Four years ago this week my eldest daughter, for an academic project, needed to interview someone relating to their profession. She chose to ask me a series of questions relating to my life as a pastor. Having been reminded of this today I read back through my answers and the answer to this question is necessary for many who are in the ministry of shepherding these days. I have already made the distinction of a pastor/shepherd and just a teacher/preacher.  The first does the second but not all who do the latter are called to the first.  This answer was given to a 16-year-old girl who has always been fascinated by the work of the Lord in our lives, and moreover, His providence in the times of great hardship.

How has being a pastor affected your life? Well, it has made my life hard. Ministry for the average “church” is just a list of things done and programs practiced, but for me it has been different. Having pastored churches of over 2000 members as well as churches of 40 members, God has allowed me to see one continual stream through it all: suffering. In suffering God is made brighter because I have not been able to qualify any success in ministry by my wisdom or hands. So, at many times pastoring is a lonely place, even though we are surrounding continually by people, the burden is difficult to express and in some ways, unnecessary. Many pastors will lie and say, “It’s a big ball of fun..” But it isn’t, it is gloriously satisfying but gravely burdensome. So, to simply put it, pastoring has allowed me to see that my life is not mine, but it is God’s and He has given it away to others for His name’s sake. This gives me great satisfaction.

This, among other things, is a great reminder and glimpse at the nature of the cross work of Christ, the continued work of laboring as Paul and the Apostles did for the sheep of Christ. We will suffer and we will suffer well. 

 

[18] And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, [19] serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; [20] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, [21] testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. [22] And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. [24] But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:18–24)

Scriptural AuthorityThis past week I have received dozens of questions but I had an email from a few weeks back that asked about challenges that pastors face and how they stand under the challenges.  In a quick reply I realized that there are MANY challenges that could stand against shepherds and that they are too many to list and never-ending.  Here are a few “thoughts” and then my reply.

  1. Spiritual Battles of the Enemy – any type of struggle causing any type of struggle.
  2. Spiritual Battles of the Flesh – this is obvious and would include temptation.
  3. Spiritual Battles of the Mind – these would include feelings, hurt, pride etc.
  4. Spiritual Battles of the Heart – the affections and lusts of the world vs. the affections of glory.
  5. Spiritual Battles of the Word of God
  6. Spiritual Battles are ALL for our good.
  7. Challenges come in the form of people
  8. Challenges come in the form of thoughts
  9. Challenges come in the form of temptations
  10. Challenges come in the form of time
  11. Challenges come and they always will

What challenges (both private & public) are ‘Pastors’ facing daily?
How do they cope? Your insight would be truly appreciated.

I could list hundreds, but off the top of my head, here are the most critical:

CHALLENGE OF UNDERMINING BIBLICAL AUTHORITY

Pastors face the challenge of undermining biblical authority. This means that in the world we live in, it is often the “norm” to just do things that draw people or create environments that would appeal to the masses of the world. In doing this, the pastor demonstrates that he has no faith in God or His power to save.

Let me explain: God’s word does not return void, it goes forth and does that for which it was sent. (Is 55:11) Hebrew 4:12 says that the word of God is living and breathing. 2 Tim 3 teaches that ALL scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for success to all the men of God. 2 Peter writes that all that is needed for life and godliness is given to us by God’s divine power and Paul in Romans 1 says that God’s word and His “gospel” is His power unto salvation. It is also very clear in Rom 10:17 that the hearing of Christ’s word alone brings salvation, nothing else.

John says that the word became flesh, so the word is Jesus who speaks truth as He is truth and Jesus reveals the eternal glory of God to the fullest. If you turn to 2 Cor 4 you will see Paul teaching that there is in no way cunning or tampering with God’s word with any attempt to draw, lure, engage, entice, or incite people to faith or interest. But he says that if people are not interested or cannot see the gospel they preach it is because satan has blinded their eyes and through the open statement of the truth of the gospel their eyes can be opened.

All through Jesus’ ministry people came from near and far to follow him but they perished in their sins because they wanted food, healing, power, encouragement and hope but they didn’t see Him for who He was and couldn’t because they did not have ears to hear. So, to make a long answer longer, the word of God alone is all we need as pastors to successfully shepherd, reach and minister to all the people of the world.

CHALLENGE OF THE PAIN OF THE HEART & PRIDE

Pastors face fear, rejection, temptation, loneliness and other personal issues because the job is demanding, overbearing and at times “prideful” when everyone seems to think highly of us. Therefore, Pride is a problem with many of us if we are not careful.

CHALLENGE OF TIME STEWARDSHIP & COPING

Time – we need more and that which we do have is mostly spent wastefully. We think that “living” with others in their circles and interests is better than prayer, study and teaching of scripture. But scripture has clearly called pastors to shepherd through feeding, not fellowship per se.

