Shepherd the Flock
He asked, "What's your major?" "Oh no," I thought. I answered, and then braced myself for what I knew came next. For some reason 'the major question' always precedes 'the future question.' "So," he said, "what do you want to do after college?"
Silence. Most people my age freeze at this question because the future is, of all things, unknown. More school? Work? Go home? Travel the world? Anxieties of where to live, what to do, how to do it, financial provision, marriage, family flood the mind. "I don't know!" is the common cry of exasperation. Moving onto real life, with real responsibilities and real challenges and real dangers, is scary.
I didn't know what to say to him. But, it wasn't because I didn't have an answer. In fact, I had a very definite, clear, sure answer in my head. I wasn't afraid because I didn't know what I wanted to do. Rather, I was terrified because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I still am. I mumbled something that sounded vaguely of “I’m not sure yet,” and tried to avoid the question. But, pumping, screaming just behind my tongue was the answer:
"I want to be a pastor."
I hope you’re not too surprised. But even if you aren’t, I can hear your questions: “What? Since when? Have you talked to anyone? Are you sure? Are you crazy?”
Yes, I really do want to be a pastor. I've wanted to since I was saved by Christ and His gospel about four and a half years ago, but more clearly so since January this year. I've talked to my God, my pastor, my parents, and some of my friends about it. I am sure. I am not crazy, but I utter words of sober truth. You probably have more questions, but let me answer many of them by answering three main questions: (1) What is a pastor? (2) Why do you want to be a pastor? (3) What are ways I can pray for you? But, let me give a warning: this is a very, very, long post. It's taken me over two months to write it. But I hope you see my heart, and praise our God for what He is doing in it.
A. What is a pastor?
While it is a formidable task to completely and accurately define what a pastor is and is not (indeed, entire books have been written differentiating between what is the proper biblical definition of a pastor and what is the unbiblical, culturally-forced definition of a pastor), it is necessary to give a comprehensive view of what a pastor is called to be, do, and how he is to function within the church in order to understand why I want to be one.
1. A pastor is to be like the Chief Shepherd
The first qualification for a pastor is that he be like the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. To see this, let's do a brief word study on "pastor." Interestingly, in the NASB and HCSB translations, the word "pastor" only occurs once each (in Ephesians 4:11). In the ESV translation, it never appears. Why? In Ephesians 4:11, the Greek root word is ποιμήν (poimēn, pronounced ‘poy main’), meaning "shepherd." Most literal, modern translations of the Bible keep to this definition, and drop the word, "pastor." So, more accurately, we should call those who preach and teach on Sunday 'shepherds' rather than pastors. No other title could be more fitting, for his work is truly that of a spiritual shepherd.
But before we start forcing cultural models that define what a pastor is, let’s look at the NT to see how the word poimēn is used, and draw out a definition from our short study. Of the twenty-three times that poimēn in the NT, the majority refer to Christ. Only four refer to a literal shepherd (all of which are within the Nativity narrative, c.f. Luke 2:8,15,18, 20). Only three refer to the office which the NT interchangeable calls pastor, elder, overseer, or shepherd (John 21:16, 1 Peter 5:1-2, Acts 20:28).
The other sixteen times poimēn is used, it most directly refers to Christ. He is "the great Shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20), the "Shepherd and Guardian of your souls" (1 Peter 2:25), the "Chief Shepherd" (1 Peter 5:4), and “the shepherd” who will guide all of the redeemed "to springs of water of life" (Revelation 7:17). He is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Micah 5:2, the Messiah who would come forth from Bethlehem "a Ruler" to "shepherd My people Israel" (Matthew 2:6). Jesus is the One who was "distressed and dispirited" when He saw the people as "sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34).
