What Is A Pastor?

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

God is giving Ezekiel a task, setting him apart; He is calling Ezekiel to go to Israel and proclaim the Word.  Basically stated, the Lord established Ezekiel as a prophet. 

Now, with that stated, we need to understand what a prophet is.  I think a common misunderstanding in our day and age is that a prophet is one who solely “tells the future.”  While we certainly see that happening in the Old Testament, a much better description of a prophet is simply one who is sent to proclaim a message, a message on behalf of God. 

Yes, God is consistently in the business of calling people to proclaim His Word, His message.  Moses was called to bring a message to Egypt.  Jonah was called to proclaim a message to Nineveh.  Isaiah was called too and so forth, you get the picture.

As we think about this in two-thousand-fourteen, does God still speak through prophets?  Yes he does, however, not in the way that we would probably think.

As we look to the New Testament we see that the scriptures speak of churches, that is to say, groups of Christians who call and ordain pastors for the local church.  Furthermore, we see in the scriptures the duties of the Pastor laid forth.  As a result, churches call and ordain pastors to serve in the local church; this has happened for the past two-thousand years.  Thus we can say that the office or role of the pastor is a divinely instituted office prescribed by scripture.  The office is laid forth for the church to have and for men to fulfill. It is laid forth for the Lord’s Word to go forth.   

But what makes a pastor a pastor?  Very simply, a pastor does not become a pastor because of some intrinsic worth or core power.  In other words, pastors do not have special DNA or special divine powers.  Pastors are no closer to God than laity and are sinners like any member of the congregation, if not more.  So what then makes a pastor?  What makes a pastor a pastor is a calling on behalf of the local church.  Churches, as the bride of Christ, call. 

You my friends, as believers, make up the church.  The church is not a building but the gathering of believers around the Word and Sacraments of God.  You therefore, as the Church of God, located in various places have the responsibility and power to call a person to the office of pastor.  Thus, a pastor is only a pastor when they have been called by a local church to be a shepherd.  Therefore my friends, there is no such thing as self-appointed pastors. 

When I was starting seminary, someone asked me why I was going to seminary and I replied to them saying, “I was called.”  Responding they said, “You are not called for you haven’t been called by a church.”   This offended me greatly, but do you know what?  They were right!  Just as God called the people directly in the Old Testament to be a messenger of the Word, God works through His church, to call pastors to proclaim the Word to the flock & beyond. 

So, now that we understand that prophets of the Old and Pastors today need to be ‘called,’ what are they called to?

In my humble opinion, the expectations of a pastor are some of the most misunderstood things in the church today.  Just what does a pastor do and what is he called to?  I came across a very funny job description for the ideal pastor.  Here is what it says,

The ideal pastor preaches exactly twenty minutes with an hour's content.  He condemns sin, but never offends anyone.  He works from 8 am to midnight, and also serves as the church janitor. He makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, and donates $30 a week to the church.  He is 29 years old and has 40 years of experience.  He is a strong leader, yet also follows everyone's advice.  He can effectively relate to all teenagers and spends all of his time with the elderly.  He is tall and short, thin and heavyset, and has one brown eye and one blue eye.  He makes 15 house calls a day, regularly visits the hospital, and is always in his office.

Now, we can all get a good chuckle out of the previous job description.  I am sure many of you can relate to similar expectations in your own field of work.  However, in all seriousness though, what is the pastor called to?  If we could summarize the office of pastor into a simple idea, theme and job description, what would it look like?  What was the primary thrust of the prophet of the Old Testament?  Simply put, the pastor is to be the shepherd of the sheep.  He shepherds, protects and feeds them not by his own strength or wisdom but feeds the sheep and directs the sheep by the Word.  A pastor’s main job is to be a servant of the Words of God, God’s Word as printed in the Bible. 

An older pastor once sent out an email to a bunch of young seminarians. (Note: seminarians are those that are in training for ministry). David Petersen said to them,
You are a servant of the Word.  Follow Jesus.  The Way of the Cross is a lonely, narrow path but it leads to heaven.  Be more afraid of God than you are of the people.  It is not the one who signs the check who provides daily bread.  Do the right thing.  Tell the Truth.  Suffer the consequences.  That is what a servant of Christ does.  

