Yesterday, I had the privilege to address a sweet group of pastors about our biblical call to shepherd. As I did so, I also took the opportunity to confront what I feel are the 2 greatest temptations that pastors have to evaluate their ministries in ways God does not. Here is a summary of those 2 temptations contrasted to our biblical call:
1) We will give an account to God for souls, not attendance records (Heb. 13:17).
Questions: “What are we as pastors biblically called to account for?”
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13:17)
Answer: “Keep watch over souls.”
We find this clearly marked in the exhortation (Heb. 13:17) to these suffering Christians to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” The reason they are to obey and submit to their leaders (v.17), is because “we keep watch over their souls.” This idea to “keep watch” is similar to that soldier who stands on a wall and tirelessly and alertly guards that wall from the enemy. Why are these Christians to obey and submit to their leaders? Because their leaders are commanded to watch over their souls like a soldier would give his own life to guard a wall with alertness, protection, and care.
The responsibility to care for other people’s souls is a tremendous responsibility and just when you think it couldn’t get any weightier we find this tag after it (v.17), “They keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.” I can remember underestimating the pressure and burden I felt when I realized I would answer to God for not just tending to my own soul, and the souls in my family, but also to tend to the souls of the people of my church. Though the burden is great, the amount of joy received in this responsibility is designed by God to be equally great. This is why the writer says (v.17), “Let them do this with joy and not with grief.”
Dear brothers, let us not forget our calling to keep watch over the souls of our people is a great joyful burden that is unlike anything else we experience. We are to press on faithfully in this work knowing the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, will judge and reward our laborers and I dare say, dear brothers, it will not be based on attendance records.
2) We are entrusted to shepherd God’s people, not manage them (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Regardless what size, location, or demographic of our churches, the world is putting constant pressure on us to adopt a business model for the task to which we have been called. Even within our own churches, there is this pressure to manage people, administrate programs, act professional, and get the most “bang for your buck.”
Question: “What exactly are we entrusted to as pastors?”
“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, (2) shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; (3) nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. (4) And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Answer: “Shepherd the flock of God among you”
We exercise oversight of souls…voluntarily, with eagerness, and according to the will of God (v.2). We shepherd in such a way that we prove ourselves to be an example to our people (v.3). We are to shepherd in this way until the Chief Shepherd appears (v.4). Let us not overlook how we are forbidden to shepherd…under compulsion or for sordid gain (v.2), and to not take our authority God has given us and hold over our people or “Lord it” over them (v.3).
Dear brothers we are not managers, administrators, CEO’s, or professionals. We are shepherds who are commanded to shepherd God’s people on behalf of the Chief Shepherd until He returns for His sheep. Why would we want to secularize, professionalize, or organize that calling to look like the world when it is indeed a higher, divine calling orchestrated by an all-wise God that no man can improve on or legitimize.
As we pursue this divine calling, may we guard from the temptation to evaluate our ministries on numbers or our effectiveness to manage our people as resources, instead of eternal souls we are entrusted to spiritually care for until the Chief Shepherd returns.