What Should I Look For in a Pastor?

We see all types of pastors in the world today. I seem to notice that most of these pastors are not Biblical pastors. They may be friendly. They may have some administrative skill. They may have some knowledge of the Bible. They may be compassionate. They may be good listeners. They may be very fun-loving or easy-going, non-judgmental people. If you are a pastor or preparing to be, you may be any of these things as well. These things do not make anyone a pastor.

The pastoral title is given in only one verse in all of Scripture. Ephesians 4:11 describes this as the role of a teaching shepherd. In other places, it is the elder or overseer being described as one who shepherds. We may hear this role described as that of a pastor-teacher or pastor-theologian. This title for the elders of the church really emphasizes the teaching aspect of the office. In 1 Peter 5, we saw that Peter exhorted the elders of the dispersed churches as a fellow elder and included within the responsibilities both that of oversight and of shepherding (pastoring). In fact, he described shepherding as part of the overseeing responsibilities of the elders to whom he wrote. This shepherding, or pastoral, part of the elders’ responsibilities in service to the church body was close to Peter’s heart. It was Peter who denied Christ three times, and it was Peter who was later instructed by Christ to shepherd Christ’s sheep. In these verses, we gain some insight as to what it means for a pastor-teacher to shepherd the flock of God.

John 21:15-17

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”

Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”

The pastor’s motivation

We already saw, in 1 Peter 5, that Peter instructed other elders in the church to also shepherd and identified himself as a “fellow” elder. This means explicitly that Peter did not consider himself to be the head of the church at any point in history. According to Peter, every elder in every church is to shepherd God’s flock as he is being instructed to shepherd God’s flock in this passage.

When Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves Him “more than these,” there are three things He could be referring to. The first might be the elements of the meal that the disciples are eating together. The second might be the other disciples. Thirdly, Jesus might be asking if Peter loves Him more than the other disciples did. In context, the most likely question Jesus is asking is if Peter loves Him more than the other disciples did because Peter later asks Jesus a question about the place of the “beloved disciple” (v. 21). John’s wording, though, is unclear as to what exactly Jesus is getting at. The other disciples can hear these questions. When Peter answers, he simply replied, “You know that I love you.” He does not indicate that he loves Jesus more than anything else. There are no linguistic pointers and there are no clarifications in this text. Jesus replies, instructing Peter (and all elders by proxy) to tend His sheep. This happens two more times in the text with a small adjustment in the wording.

The first thing that we notice is that a true shepherd or pastor is motivated explicitly by the love he has for Jesus. In fact, the love that the shepherd has for Jesus must outweigh the love that he has for other stuff and for other people. For those who love Christ “more than these,” Christ’s instruction is for them to shepherd His sheep.

Jesus then tells Peter how Peter will die as a result of this work, describes that Peter’s death will glorify God, and says to him, “Follow me.” The calling for pastors to shepherd God’s people on this earth is one of self-sacrifice for God’s glory alone. We also see that the pastor is to shepherd God’s people according to the example that Christ set before us. Christ said, “Follow me,” not, “Do things your way.” In John 10, Jesus describes His own work as the good shepherd, a role that we see Him instructing the elders of the church to emulate.

John 10:11-16

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

The role of the pastor-teacher

Jesus would literally lay down His life as the absolute atoning sacrifice for His sheep. Peter would be martyred. All pastors are to live sacrificial lives for the body. The sheep are the ones who know Christ. Christ knows His sheep and guards them against wolves. Christ is bringing all of His sheep together by His word and He will be their only shepherd.

So, the pastor-teacher is an under-shepherd. His role is to, by the proclamation of Christ’s word, lead Christ’s sheep to Him as the Good Shepherd; and to, by the proclamation of Christ’s word, guard Christ’s sheep against wolves. To do this we must, in the likeness of Christ, seek to know His sheep and care for them.

On page 49 of Elders in the Life of the Church, the authors correctly state that the trifold office of the elder concerns (clarification added based on our previous study):

    1. eldership- doctrinal authority
    2. oversight- church discipline, leadership, vision, direction
    3. pastoral care- accurately teaching Christ’s word and protecting the flock from false teachers

These are the basic responsibilities of those who hold the office of elder-overseer-pastor. What many people might look for in a pastor isn’t necessarily what the Bible looks for in a pastor. While other qualities may not be evil and may even compliment the pastoral office, we should strive to look for and be Biblical pastor-teachers. While the qualities listed in the opening paragraph may be great to cultivate personal relationships (which is good), they are not enough for the cultivation of Spiritual health and maturity.

In the coming weeks, we will be considering more deeply what an elder-overseer-pastor is and why this office is such a benefit to the church body when practiced biblically.

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