Two thousand years ago the apostle Paul, church planter and pastor par excellence, declared that he was a debtor to those to whom he ministered. He sensed an obligation to discharge, a duty to perform, and a debt to pay—both to the unsaved and to the saints in Rome (Romans 1:11–15). Ministers today are expected to labor with that same sense of indebtedness to their congregations. Why are they so obligated? The answer lies in an understanding of the dual calling of pastors.
A dual calling
First, there is the calling by God to this specialized ministry of shepherding a local congregation (Ephesians 4:11). Being a pastor is the most notable vocation known to man. Paul expressed this initial calling by testifying, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Timothy 1:12). One of the primary reasons for the recruitment of an ordination council is to determine whether the candidate is actually called and equipped by the Lord for this lifework. The certainty of such a special calling also provides the motivation for an effective and enduring ministry.
Second, there is the calling by a local congregation. According to Baptist polity, each church is congregationally governed and autonomous. So each church must, by the vote of its members, call the man of their choice, believing that the Lord is actually involved in the placement of the man of God. Pastors consequently experience a dual calling, and for these two reasons, they are under obligation to a given congregation. How then is this obligation discharged? In addition to the normal ministerial responsibilities of including his wife in ministry (and she needs to keep herself involved as well), keeping confidences, maintaining regular office hours, and providing the membership with clear goals and plans, there are four Scriptural ways to fulfill this calling.
Feeding the flock
Just prior to His ascension, Jesus commanded Peter to “feed My sheep” (John 21:17). The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote of the need to teach both “milk” and “solid food” (Hebrews 5:11–14). Paul admonished Pastor Timothy to “preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). This involves a recognition that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Pastors, therefore, should major in expository preaching in order to “declare . . . the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Believers need a balanced diet of spiritual food that does not emphasize certain truths to the neglect of others, because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NIV).
Shepherding the flock
Paul admonished the pastors from Ephesus to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God” (Acts 20:28, NIV). One of the primary ways of fulfilling this commission is for the pastor to visit his people, not only in times of illness and bereavement, but on a regular basis as well. This used to be generally understood and expected by both pastors and parishioners. However, in more recent times, this practice has been neglected, and rare is the pastor who personally visits the homes of the members of his church.
Recently I served as the full-time interim pastor to three churches in Iowa and Nebraska. Each church was divided over its previous pastor, who had been pressured to resign. The most common complaint was not the pastor’s preaching or leadership, but his lack of a compassionate concern for the members of their church. As one man stated, “We have been members of this church for twelve years, and the pastor has never called in our home. He doesn’t even know where we live.” It is easy to shift the blame onto the complaining church member for not taking the initiative to invite the preacher, but this does not excuse the pastor for not visiting in his parishioners’ homes. I am convinced that if each of these pastors had carried out this important aspect of their ministry, they would still be the pastors of their churches.
A friend of mine who pastors a thousand-member church reserves each Monday afternoon and evening for what he calls “fence-mending visitation,” since some of his many members are, as he says, “wandering sheep.” Like the Good Shepherd of Luke 15, this diligent pastor seeks and restores the wandering sheep. For this he is deeply appreciated, and his church is flourishing.
Based on my experience of 50 years of pastoral ministry, I am convinced that this particular kind of visitation should not be delegated to others. Something special occurs when the senior pastor and his wife ring a parishioner’s doorbell, as opposed to a lay member of a visitation team. In addition, such congregational visits provide insight to the needs, interests, and concerns of the flock, and will aid the pastor in his counseling and sermon preparation.
Evangelizing the lost
Paul commanded a local church pastor to “do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Not every pastor has the unique gift of being a vocational evangelist (Ephesians 4:11). However, every pastor must do the work of an evangelist. No minister is excused for not being an aggressive witness for Christ.
In every church, there are unsaved people in the audience. Pastors must not miss this golden opportunity to preach the gospel and extend a clear, public invitation to unbelievers to believe on Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Nothing compares to the joy of seeing that happen. Jesus revealed that there is also “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
This aspect of a pastor’s ministry also includes evangelistic visitation, which Paul said he did for three years by going “from house to house” in Ephesus (Acts 20:20).
Dr. D. James Kennedy, the originator of Evangelism Explosion (a program that many of our churches use), pastored a 10,000-member church. Yet for years he reserved each Thursday afternoon and evening for personal door-to-door evangelism. In addition, he continually exhorted his people to witness for Christ and to encourage their unsaved neighbors and friends to attend the church to hear the gospel. If parishioners are doing this, they can rightly expect their pastor to preach the gospel and attempt to win the lost to Christ. Paul declared, “Necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). We need the reminder that “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30).
Examples to the flock
A God-called pastor ought to be able to say with Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV). He commanded Timothy to be an example to the believers in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity (1 Timothy 4:12). Peter cautioned his fellow pastors not to be “lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Paul himself was concerned about his life and reputation. He said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Never has this example been more needed than now, with the alarming fallout of evangelical ministers today.
The spiritual qualification lists for pastors in
1 Timothy and Titus require that a pastor be an example in all areas of his public and personal life, which includes his marriage, home, and children. “For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5).
It has been well said that everything rises and falls with leadership. Because of Paul’s aggressive soul winning in that Roman prison, others were inspired to “speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14). When pastors share their experiences of witnessing and soul winning, members of the congregation will become bolder in their witness as well. After all, isn’t that the primary reason we are left here after we become believers? Church members can therefore expect their pastor to live righteously, witness aggressively, visit regularly, and preach fervently the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). This is what pastors owe their parishioners.
What Christians Owe Their Pastors
Recently from many years of pastoral ministry, Roy E. Knuteson wrote a companion article in the Baptist Bulletin (September/October 2008) that discusses the opposite perspective—of the obligations of Christians to their pastors. Here is a summary:
Intercession. The congregation prays for their pastor.
“Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Remuneration. The congregation pays their pastor.
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain, and, The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17, 18).
Submission. The congregation follows their pastor.
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive” (Hebrews 13:17).
Diligent Christians can immensely help their ministers by cheerfully cooperating with them as they endeavor to follow “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). Christians ought to gladly respond to godly leadership, because pastors will want to report “with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
If your pastor is a God-called leader and is diligent in his work for the Lord, you owe him your constant prayers, your continued support, and your Christlike submission. To do less is to disobey God.
Roy E. Knuteson (PhD, California Graduate School of Theology) is a retired pastor who attends Calvary Baptist Church, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.