Jesus Himself uses the word poimēn to refer to himself. He quotes Zechariah 13:7, and prophesies that He as the shepherd will be struck down (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27). He calls Himself a shepherd four times in the parable of the good shepherd: (1) He "enters by the door … as shepherd of the sheep" and not a thief who climbs in another way (John 10:2); (2) He "is the good shepherd" and that the "good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11); (3) for emphasis He repeats that He "is the good shepherd" and adds that He "know[s] [His] own, and [His] own know [Him]" (John 10:14); and, (4) He promises that He will bring "the other sheep, which are not of this fold" into His fold, so that all His sheep would "become one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16), namely Himself. Finally, in the parable of the goat and sheep, Jesus tells His disciples that when "the Son of Man comes in glory,” all “the nations will be gathered before Him; and he will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:31-32).
Thus, even from a brief look at the Greek word poimēn, translated "pastor" in the NASB and HCSB, an office better called "shepherd," we see Christ. A pastor is to be like Christ. A shepherd of God's flock must be tender, compassionate, strong, responsible, sacrificial, loving, diligent, watchful, holy, dependable — like Christ. Indeed, all Christians are commanded to "grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:15), but pastors are in a very special way commanded to be like Christ, the perfect Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd. He has set the standard, and it is one that all all pastors must strive and attain to. When pastors are called shepherd of the flock, it refers not so much to what he does, whether it be preaching, counseling, praying, teaching, guiding, or leading; rather, it emphasizes what and who the pastor is, for these dictate both what and how he does what he does. Peter says it well in 1 Peter 5:
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, 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; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
A pastor must shepherd the flock that God has allotted him with care, not out of mere duty and never for the love of money, but out of an eager, willful, voluntary service. All of his ways must be done how God, not man, wills it, not for the gain of money or earthly benefits or status, but instead for the eternal reward of glory to come. He must lead not as a tyrant or a dictator or one who views himself as a lord, but as a humble servant leader, who by living and serving like Christ is the example which his flock will follow. He must be able to say, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). He especially must keep in mind that He is but a sheep in the flock, and that the true Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, in whom there is no sin, will come and hold him accountable for every word that he taught, for every sheep that was placed in his charge. Those who shepherd well will be graciously and magnificently honored by God.
I am convinced that there is no higher calling, nor more glorious work on this side of eternity than the calling to be a pastor of God's church. Father, help me.
2. A pastor is biblically qualified
Christ-likeness is the overarching standard to which all believers will be held. And while the primary qualification for a pastor is that he be like Christ, God has not left the qualifications for a pastor so broad. Instead, He commands certain characteristics of Christ-likeness. The texts below provide in clear detail the God's qualifications for pastors. Remember that "overseer," "elder," and "pastor" all describe the same office.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
1 Timothy 3:2-7
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Notice how the qualifications focus on a man's character, on who a man is. God is not so much concerned with finding skilled men; indeed He is the one who makes a man able (see next point). Rather, He is wholly concerned with who a man is, and how his conduct reveals his heart. To be "above reproach" is to be blameless in all his ways, not necessarily perfect, but without obvious pitfalls. He must be a wholly righteous man who lives before God and before men without blemish. All the other explicit positive attributes fall within and all negative attributes fall without the term "above reproach."
- Above reproach (3x)
- Not accused of dissipation, but devout
- Not accused of rebellion, but loving what is good
- Not quick tempered and not pugnacious (2x), but temperate, gentle, peaceable, and self-controlled
- Not fond of sordid gain, but free from the love of money
- As God’s steward is sensible, prudent, just
- Not addicted to wine (2x) and not self-willed, but hospitable (2x)
- Not a new convert, but respectable, having a good reputation with those outside the church
- Manages his own household well
- The husband of one wife (2x)
- Has children who believe
- Keeps his children under control with all dignity
- Holds fast the faithful word in accordance with sound teaching
- Able to exhort in sound doctrine
- Able to refute false teachers
- Able to teach
Looking at these qualifications, it is evident that very few men should be overseers. And, grievously, many arrogant men have presumed that they are adequate for ministry (if indeed they considered ministry something that requires adequacy at all!) and shame Christ's name in the world by their lewd and unholy conduct. Woe to them! And woe to me if I attempt to take the office of pastor if I am not holy and above reproach. In our society, too much emphasis is placed on what someone can do for Christ (i.e. teach, preach, evangelize), and not enough emphasis on who a man is in Christ that overflows into what he does for Him. This error is no more apparent than in the office of a pastor. People look for charismatic, popular, good-looking, skilled, experienced people to fill the pulpit and lead the church — qualities no doubt derived from the world and not God. It is no wonder why the church is in such a horrid state; if the pastors do not model Christ, why would any one else?