It is the Preaching Office.  Don't forget that.  Your relationship to the congregation is the same as the prophets to Israel.  Work on teaching and converting your own people-- which includes scores of folks not on the books.  Preach the Gospel to them -- from the pulpit, the podium, the bedside, and behind the desk.  They come looking for marital advice?  Tell them about Jesus dying for them.  They come looking for sympathy and a listening ear?  Tell them about Jesus dying for them.  They have a new baby, lost their jobs, are afraid of retirement?  Tell them about Jesus dying for them.  No matter what the circumstances, what the situation, you preach Christ crucified.  Never compromise the simple Truth that has saved you.

Believe your own preaching.  Jesus died also for you.  He called you to this Ministry.  He knows what he is doing.  As good or as bad as it gets, it will not last forever.  He is coming back to claim His own.

Indeed, the main job of a pastor is to proclaim the Word of God to his flock.  He is to proclaim the Word, not his opinion.  The pulpit is tied to the Word of God and the pastor is called to preach the Word.  The pastor only has authority when he is preaching the Word of God and not the opinion of man.  Furthermore the pastor has no jurisdiction apart from the Word. 

There is a temptation in the church these days to excuse the spoken Word in exchange for deeds.  The cry is, “We don’t want creeds/words, but deeds.”  My friends, while it is important for us to serve our neighbor, we can never forsake the Word of God.  As human beings we are prone to wander and prone to leave the God that we love.  Therefore, we need to hear daily and especially in the midst of the church, God’s Word.  We need the Word to stand from the outside—in, speaking to us about our human condition of sin and also God’s solution, the forgiveness of sins found and purchased in Christ for us.  We need someone to give us a report from the Word, we need the authoritative Word to stand outside of us and above us to tell us how things actually are. 

That’s right, we don’t need good advice, good techniques and good ideas to make us better parents, better spouses and better friends, for if a pastor’s message centers solely on telling parishioners to: yield more, pray more, care about unbelievers more, read the Bible more, get involved in the church more, love their spouse and kids more…, parishioners will develop the following narrative, ‘I wonder how I am doing in my life, my yielding, my memorization work, my prayers, my zeal, my sermon application and my witnessing?’ Even though these are good virtues, the narrative is turned inward to self and the Gospel is assumed.  Therefore, Christ’s church needs to be pointed outward to Christ. 

Indeed, we need a word outside of us.  We need God’s Word of Law announced to us to reveal sin, show us where we have been deceived and indicate to us where we have injured our neighbors.  We also need God’s Word of Forgiveness declared to us so that we might hear that we are forgiven, that we are declared righteous for Christ’s sake, that the guilt has been removed, that there is no condemnation for us in Christ, etc… 

The reason why the church calls pastors to proclaim the Word is that the message of the Cross is the power of God.  In Genesis chapter 1 we read and see that God is speaking the World into existence out of nothing.  God speaks, “Let there be….” And there was.  Out of nothing God makes something and He does so by simply speaking, His Word.  Through God’s Word He makes all things out of nothing.  There is power in the Word of God!  The same word that created the world is the same Word that creates and grants faith to you and me. (Rom. 10:17)  The same Word that created the world is the same Word that creates and sustains the church. 

Pastors are called to proclaim the Word because in the Word of God everything hinges.  Therefore, my friends hear this Word today, this Word that is for you:
  • “Be of good cheer, my son. Your sins are forgiven.”
  • “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
  • “Fear not, little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
  • “Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden. Take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
  • “And He, when He comes, will neither break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoldering wick.”
  • “When You return, remember me.” “I tell you, this day you shall be with Me in paradise.”
  • “It is finished!”
  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . .”
  • “. . . He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree . . .”
  • “God made Him to be sin who Himself knew no sin . . .”
  • “. . . for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
  • “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that [faith in Jesus is] not of yourselves, but it is a gift of God, lest any man should boast.”
  • “And to the man who does not work but trusts the One who justifies the wicked, his faith is counted as if it were righteousness.”
  • “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law.”
  • “. . . knowing a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”
  • “But now a righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
  • “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • “There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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