Where do we begin to work ourselves out of the maze of frenetic, chaotic, directionless church life? It begins by letting Scripture shape the way we think about what a leader does. We need a clear job description. Without one, busyness can cause leaders to lose their focus on people. It is amazing how quickly this can happen in the midst of real church life.
The priority of pastoral care
There are three primary passages that provide a clear sense of what church leaders are to do: 1 Peter 5:1–4, Ephesians 4:11–13, and Acts 6:1–7. These passages will be our focus over the next three segments.
The first passage is found in 1 Peter 5:1–4.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
This passage is unique because it is one of the few passages other than Acts 20:28 where elders are commanded to do something. Peter also uses three separate words to refer to the spiritual leaders.
- Elders—the Greek word is presbuteroi. It is where Presbyterians get their name. The word tends to connote someone with age and wisdom who sits in a leadership role. Elders are to be wise and exhibit Christlike character.
- Overseers—the Greek word is episcopos. This is where Episcopalians get their name. This word literally means “oversight.” The word connotes exactly what it says. Leaders give oversight to the entire church. They do not micromanage, but they are responsible to see that things are done.
- Shepherd—the Greek word is poimen. This word literally means “shepherd.” This third word is used as a command.
The elders/overseers are to shepherd the flock. These verses are clarifying because they remind elders of their first priority. It is not buildings, finances, policy, or making decisions. It may include those things, but ultimately shepherds focus on the sheep. The priority of the elders/overseers is to care for people.
A strategy for pastoral care
In addition to 1 Peter 5:1–4, the second passage we want to consider that brings clarity to the role of the leader is found in Ephesians 4:11–13. This passage is critical as leaders think about how to prioritize their time.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
This passage does two things:
- First, it emphasizes the need for the leaders to equip the entire body for ministry. Shepherds are to care for and equip the saints.
- Second, it elevates both the leader’s and the general member’s role in the body of Christ. Both are important and necessary. There is a conscious commitment to see every believer in useful service in the ministry of the church.
For anyone who has been in pastoral ministry, it is easy to see how these can fall by the wayside while crises and urgent matters take over. Both shepherding and equipping will be pushed aside while other things crowd them out, unless leaders recognize the resolve and commitment required of them to ensure that shepherding and equipping remain front and center.
As I have taught this material over the years, I often encounter resistance from seminarians who are training to be pastors. Their concern is that a concentration on equipping the non-ordained person somehow diminishes the role of the ordained minister. I often have two responses. One response is serious and the other tongue in cheek. The tongue in cheek response goes something like this: “As soon as you start pastoring people, you will not be opposed to getting help from others, even if they aren’t ordained!”
On a more serious note, I don’t think equipping non-ordained people diminishes the role of the ordained office at all. In fact, I think it elevates it. All ships rise with the tide. If an ordained pastor is called to equip the saints, it means that that pastor is essential to the life and health of the church. This is the mark of good leadership.
Are you spending time with your key leaders, or are you just doing ministry solo because it is easier? You may be surprised if you start asking a leader or two to join you. I bet they will consider it a privilege and an honor.
An example of pastoral care
If you have been reading the previous two posts, 1 Peter 5 and Ephesians 4 must connect to Acts 6. This third passage tells you what is in the pastor’s toolbox to accomplish what you are called to do. Acts 6:1–7 is instructive for spiritual leaders in the church.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
The way leaders shepherd and equip the flock is by using Scripture and prayer. That is why elders must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). This teaching is marked by a skilled and redemptive handling of the Word of God that brings people face-to-face with Christ. Since all of Scripture points to Christ, our use of Scripture must connect people and their problems to Christ.
This ministry of Word and prayer, according to Acts 20:20, includes both public ministry of the Word (preaching/teaching) and interpersonal ministry of the Word (one-on-one conversations). Paul taught in the synagogues and went from house to house. You must have both. One without the other is incomplete.
Some leaders are better at preaching and some are better at one-on-one conversations, but both abilities must be present in order to be an elder. This involves more than knowing doctrine and protecting against heresy at purely a theological level. As important as that is, it also includes speaking redemptively to the issues the sheep face daily: struggles with besetting sins, parenting, marriage, suffering, and trials, to name a few.
Finally, it involves prayer. Prayer fuels a dependence upon God and recognition that this is a spiritual exercise, not merely passing along information. Prayer reveals that we are relying on a Person for people. We rely upon the Great Shepherd for the sheep.
Note: For an excellent resource on using Scripture for interpersonal ministry, you would be wise to read CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Dr. Mike Emlet.
Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane.