughout the New Testament, and speaks to the nature of Pastoral work. Pastor’s aren't just preachers, and they do not just show up at weddings and funerals. The work of a Shepherd is to pay attention to his flock; to keep an eye on the personal health of his sheep; to watch for dangers, and stand between his sheep and that danger.
Thus, to be pastored means to have godly men watching over your life.
7 - To be Pastored is to Be Helped.
In 1 Thess. 5:14, Paul notes that Pastors share in the work of encouraging the fainthearted, helping the weak, and being patient with everyone. To have a Pastor is to have someone who loves the Lord and loves you. Pastors stand ready to get involved in your life, encouraging you to stay the course, bearing with you when times are hard, lending their strength when yours grows weak, and patiently walking through life.
There is much to be said for having that kind of person in your life. We all need it. To be pastored is to be helped.
8 - To be Pastored Means being Admonished, Corrected, and Confronted.
There are times when our lives get out of balance. We have times when we pursue things we ought not pursue, or when our priorities get misaligned, or we creep further and further down the path of sin. Because Pastors watch over and oversee their sheep, when they notice such things they have the responsibility to offer corrective shepherding.
For some, it will look like a small comment or admonishment: “Hey brother, I’ve noticed you’re starting to prioritize _______ over gathering with the saints regularly. That’s not a healthy or obedient way to go.”
Sometimes, pastoring has to take a stronger stance, such as we see in 1 Cor. 5. The Corinthian Church was harboring a couple in open adultery, and Paul has to confront and rebuke the Church.
So, at times, Pastors will have take uncomfortable steps and confront us when we are in sin, or starting down a dangerous path. They do so because they love us and watch over us.
This aspect of Pastoral ministry is given to the Church for her own protection and guidance. We all go astray. We all need our shepherds watching over us, bringing us back into the safety and health of the fold.
9 - Being Pastored means Being Guarded.
There are dangers and threats to God’s people. It is an unfortunate, and often overlooked reality. In Acts 20, as Paul is preparing to depart the Ephesian Church, he speaks to the Elders saying, “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; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…”
In many of the New Testament letters, the writers are dealing with threats of sin, in fighting, and false teachers. This is one of the main jobs of pastors, and it is one of the main ways people are pastored.
To be pastored means to be guarded from danger.
This is the Picture of Shepherding throughout the Bible: To be pastored means being fed the Word, led toward spiritual health, loved, equipped, watched over, helped, corrected, and guarded.
This is what Church members should expect from their Pastors.
And, this is what Church members should submit themselves to…
All of this ultimately flows from God, Who is the great Shepherd of His people. God Himself personally shepherds us by His Holy Spirit. We see this in promises like Psalm 23, “The Lord [Himself] is my Shepherd…”
But, we also see that God shepherds His people through human under-shepherds, called Pastors.
The Patriarchs were shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses was a wilderness shepherd, guiding the people, feeding them, and protecting them.
David, the great king, was a shepherd over God’s people, leading, guiding, feeding, providing, and protecting.
The many Old Testament prophets perform a shepherding ministry through teaching, warning, and correcting God’s people.
All of this biblical shepherding imagery culminates in the arrival of King Jesus, Who, is the great Shepherd over the people of God (John 10).
We see Him feeding, nourishing, teaching, guiding, guarding, and ultimately sacrificing Himself for His sheep.
What a Shepherd He is!
And now, with the establishment of His Church, King Jesus appoints new shepherds in every generation; specific shepherds for specific Churches so that His people are well-fed, guided, loved, watched over, and protected as they journey through life on their way to heaven.
In light of these wonderful truths, Church members should gladly and joyfully submit themselves to good, healthy Pastoral leadership.
What a gift it is to be Pastored.