Charles Spurgeon said, "Whatever “call” a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry." Spurgeon is entirely right. The pastorate is God's office to fill, and He is offended if unqualified men presume upon His name. How can the leaders of the local church exhort their flocks, "…be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) if they themselves walk in darkness? How is God honored if even the pastors of the church love the world and lust after things of the world (1 John 2:15-16)? If they are to lead the church to Christ-exalting holiness, pastors themselves must be holy. Let right conduct follow right doctrine. Let holiness follow truth.
3. A pastor is gifted by God for the work of ministry and for the benefit and maturity of the church
God has not left the great task of shepherding His flock to the mere efforts of men. Instead, He is directly involved in appointing, enabling, and gifting pastors. Although men are involved in helping a man become a pastor, it is entirely the sovereign work of God to call, gift, and appoint a man to shepherd the flock.
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “... And He gave gifts to men.”
... 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
3a. Gifts of grace
In Ephesians 4:4-6 Paul emphasizes how the entire church of Christ is unified in one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. Within this unity there is a difference in the measure of gifting that Christ gives to each individual Christian (v5); the church is one in purpose and multifaceted in function. (Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-31 elaborate more on the types of gifting that God gives to His children and their purposes.) Ephesians 4:7-8 tell that "each one of us" (v7) was given grace in according with Christ’ gift. These "gifts to men" (v8) are immaterial, and are in particular the ability to fulfill a special task, to serve in a particular way, to meet a certain need in the church.
But in Ephesians 4:7-13, Paul focuses in on the gifts of grace given to certain men, and only men (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:12), to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers. As the age of apostles and prophets ended at the close of the cannon of Scripture (and probably before, c.f. Hebrews 2:3-4), today Christ gifts only evangelists, pastors, and teachers. But the means by which they receive the gifts remains the same: they receive gifts from Christ for their work by grace alone.
3b. Recipients of grace
Ephesians 4:11 makes it clear that not all people can or should be a pastor. The one whom God has not gifted for the pastorate should not be a pastor. Desire to be a pastor is indeed good (1 Timothy 3:1) but it is not sufficient; indeed an aspiring pastor-to-be must demonstrate that he conducts himself in all holiness, and that he has a God-given ability to teach, preach, rebuke, correct, train, and lead. If these gifts are lacking, then he must humbly submit to God and conclude that he is not to be a pastor. After, James exhorts the church, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). This is not a harsh statement nor something to be angry with God over; the Lord chooses His servants and how He will use them, and no one can question Him. If indeed He denies the pastorate to one saved sinner, He has still great ways in which to put him to work, and no one can blame Him. "God prepared [good works for us] beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). If He did not prepare good works of ministry for me, woe is me if I try to pastor without the divine approval and divine enablement of God!
Again, I must emphasize, pastors are gifted by God for ministry by His grace alone. That means I don't deserve to be a pastor, nor am I someone who has innate gifting for the pastorate. If I do become a pastor, it will be sheerly by the grace of God because He gave me the ability and gifting to fulfill the position well, and not by any merit or work of my own. Any ability I have, or will have, is a gift.
The common conception that a pastor is a super-Christian or a super-spiritual person, fit and able for service based upon his own efforts is utterly unbiblical, an insult to Christ, and a blasphemous exaltation of a mere man. "What do [I] have that [I] did not receive? And if [I] receive[d] it, why do [I] boast as if [I] had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). May I have a heart that shares the same spirit as Paul: "For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). I have resolved to boast only in Christ my Lord, the Giver of all good things, and what He has done for me and through me, not anything of myself. If by labor and strain I attain anything, may it always be fueled and achieved by the grace of God!
The fact that God is the One who gives gifts also means that I cannot demand that Lord make me a pastor. I want it more than words can say, and indeed pray earnestly for it, but I will not command God. Let Him do as seems pleasing to Him; may I glory that He is pleased to save me, and use me in any way at all!
