What are a pastor’s core responsibilities? Several years ago, Thom Rainer, conducted a survey with his 12 deacons to discover what the church they expected of their pastor. He admitted to being surprised at the findings of his survey: in order to meet the minimum expectations of his deacons, he needed to spend 114 hours per week in his ministry. That is more than 16 hours per day for seven days a week.
Needless to say, there are many opinions about the responsibilities of a pastor, but if we paint with a broad brush we can summarize a pastor’s responsibilities into three core areas: feeding, leading, and protecting.
Just like a shepherd, the pastor is to feed his people, walk before them and keep them on good paths, and protect them when the wolves appear. Consider these three core areas a little more closely,
Feed: this includes preaching and teaching, but may also include counselling and other various forms of equipping. Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2-3).
Lead: leading the flock can be an administrative role, but it may also be a practical role. The pastor is to cast vision, but also to show the church how it should live as lights in a dark world through his way of life. Paul urges Timothy engage in several leadership practices: he is to appoint leaders (deacons and elders), to pray and to lead his people in praying, to train in godliness, and perhaps most poignantly, to “remain at Ephesus” (1 Tim. 1:3). Pastors understand how difficult it can be to stay sometimes, and Paul knew that Timothy would be tempted to throw up his hands and walk away, but he was to lead by staying. The ministry of presence is powerful for leaders.
Protect: perhaps, the most dangerous and maligned role of the pastor is that of protecting the church of God. The shepherd is most endangered when he faces the wolf. But, for the shepherd, the wolf is the only danger. For the pastor, the danger lies in the attacks from wolves, but also in strikes from sheep who want to protect the wolf. Protecting God’s church requires careful leadership and teaching before, during, and after the circumstance requiring attention.
It can be a scary thing to step into the role of protector as a pastor, and yet Paul urged Timothy to be aware of those would depart from the faith by following hypocritical “liars whose consciences are seared” by demons (1 Timothy 4:2). Paul knew that Timothy would be tempted to turn a blind eye to sin within the church–he knew how easy it could be to excuse strict eating regulations or extra-biblical marriage requirements as just another way to serve the Lord, but Paul also knew that this distorting of the gospel must be opposed because it’s root was demonic.
Paul urged Timothy to lead well, to feed well, and when necessary, to protect well. In the 21st century pastors have the same responsibilities.
We must shepherd the flock of God. We do not force feed them, we do not drive them on, and we will not live in safety from the attacks of wolves. What we do is take them to green pastures and still waters, we lead them in paths of righteousness and walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death, and when necessary, we comfort the church of God with our rod and staff.
Of course, we do all of this under the guiding hand of our great Good Shepherd who alone can feed us with the manna from heaven. Christ gives the grace necessary for his undershepherds to care for his flock, and in the power of that grace, pastors can lead, feed, and protect to the glory of God and for the good of his people.