“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Many businesses have a job description for their various positions. Whatever the job, there’s a list of guidelines for what the job entails.
Pastors have a ministry description. It’s found in Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders. Man doesn’t define the work of a pastor; it’s set by God because it’s His flock and the pastor works for Him. The pastor must remember that before a church hired him, he was ordained and appointed by God. Because of the day-to-day complexities of ministry, it’s easy for a pastor to lose perspective on his calling and try to meet the expectations of people. Since the church board hired him and has the power to fire him, he can easily slip into the mode of trying to make them happy, instead of doing what God has called him to. The temptation to be a mere hireling instead of a true shepherd is all too common.
Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that they must bend all diligence toward their calling. They do that by shepherding the flock of God. That may be a bit abstract for us since we’re not a pastoral society as they were.
For the Ephesians, it would have been crystal. They all knew what a shepherd did. The shepherd’s task was three-fold. He was to feed, lead, and protect the flock. No more and no less. The thing is, if he did those three things well, the flock would be well-served and be healthy and grow.
The first task of a pastor is to feed the flock.
Shepherds know the health of sheep is directly tied to their diet, so they seek out the best pasture. In the same way, pastors must be diligent to provide a steady diet of God’s Word. That’s exactly what Paul had done in the three years he spent in Ephesus. In Acts 20:27 he said, “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” As a pastor’s pastor, Paul knew the importance of a well-rounded spiritual diet. He didn’t center his teaching just on pet topics or scriptural hobbyhorses. In the years he spent in Ephesus, he taught through the Scriptures. If a pastor spends all his time teaching just one section of the Bible or just a few comfortable topics, then he’s feeding the sheep an unbalanced diet. They won’t be healthy.
Growing up, all three of my children were finicky eaters. If they had their way, they would have eaten only one thing for most of their meals—chicken fingers and fries. As parents concerned for their health, my wife and I knew that diet would make them sickly, so we put other food before them. Though they preferred fries, there were no fries, so they ate what we gave them. They grew up to be healthy and thanked us for the love we showed by giving them what they needed rather than what they wanted.
The children of God are often like our kids. There are certain things they love to hear about. If they had their way, they’d get a steady diet of only that. End times prophecy, the wonderful blessings and promises of God, His mercy and love. But if that’s all people ever heard, they’d end up spiritually anemic. Pastors must be diligent to make sure they give a well-balanced diet of the whole counsel of God.
Because of the day-to-day complexities of ministry, it’s easy for a pastor to lose perspective on his calling and try to meet the expectations of people.
As the shepherd tends the sheep, he keeps a careful eye on them. If he notices there’s some distress among them that can be corrected by a specialized diet, he moves them to that pasture. And so it is with the flock of God. Sometimes we go through seasons of special need, where a whole lot of folk are dealing with the same issue. When that happens, we take a break from our normal course of study to do a topical message or series. We consider such topical messages as spiritual vitamins that meet a specific need.
We’ve had periods of widespread marital trouble, so we teach on marriage. We’ve had seasons of intense spiritual warfare, so we teach on our authority in Christ and the armor of God. We’ve seen times when there are a lot of people coming to faith, so we took a few weeks to lay a solid foundation in the basics of the faith. The point is, the pastor’s goal is healthy sheep. Their spiritual diet is the most crucial aspect of that.
The pastor’s second task is to lead the flock.
Along with a healthy diet, sheep need exercise. In Psalm 23 we read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters.” If the sheep only eat and lie in green pastures, they get fat. And a fat sheep is in grave danger!
Phillip Keller was a professional shepherd who wrote a marvelous little book titled A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. His insights into the life of a shepherd and sheep open Psalm 23 as a wonderful masterpiece. Keller says that left to themselves, sheep are such creatures of habit they’ll stay in one place and so over-graze it, it ruins the pasture. They’ll keep going over the same trails until they’re muddy ruts. They’ll graze until the grass is gone, and then paw the dirt to dig up the roots. As their health deteriorates, parasites and diseases take hold. So the diligent shepherd moves the flock from pasture to pasture.
It’s no wonder God likens people to sheep. We too are creatures of habit. Many believers don’t like change. But if we’re going to grow, we must change; there’s no growth without it. So pastors must be diligent to keep the flock of God from becoming complacent and settling down to a religious routine that fails to stay current with the Holy Spirit.
Remember, God calls a man to be a pastor. With that call comes all that’s needed to fulfill the call. Where God guides, He provides. Since a pastor’s task is to lead the flock, God gives him what he needs to take them where He wants them led. That’s what a vision is. So we could say that “when God calls, He installs.” That vision is a mental picture of what God wants the flock to become; a healthy, holy, loving, growing congregation doing a specific work in their community. Faithfulness in the pastoral ministry means staying on course in the pursuit of that vision.
The third task of the pastor is to protect the flock.
In Acts. 20:29-30 Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
Paul spoke both from experience and by prophecy here. In many of the churches he planted, once he left, false teachers appeared and started in with their attacks. He knew it would happen in Ephesus, so he warned the elders to be on guard and watch out for false teachers. They’d come both from without and within.
One of the great concerns of a shepherd is a predator. Wolves and wild dogs hover round the edges of the flock, waiting for the chance to make off with a lamb. Lions and other carnivores see sheep as easy pickins’ so a good shepherd keeps a sharp eye out to protect his flock. His diligence is enough to keep the wolf at bay. But lions are bold and attack even when he’s watching, so he intervenes with the tools of his trade. The rod was a deadly weapon in the hand of a skilled shepherd. The sling could really put the hurt on.
David tells of two times when predators came to take from his father’s flock, but he delivered the sheep from the lion and the bear. That experience emboldened him to believe he could go against a predator named Goliath when he was harassing the flock of God, the people of Israel.
Paul tells the pastors of Ephesus they must keep watch over and protect their flocks. They face perils from without. False teachers are like savage wolves with one aim, to feast on God’s people. They also face peril from within. Some of them, the very men Paul was speaking to that day in Miletus, would go bad. The power of their position would corrupt them and they’d go off into destructive doctrines and practices that would bring spiritual ruin. The same is true today. There’s danger from without. Cults, false teachers, religious shysters and hucksters abound. They hover around the edge of the church, looking for the opportunity to rush in and rip people off.
There’s also danger that rises from within. Wolves in sheep’s clothing who appear to be a part of the flock but who have their own agenda. They worm their way into people’s confidence, then slowly start to draw people away from truth through clever means. They say things that sound godly but really just appeal to the flesh. They suggest those God has ordained to lead aren’t as pure and holy as they could be. They plant doubts in people’s minds through seemingly offhand remarks. But they aren’t offhand at all; they’re calculated to fire a dart of doubt into unwary hearts.
The pastor’s task is to feed, lead, and protect the flock of God he’s assigned to. May each of us be faithful to our calling.