3c. Gifts to the church
While it is true that Christ gave gifts to men so that they would be His mouthpieces, it is also true that because of this gifting, these men are themselves gifts, namely gifts from God to the church. Ephesians 4:12 tells that Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the church "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service" by which they are "building up … the body of Christ" (v12). All of their skills, all of their gifting, all of authority of their offices, given by God, are for the benefit of the church.
The positions of leadership within the church, which we normally think of as high and lofty, are servant positions. Christ said, "…whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave" (Matthew 20:26-27). Pastors exist to benefit the church, to build up the body of Christ, to help the holy ones of God be prepared for "the work of service" (v12) for their Master. Pastors are the human leaders of the church; they are the foremen who motivate and encourage the flock to work heartily unto their God; they are the loving under-shepherds who remind the flock of the Chief Shepherd's love, truth, commands, and Word. For Christ's bride, they labor and strive. Through them, Christ washes the Church with the Word (Ephesians 5:26).
As a counterbalance to the truth that a pastor is the servant of the church, it must also be said that he is not an employee of the church. He answers to one Master. Many of the prophets of old were rejected, ridiculed, hated, mocked, despised, and killed because they spoke the true message from the true King. Their 'flocks', so to speak, wanted to hear " 'Peace, peace,' ", but "there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14). Thus, when the prophets of old pronounced God's judgement and wrath upon the rebellious, wayward nation of Israel (c.f the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Hosea, and more), they were hated. The saints of old, many of them prophets of old, were tortured, mocked, scourged, put in chains, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, cut down with swords, forced to hide in dead animal skins, persecuted, afflicted, ill-treated, exiled to deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:35-38). And what is the divine commentary of these men? Was God pleased with their ministry? Where they, according to God's standards, successful? Yes. They were "men of whom the world was not worthy" (Hebrews 11:38). In their footsteps, a pastor walks. Because he serves the Master, he serves the church. But even if the people of the church don't want to hear what the Master wants him to say, he speaks.
It pains me to know that the time when men in churches "will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled … will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away from their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4) has come and will continue to increase in measure. These are the times in which pastors must speak boldly, clearly, unashamedly of the gospel of Christ. The Master has spoken and it is the pastor's obligation to relay His message. The most loving pastor is the one who speaks the most truth.
3d. The goal of a pastor
Ephesians 4:13 tells the goal of the work of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers: the maturity of the church. God is intimately involved in sanctifying His people, and He chooses to work through His chosen servants, whom He Himself has gifted, to accomplish this purpose. By "preaching and teaching" (1 Timothy 5:17), a pastor is to strive to unify the church under "one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father" (Ephesians 4:4-6). He ought to call the church to unite around their God and gospel, together as one. All that he teaches should center on the Son of God, preaching and teaching and living so that the flock would be motivated to love their Savior more fervently, in ever-increasing knowledge of the truth. And as he "proclaim[s] Christ," he should be compelling and "admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that [he] may present every man complete in Christ" (Colossians 1:28). The sanctification of the saints is his labor. The completion of every man in Christ — maturity, godliness, holiness, service — for the glory of Christ is his only aim. He must say along with Paul, "For this purpose I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Colossians 1:29) and yearn to hear " “His master [say] to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ " (Matthew 25:21). The church's welfare and his own eternal reward are intertwined (Philippians 2:16-18), and so his labor for the church is an all-consuming work. Unlike every other 'job' (and I cringe to even consider the pastorate merely a job) there is no separation in his life between vocation and spiritual well-being.
4. A pastor is dispensable
We have covered three marks of a pastor: (1) he is like Christ; (2) he is biblically qualified; and (3) he is gifted by God for the work of ministry. These are obvious. However, this fourth mark of a pastor, (and indeed, a mark of all Christians), is less obvious, and yet just as somber: a pastor is dispensable — able to be replaced, or done without.
