Why Pastors Are Not Employees Of The Church

Text: Ezekiel 34:11-16

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Shepherds exist for the sheep; however, sheep do not exist for the shepherd. Indeed, the arrow always points from the shepherd down to the sheep, not from the sheep upward to the shepherd. Listen to this very clearly: when sheep exist for the shepherd, and the arrow points from the sheep up to the shepherd, things go wrong. Let's say it this way: when sheep exist for the shepherd’s sake, it is a telltale sign of spiritual abuse.

When we consider the verses right before our Old Testament reading from the book of Ezekiel, we hear all about evil shepherds; we hear how the leaders of Israel drank the sheep's milk, made clothes from the sheep's wool, and roasted the lambs to feed their mouths. The shepherds did not bind up the weak sheep, heal the sick sheep, strengthen the injured sheep, or go after the stray sheep; instead, they bullied and badgered them. The shepherds spiritually abused the sheep of Israel, using the sheep for their gain. The sheep were without a shepherd; they were scattered and became easy picking for wolves and coyotes.

And so, mark this: the pastors of St. Paul’s exist for you as the sheep of this flock. Pastor Roth and I are in this church as shepherds to serve you as sheep. That is right; our calling and vocation as pastors is to serve you as sheep.  As much as pastor Roth and I enjoy the kindness shown to us by you, as gracious sheep, the primary burden is on us to suffer and serve you so that you may reach the grave with a blessed end in Christ.  That is right; a pastor's job is to shepherd you from baptism to your blessed end, where you are tucked into a holy grave to await the resurrection.

Now, it might be easy to conclude from this that we pastors are employees of the sheep. In fact, I can remember that as a young pastor, an older gentleman from a previous church told me that I worked for him because he paid the bills at the church. Long story short, he did not appreciate it too much when I gently responded that the church was not a democracy and that he wasn’t my boss.  That is to say, while pastors are called to suffer and serve the sheep, they do not report to the sheep as if the sheep are the boss of pastors.  Now, if this offends you a little bit, please hear me out.

Consider a moment if the pastor had to report to the sheep; what would happen? Tragically, in many churches, young pastors – or weak-willed pastors - who do not have this figured out will often bend a knee to the fat and strong sheep of a church.  If these pastors do not bend a kneed to the fat and strong sheep of the flock, they may, worse yet, capitulate to wolves in sheep's clothing.  Think about that for a moment: do you want a pastor who will follow the demands of wealthy and domineering sheep in the church?  Do you want a pastor who will run away from wolves in sheep's clothing?  Tragically, over the past 20-plus years, I have seen too many churches run by fat and strong sheep or, worse yet, wolves in sheep's clothing, with the pastor becoming nothing more than a hired hand.  Tragically, instead of shepherding the flock, the pastor is nothing more than a puppet to a particular group in the church.  Trust me, I have failed at this numerous times over the years. It is a huge temptation for a pastor to appease the demands of powerful and influential sheep or to capitulate to fierce narcissists in the church rather than standing faithful to the Word of God. 

So, what is the point being made here? The point is that the pastor should be more afraid of God than you, the sheep. It is not the one who signs the check that provides the pastor with daily bread. It is not the loudest opinion in the church that defines truth for the pastor. Instead, pastors are under-shepherds to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  

In other words, St. Paul's Lutheran is not Carlyle Roth’s or Matt Richard's church. Furthermore, mark this: St. Paul’s isn't even your church - it is Christ’s Church, for only Christ is the Good Shepherd.  You see, the Good Shepherd is the One who called you through baptism into this holy ark of the Christian Church. It is Christ, the Good Shepherd, who called pastors to stand in His stead and, by His command, to proclaim His Gospel and administer His blessed Sacraments.  Indeed, it is Christ’s church - His altar, His font, and you are His people, and the pastors are His servants.

So, we pastors are not your employees. Furthermore, you parishioners are not loyal subjects to the pastors, as if you are called to do our bidding. You are blessed baptized sheep whom pastors are to serve according to the Good Shepherd’s gracious command. Remember Jesus's words to Peter? “Feed my sheep!”  

Perhaps now is an appropriate time to clarify several other things.

First, it is important to understand that the pastor does not serve you by being a church CEO, event coordinator, trustee, self-help guru, spiritual buddy, or errand boy.  Instead, the way that a pastor serves you is by the Word and Sacraments.  Remember, it is only by the Word and Sacraments that you – as sheep – are healed, strengthened, fed, sustained, and held to the blessed end.  And so, you should expect the pastor to serve you by the Word and Sacraments; however, if you expect the pastor to do a bunch of other things, you are mistaken, for that is not the primary role of a pastor. Many churches have such famished and hungry sheep because they have their pastors running around doing a thousand other things that have nothing to do with the Word and Sacraments.  Lord have mercy!  

Secondly, as already stated, the pastors are to serve in the stead and by the command of Christ, which means that they are to administer the Word of God in its full truth and purity as contained in the Sacred Scriptures and set forth in the confessional writings of the Book of Concord. Let me explain this a bit more clearly with an example.   

I can remember at a previous church, a long-time Sunday school teacher came to me with concerns about a recent sermon. She said that I was in error.  She then opened a book and read a portion of it to me to prove her point.  According to what she read, I was completely wrong. However, when I asked her to see the book she was reading, I quickly learned that the book was a Pentecostal book. I then had to gently inform her that I was not called to uphold Pentecostal theology but Lutheran theology.  Frankly, she didn’t like to hear this, for deep down, she was probably more a Pentecostal than a Lutheran.  Nonetheless, I gently told her that if I were to preach the way she wanted, I would be violating my ordination vows and violating the divine call to the church – I would be preaching contrary to the church’s wishes.  

You see, this is why we teach the Small Catechism to our children and the Book of Concord to you adults.  You, as sheep, should expect and demand that your pastors teach and preach from the Holy Word of God according to the Lutheran Confessions, for this is what we pastors agree to when you extend divine calls to us. And if pastors fail to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments according to the Book of Concord, well… how do we say this… you sheep have every right to kick and bite the pastor, for the pastor has no right to preach and teach in ways contrary to the Word of God and contrary to the Lutheran Confessions. 

And so, this is the calling of a pastor: to feed and teach the sheep according to the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Concord. When the sheep are in error, they want to be corrected according to the holy Word of God, “Thou shall not!” When the wolves attack, they must be shot at with the Holy Word of God, “Thus says the Lord God!” When the sheep are wounded in the hospital, they long to be healed and comforted by God's Holy Word, “Fear not; Christ has overcome death.”  When the sheep face divorce, death of a loved one, cancer, loss of a job, or a thousand other difficult situations in life, the Pastor is to be ready to bind up wounds, heal the injuries, strengthen faith, and nourish the sheep through the Word and Sacraments, 

“Take comfort; you are baptized into Christ; you belong to light; you have Truth because you have Christ and His Word; your sins are forgiven not with gold or silver but the precious blood of Christ; take and eat, the true blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all of your sins and the strengthening of faith as you journey through this vale of tears; rest, for Christ makes all things new!” 

In the name of Jesus, your Good Shepherd. Amen.