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Pastoral Ministry And Leadership


This time, I choose to address a subject that has been bothering me for some time. You will all find it difficult and perhaps offensive. This will enrage some of you. However, give it a chance. Consider this before dismissing me as a ministry sceptic.


God has blessed me over the last several years with the opportunity to not only teach at a few Bible Colleges but also to minister in a variety of churches and denominations. As I interact with diverse leaders, I have seen a core premise around which several pastoral paradigms are built.

It is assumed that the pastor's first and primary job is to offer pastoral care for the congregation — to look after the sheep. This would involve direct care such as hospital and home visits, counselling, crisis care, and other critical care activities.

However, I would argue against this assumption from a scriptural (exegetical) and practical standpoint. While pastoral care is a component of the pastorship, I think it is not the pastor's main or principal job. 


The pastor's major role is to lead the congregation, which involves teaching the Scriptures, spreading the mission, casting a vision, strategizing to create disciples, and safeguarding the sheep from false teaching, among other responsibilities. I shall elaborate on this later.

The pastor's primary responsibility is to guide the church. Both the Old and New Testaments utilise the shepherd's imagery to describe leaders, but a closer examination of these texts indicates that the imagery is more about leadership than pastoral care.


We begin by examining the Old Testament's shepherd metaphor. While pastoral care may have been a component of the work of certain Old Testament leaders, their main function was that of leaders. For instance, the prophets and God often used the phrase shepherd to refer to Israel's and the nation's political leaders.

2 Samuel 7:7 -- Wherever I moved among all the Israelites, I did not say to any of their leaders whom I appointed to care for my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house made from cedar?”’

Isaiah 44:28 -- who commissions Cyrus, the one I appointed as shepherd to carry out all my wishes and to decree concerning Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt,’ and concerning the temple, ‘It will be reconstructed.’”

Jeremiah 25:34-38 -- Wail and cry out in anguish, you rulers! Roll in the dust, you who shepherd flocks of people! The time for you to be slaughtered has come. You will lie scattered and fallen like broken pieces of fine pottery. The leaders will not be able to run away and hide. The shepherds of the flocks will not be able to escape. Listen to the cries of anguish of the leaders. Listen to the wails of the shepherds of the flocks. They are wailing because the LORD is about to destroy their lands. Their peaceful dwelling places will be laid waste by the fierce anger of the LORD. The LORD is like a lion who has left his lair. So their lands will certainly be laid waste by the warfare of the oppressive nation and by the fierce anger of the LORD.”

Ezekiel 34:1-4 -- The LORD’s message came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them – to the shepherds: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them.


The focus here is unmistakably on their leadership roles. The poet refers to David as Israel's shepherd in Psalm 78. 

Psalms 78:70-72 -- He chose David, his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds. He took him away from following the mother sheep, and made him the shepherd of Jacob, his people, and of Israel, his chosen nation. David cared for them with pure motives; he led them with skill.

Is he referring to David here as the nation's principal caregiver or leader? The solution is revealed in verse 72, when he employs a technique known as parallelism. To begin, he asserts that David shepherded Israel with moral purity. 

Then he adds a similar remark, "he led them with skill." The latter adjective led, corresponds to the earlier term, shepherded. We find a similar situation in 2 Samuel 5:2 when the Israelites tell David, 

2 Samuel 5:2 -- In the past, when Saul was our king, you were the real leader in Israel. The LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel; you will rule over Israel.’”

Whether or whether these leaders performed pastoral care tasks, the primary objective of their work was to lead people and while doing that they cared for the people.


The New Testament appropriates this picture and applies it to the Savior, highlighting his authority in particular.

John 10:1-6 -- “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.” Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then others, apply it to church leaders.

Acts 20:28-29 -- Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.

1 Peter 5:1-5 -- So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

These verses stress the shepherd-function leader's as protectors, supervisors, and role models for their flock.


In Acts 6 we find another message that is less reliant on shepherd imagery. The apostles and the early church faced a tough scenario in which one set of members complained that the other group neglected their widows—clearly a pastoral care problem. It is critical to observe the apostles' response to this scenario.

They entrusted pastoral care (care of widows) to others rather than taking care of it themselves. And most importantly, they decided, 

Acts 6:4 -- But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

If pastoral care is the most critical role, why were they not explicit about it? Rather than that, they emphasise the importance of prayer and the ministry of the word.