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;”
God is not served by human hands (or mouths or tongues or ministries or programs) as though He needed anything. He is the Lord of the entire universe, and it is ridiculous to think that He would be confined to a building made by human hands, hands that He Himself made. He does not need humanity's help; in fact, we are the ones that need His help! He does not need His creation; He is self-sufficient.
Here, then, are the implications of the self-sufficiency of God for me and ministry: God does not need me. God does not need me in order to build His church. God does not need me in order to sanctify His church. God does not need me in order to have His Word preached. God does not need me in order to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. God does not need me in order to accomplish any of His desires that He has planned from the foundation of the world. God does not need my service. He does not need me. I am unnecessary, unessential, and unimportant in the great masterpiece of salvation history. What is one mortal, feeble voice compared to the almighty voice of the Creator who spoke all things into existence? He is the Lord and is able to do all that He desires without any aid of broken clay vessels like myself. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Is anything beyond His power or might?
God did not promise that I would be a pastor. He need not. And I cannot out of my own volition change His will. The true God is not some deity that I can bribe, nor an idol that I can cajole into doing what I wish. He is the Lord; who is like Him? Who can challenge Him or say, "What have You done?" He is not compelled by anything of myself to make me a pastor. He is not a king desperate for soldiers to join the war. He has won of His own ability even while I was His enemy! Rather, I am the desperate soldier who begs Him to put me to service in His kingdom. I have nothing to offer Him that He does not already own. I have no means to change His will nor move His hand other than pleading, begging, praying. O, may He be merciful to a beggar like me!
Because God is self-sufficient, and doesn't need me, I am glad. He can accomplish His purposes without me. He can glorify Himself by Himself for Himself. He is never thwarted because it is impossible to thwart the Almighty. Yet, I know that God has chosen to use “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” and “the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong...so that no man may boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). So may I be foolish and weak in the eyes of the world, that God would use me to glorify Himself!
God's self-sufficiency may make me unsure of my future, but it makes me more sure of God; I can trust Him. I unabashedly want to shepherd His people. Yet, whether I do or not, He is the Lord; let Him do as seems good to Him!
A pastor must be like Christ. A pastor must be biblically qualified. A pastor must be graciously equipped by God for the work of the ministry. And, a pastor must always know that he is dispensable. And, this is who I want to be, not merely just what I want to do. It is the chosen means by which I seek to fulfill my ambition: to glorify my God.
B. Why do you want to be a pastor?
Until about five months ago, I thought all Christian men wanted to be pastors. I was shocked to find out from my own pastor that, over 14 years of ministry, only a handful had come to him and talked about it. For to me, it is normative to want to preach and teach and counsel and lead. Paul writes, "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do" (1 Timothy 3:1). I imagine no other path for myself, and think it strange if someone doesn't share the same desires to pastor. Of course, now I understand that those desires are not normative, and that each individual member of Christ's body has his own crucial and important part to play, but still a part of me doesn't really understand not wanting to be a pastor.
I want to be a pastor! But why a pastor? Why not a faithful laymen? (And please, please, note that I did not say, "why not just a faithful laymen." There are no classes of worth or value among Christians before the cross of Christ.) Simply put, I want to be a pastor because a layman cannot give all of his time, efforts, and energies to the ministry like a pastor can. It is extremely difficult to hold a full time secular job and do as much good as a full-time pastor could. A pastor can (and indeed must!) give himself wholly to the ministry. In this way, they can be more effective and do more for the kingdom.
Three things that compel me to be a pastor: (1) the gospel, (2) unbelievers, and (3) the church. But the undercurrent of all of my desires is God's Word. All the verses I quote below give me chills of excitement and weightiness; as I read them, my mind calls out, "That's me!" For example, to me, John 21 is not just a record of Jesus restoring Peter; it's a lesson to me from the Lord on how He commissions His servants. Colossians 1:26-29 is not just Paul's resolute statement of his own ministry and ambition to magnify His Lord and build up the church; it's a message to me from the Lord that resonates with and burns in my heart as I cheer, "Me too!" Romans 10:14-15 is not just Paul's rhetoric to prompt evangelism; it's a call for me to say, "They cannot call upon Him in whom they have not believe! They will not believe unless they hear. I want to be that preacher; send me!" The Word is the breath of my life, and the fuel to my ambition to shepherd.