How we cope in these matters is surely back to the number one problem… we HOLD FAST to the word of God alone for our needs and desires. He read, meditate and pray.

Secondly, we must be accountable to other men who share the wisdom, maturity and insight of the role of pastor so we are not led to the slaughter by temptation.

Finally, we intercede for ourselves and our flock through prayer as often as possible many times in every hour. We care and we focus on knowing that God will do what He will do and that the outcome of our ministry is not how people respond or who is saved or how big things become, but the faithfulness of God. If Noah had no converts, then he wasn’t a failure because God used him to faithfully preach Christ (2 Peter).

So an added challenge would be to measure success by the world and not the word.

As I post this response, I am reminded that there are millions more and that these could very well each be a series of discussions and thoughts.  What challenges do you face pastor?  How do you cope?

Considering sheep as an animal helps pastors understand much about God’s instruction to us as we shepherd His flock.  One main reality that is continually driven home to my heart is the reality that sheep are most of the time very timid and easily frightened.  Because of this, I believe Peter understands the need to admonish Elder/Teacher/Pastor/Shepherds to consider the kindness of the Great Shepherd when tending to His sheep.  Often times Pastors consult with other pastors and one thing leads to another and the realm of oversight of the flock becomes an “us” vs. “them” battle whereby the shepherds begin to feel like they alone are wise and the sheep are all rebellious herds railing toward destruction and must be beaten into submission.  All to well, those of us who have pastored for any length of time understand that this mindset is easy to allow to settle within and also would readily admit that we have damaged some sheep because of it.  So, I want to take just a moment to share a fresh remembrance out of our Elder training today from 1 and 2 Peter.

 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-5, ESV)

As we closed with this passage, it became very apparent the reflection of oversight was governed by the gentleness of the Chief Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep.  The good shepherd, as should the pastor, provides comfort, protection, food, hope, grace, and humility to the flock of Christ and therefore reflect the power of God in the Gospel.  Even when rebuke and correction is required, it should be done, toward the sheep, in a gentle and corrective manner, not a condemning manner.  It appears that most believers are intimidated by the Pastor, mainly because the pulpit is so protected and bold and “up there.”  But, the demeanor of the preacher should not be bold and ruling when down from the platform, but gentle and eager to hear and lead.

Sadly, I have failed in this area more than I would like to admit, but God is faithful and gracious and if nothing else, in my error, I can lead other men to right shepherding and save the pain of shearing the sheep to closely with the blade of correction.  Pastors sometimes feel that they must “make the sheep see”.  But everyone knows it is not the mouth that opens the ears and eyes, but the Word sent by the Spirit that makes men see and believe and walk upright before the Lord.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21, ESV)

Peter is clear that the instruction of God is not myth but a proclamation of what they had witnessed.  However, it is not the experience of witnesses that matter to the fullest, but the sovereign word of the living God that creates the testimony of God through Jesus Christ.  Peter explains that their witness is to that which the Word indeed pointed, so that the word of the Lord will indeed to all that it was intended to do.  So, when shepherding, do so in a loving manner because the scripture will be harsh enough as it says in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

So, just as before in answering the question, “What Should a Pastor Really Be Doing?“, I would make sure that the “how” a pastor does what he does in regard to the sheep is in a gentle and humble spirit.

For His Glory by His Grace,

Pastor James

Yes, I know that I have “mispelled” [sic] shepherds as “sheepherds” because I want to make a point about the role of a pastor/shepherd among the church.  Often I talk with fellow pastors who continually tell me that they cannot meet the demands of the congregation.  When I ask what they mean, they reply with, “I am unable to meet the emotional needs of individuals in the church.”  To this I reply, “if you keep trying, you are unfit for the ministry.”  There seems to be a severely misaligned view of what a pastor is or should be and how his ministry should look.

Although there is much to be said about how to measure successful pastoral ministry, let me boil it down to one word: faithfulness!  A man of God is called to feed, tend and care for the sheep of which he is a part.  Pastors are not the SHEPHERD but an undershepherd or “sheepherd” that should be pointing the flock to trust and rely on the True Chief Shepherd who is Christ.  When any one person feels that a pastor is their “personal” pastoral counselor and chaplain, they have placed themselves above the church of Jesus Christ and in turn, placed their pastor in a place of perpetual failure.

Pastors main role is to POINT and provide opportunity for the sheep to grow to MATURITY, not be their savior.  The main problem is that tradition has clouded the reality of God’s word when it comes to the purpose of the church and the role of the pastor.  Although some pastors are gifted in certain areas and called to different ministries while they shepherd, the primary and foundational role of a pastor is the point to Christ through the faithful prayer, study and teaching of the word of God so that through the word of God, lives are brought to faith and equipped and strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus so that God receives glory.

Just a little thought for the day…

James Tippins

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-5:4 ESV)