Second, there are various practical reasons to avoid overemphasising the pastoral care component of a pastor's vocation. One is that research indicates that some pastors who are strong in pastoral care tend to reject their congregations' healthy, necessary expansion. 

The reason for this is that when the church increases in size through evangelism or other ways, it becomes too large for the pastor to care for. This places a disproportionate demand on his time. "How am I to visit and care for all these individuals I care for?" he inquires. 

Thus, he often unwittingly hinders healthy expansion, resulting in the church being tiny and unable to reach lost people.

Another reason is that some members of the church, particularly the elderly, anticipate the pastor to visit them, especially when they are hospitalised. They are often outraged if he misses seeing them for any reason, even a genuine one. This perpetuates the myth that if the pastor does not pay you a visit, you have not been visited.


This brings us to the third reason. Others in the church may have pastoral talents as the grace of Ephesians 4:11 is applicable to both laypersons and pastoral authorities. They often bring these people with pastoral grace with them when they visit some of these same patients in the hospital. 

However, the same erroneous belief persists: "If the pastor has not visited me, I have not been visited." This undermines and even inhibits this critical laity ministry in the church.


The fourth reason is that some ministries within the church are more adept at pastoral care than the pastor, who may lack this ability. For instance, one of the benefits of a small group ministry is that it offers members with hands-on pastoral care. 

When I functioned as a pastor many years ago, I remember visiting a lady in my church who was hospitalised. When I arrived, I saw that many members of her small group had gathered to minister to and care for her. I am guessing I was more of an interference to them than a help to her.

Finally, some churches are too big for the pastor to attend and provide pastoral care to everyone or even a portion of the congregation. As a result, how can his primary function be pastoral care? If such is the case, we should require that he pay a visit to everyone.

According to the New Testament, I believe that the church's other leadership roles are equally as important as pastoral care. One example is assisting the church in developing and adopting a compelling, passionate mission statement. 


In Matthew 28:19-20, the Lord our Savior gave the church its mission statement, which is to create and mature disciples. This is one of the purposes of the church and the leadership. And the best method to determine a church's efficacy is to search for its disciples. 

Do you want to discover how effective your church is? 

Prove to us who your followers are. While pastoral care is included in the Great Commission, it is far larger than that.

Finally, numerous questions may be raised and responded to. To begin, where did the widespread belief that pastoral ministry is mainly concerned with hands-on pastoral care to emerge from? I think it derives from at least two sources: the biblical picture of shepherds and tradition. 


While Scripture employs shepherd imagery, shepherds were responsible for much more than providing pastoral care for their flocks. The verses cited above, as well as any decent work on biblical customs, indicate this.

As a result, this notion misrepresents what shepherds accomplished in biblical times. It is assumed that a shepherd spends the majority of his day tending to his flock. However, take notice of the verbs in Psalm 23. When we hear the phrase "shepherd," we should think of him as a sheep leader rather than a sheep caregiver.

Secondly, ecclesiastical (church) tradition is a source. An analysis of church history demonstrates that the church placed a distinct emphasis on the pastor's duty during various historical epochs. 

The Reformers placed a premium on the teaching of God's Word. However, the Puritans emphasised the pastor's duty as a "physician of the soul" in the 1600s. They felt that the fundamental job of the pastor was that of a shepherd of souls.

Much of today's focus on the pastor as a caregiver stems from this. While tradition might assist today's pastor in comprehending how the church has seen the pastor's duty throughout history, we must derive our understanding from Scripture. If tradition contradicts the Bible, it is critical that we adhere to the latter.

Is this perspective on pastoral service incorrect? 

It is improper for a church's pastor to devote the majority of his time to pastoral care and little, if any, to other areas such as communicating with and encouraging the congregation to follow Jesus' mission for the church—the Great Commission. Additionally, it is incorrect to claim that the main responsibility of all pastors must be pastoral care.

My goal in writing this post is not to minimise the value of pastoral care, but to place it in a biblical context. At a time when pastoring a church requires significant leadership, pastors must understand their biblical responsibility. 

I am persuaded that the main job of the shepherd is that of a flock leader who sometimes gives pastoral care to the flock when needed.



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