1. I am compelled by the gospel
All service for the King must be motivated out of a thankfulness for His work for sinners. After unfolding the nature of sin, God's wrath against sinners, the law, predestination, justification by faith, righteousness, death of the flesh and life of the spirit, war against the flesh, the kingdom to come, God's plan for Israel, evangelism, and the comforts and blessings for believers, Paul writes, "Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1). "Therefore" points to a response to the great things that God has done for believers, elaborated upon in Romans 1-11. The second part of Romans 12:1 uses language that parallels the old covenant sacrificial system, in which faithful Jews slaughtered and offered animals for forgiveness, peace, thanksgiving, and worship. The Lamb of God, Christ Jesus Himself, has already been sacrificed on the altar of God for the forgiveness of many. Now, those who follow Christ are compelled to follow Him and offer themselves as "living and holy sacrifices, acceptable to God" out of thanksgiving, praise, obedience, and worship for what Christ has done.
The regenerate heart cries, "How could I not present my life, my all, a living and holy sacrifice to God? How could I not serve my God? It is reasonable; it is rational. It only makes sense that I worship and follow this God who out of infinite mercy and love forgave, and saved, a sinner like me. Whatever He says I will do. Wherever He sends, I will go. Whatever pleases Him, how could I not be eager to do? I love my Father; He loved me in Christ first!"
This is my primary motivation to be a pastor. I must serve my Master. And, of course, pastoral work is not the only means by which believers can live in thankfulness to their God for the gospel, but it is mine, as it was Peter's.
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agapaō] Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agapaō] Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [phileō] Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love [phileō] Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love [phileō] You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.
Peter became the first pastor of the new covenant because of the love and forgiveness of God in the gospel. Out of shame, he could not bring himself to declare that he agapaō (the highest form love, as it is a sacrificial, covenant love) the Lord, but only that he phileō (a lesser form of love, as it is brotherly and affectionate) the Lord. Before Jesus was betrayed and crucified, Peter had said with confidence, "Lord with you I am ready to go both to prison and to death!" (Luke 22:33). Yet, he failed to live up to his bold statement and showed himself a coward. He had every reason to be ashamed, humbled, and sorrowful. But, just as he denied Christ three times, Christ restored Him three times, forgiving him his sins, and then giving him a task, a labor: to tend His lambs, to shepherd His sheep, to tend His sheep. And history tells us, that by the Spirit of God, Peter fulfilled his ministry.
Like Peter, Paul was also compelled to be a pastor because of what Christ had done for Him in the gospel. As a former persecutor and a murderer of the church, he called himself “the least of the apostles" (1 Corinthians 15:9). He considered himself the "foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15) of sinners. He thought of himself as "the very least among the saints" (Ephesians 3:8). Yet, despite his sins, Christ forgave him and then gave him grace "to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). And out of a love for Christ, by the grace that He gave him, Paul ministered. Hear his resolute ambition for Christ's glory that came out of a thankfulness to God for the gospel:
1 Corinthians 15:9-10
For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
1 Corinthians 9:16-17
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.
Peter and Paul both demonstrate the pattern that all pastors follow: (1) God reveals Himself to the man as holy, glorious, almighty, and sovereign, (2) the man is ashamed of his sin in light of God's holiness, and humbles himself before God, (3) God graciously removes the man's sin from him, (4) the Lord calls the man into service, and he gladly labors for the King. No other passage of Scripture shows this more beautifully than Isaiah 6:1-8:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, / The whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! / Because I am a man of unclean lips, / And I live among a people of unclean lips; / For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
I was once lost in my own sin and utterly depraved, resistant to the Spirit of God and unable to see the truth. I had chosen to be against God, a rebel and enemy of all that He loved and willed. I did not savor Christ as more precious than all other treasures of the earth. Instead, I perverted the Scriptures and made myself a religious Pharisee who had no need of grace nor of God. Wholly useless to God except for burning like chaff, I lived what I now understand to be nothing but death and darkness. But God, because of His great mercy and love which He displayed most loudly in the cross of Jesus Christ, even while I was yet a sinner determined to go to hell, made me alive in Christ, showed me the truth of the Scriptures, utterly smashed my heart of stone and gave me a beating, living heart, sensitive and tuned to the things of God and not to the things of Satan. He purchased me with blood. But, He has not left me a slave, but then calls me a friend. He has not just called me a friend, but has adopted me as a beloved son. And if He has made me a son, He has made me a co-heir and co-ruler with Christ. He has sworn to His own glory and my good, to be for me and not against me. And, I do hope He will put me into service as a pastor. If He calls I will go.
2. I am compelled by the church
Not only am I compelled to be a pastor by God’s love for me in the gospel, but I am also compelled to be a pastor because of God's love for the church. Christ loves the church, His bride and body, "He Himself being the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). He "loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). As a servant of the sheep of His fold, a pastor must love the flock. A pastor's love for the church manifests itself in two main ways: a pastor always aims for the maturity of believers in the church (Colossians 1:25; 28-29; Ephesians 4:11-16), and a pastor sacrifices much for the sake of the church (Philippians 1:20-26; 2:17-18; Colossians 1:24).
My heart yearns for the church. Oh to be “made a minister according to the stewardship from God” ! — for the benefit of the church, “so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God” (Colossians 1:25). The saints must be taught “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27), must be implanted with “the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13), must be equipped with spiritual weapons for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18), must be put to work for the kingdom, must be built up as the body of Christ — until every man and every woman and every child within the church attains “to the measure of stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)! I want to be in the work that proclaims Christ, admonishing, teaching, rebuking, correcting, encouraging, training every man with the wisdom of God, that they might be “complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28) — washed, sanctified, ready, beautiful, for the Head of the church.
What is more worthy a task than laboring for the glory of God in my brothers and sisters? What is more worthy a task than loving them from the pulpit, showing them Christ's magnificence, and tenderly cutting open their hearts with the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12)? What is more worthy a task than shepherding the flock (John 10:16) for whom Christ died? What greater joy is there than administering healing for the hurts of the soul, those that plague and haunt saved sinners? What greater work is there than preparing God's workers for the work of the kingdom? What greater reward reaped in laboring over men until they are “complete in Christ”, so that I may “present” them to Christ, sacrifices pleasing to Him (Colossians 1:28-29)? What greater privilege than proclaiming the truth of God to encourage, rebuke, correct, train, reproof, guard, warn, inspire God's children? Nothing at all. None at all. Nothing else on this good earth will do.
Of course being a pastor will be difficult. What is toil? What is sacrifice? What is pain and suffering? Is it not worth it to swallow all strife for the sake of Christ's church? Is not laying oneself on the altar for sacrifice to be expected? Is not joyfully pouring oneself out as a drink offering upon the altar for the church's faith (Philippians 2:17) part of the job description? Is not sharing in Christ's sufferings necessary for the church (Colossians 1:24)? In all sufferings, I must rejoice (Philippians 2:17-18; James 1:2)! I hope to God that I will one day be able to say like Paul that the only reason I endure on this earth and do not depart to be with Christ (for that is very much better) is for the church, for the progress and joy of believers in the faith (Philippians 1:21-26). I live only to reap fruit from pastoral labor. For “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
The life of a minister is tied to the life of his flock. He must love them, and place their well being above his own. He sacrifices himself for them. He must guide them to Christ. He must know the paths ahead to protect them from danger. He must be ever watchful for wolves that would come and snatch the sheep away.
By the grace of God, I love God's people. They are the beloved of God. I want to serve them and be used by them. And while I love the universal church as a whole, and would be glad to serve in any of God's churches, I make no attempt to hide it: I would love to serve at Evangel Bible Church of Berkeley (EBCB). It is my home on this earth, a solace from the world of lies. EBCB is where my spiritual family joins together and worships the one true God. It is where the Word of God is central and the gospel of grace is unashamedly proclaimed. It is where sinners come in and are humbled to repentance. It is where saints are perfected and the love of Christ flows strong and wide. It is where I was baptized, where I learned to serve joyfully, where I learned to love the Word of God, where I made lifelong friendships, where I hope to stay until Jesus calls me home. It is where my brothers and sisters who love me are. I want to see them perfect and complete. I want to see them glorifying our Savior. Sometimes, I see the young ones running around the fellowship hall during lunch and dream of being their pastor. When I babysit, I hope to see the tiny ones grow into men and women of God, just like their parents. Oh, to be a part of so great of a task! Lord, may You grant according to Your will. I am Yours to use.
I once thought that the church didn't need more pastors because the current ones were already doing a 'good enough' job. I was so wrong. False prophets abound, lazy pastors abound, cowardly pastors abound. There are the faithful few, and I praise God for their clear voices that herald truth. But there is still work to be done. Until believers are perfect and complete, a pastor's work is never done (and since no believer will be perfect and complete, c.f. Philippians 3:12-16, until Christ returns to establish His kingdom, a pastor's work isn't done until Christ returns!) I want to be part of it. There is no greater joy.
3. I am compelled by unbelievers
Paul wrote, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14) They won't! They can't! They will not call on Him for salvation if they have not believed in Him! They will not believe in Him unless they have heard! They will not hear unless there are preachers preaching! There will be no salvation for sinners unless preachers preach Christ.
I read Romans 10:14 and my heart aches. Oh, the lost! Oh how the heart of God loves the wayward sinner! The Lord Himself looked at the crowds and "felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). How can we not ache to see sinners repent and turn to their Shepherd? Christ did and does; should not we? Should it not distress us and depress us supremely that there are still "other sheep, which are not of this fold" (John 10:15), who still do not know the Good Shepherd as Master and Lord? Should it not agitate our consciences and compel us to action that billions deny our Lord the glory only He deserves? (Isaiah 42:8) We who were made "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession" according to God's gracious choice, were saved "so that, [we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). We were saved for the purpose of calling sinners to Christ. It must be our primary desire to see Christ glorified in the world by seeing sinners repent and believe in Him.
Paul is the greatest soul winner this world has ever seen. He made himself "a slave to all, so that [he] may win more" (1 Corinthians 9:19) to Christ. He made himself "all things to all men, so that [he] may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22) for Christ's sake. He considered himself "under obligation" to preach the gospel to all peoples, "both to the wise and to the foolish" (Romans 1:14). I aspire to be like him who was "eager to preach the gospel" (Romans 1:14) and considered it both a solemn duty, crying out "woe is me if I do not preach the gospel," and an exceeding joy, working for "a reward," to preach the gospel to the lost (1 Corinthians 9:16-17). Oh to be ashamedly, passionately, unapologetically for the gospel!
How the pastor must be a soul winner! Oh how the pastor must have an anointing as an ambassador for Christ, to "beg" the unbelievers "on behalf of Christ [to] be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20)! Oh how he must have "great sorrow and unceasing grief" (Romans 9:2) in his heart for those that are "dead" in their "trespasses and sins," aligned with the prince of the power of the air," the "sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1-2). Oh how the pastor must pray like Daniel, "O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay," (Daniel 9:19) on behalf of the souls of the unbelieving. A pastor must take up the charge from the King and rally the church of God to go into "all the nations" with the authority of Christ to "make disciples" (Matthew 28:20), raising up evangelists, pastors, missionaries, and faithful laypeople. He must use the Scriptures to reveal Christ as so majestic and grand that love for the truth and Christ bears fruits of prayer, fasting, and evangelism.
I am not yet a man like Paul. But oh, how I long to be. Sanctify me, my Lord. The nations must praise Your name.
I want to be a pastor. I am compelled to be a pastor because of the gospel, amazed that Christ would die and rise again for a wretched sinner like me. I am compelled to be a pastor because I love the church of Jesus Christ, and want to be a weak tool which God uses to washes His bride with the Word. And, I am compelled to be a pastor because I love unbelievers, and yearn for them to be saved unto Christ. From Scripture I see that these three facets motivate me, shape my thinking and life, and, God willing, will lead me to be a Bible-teaching, Christ-loving, church-building, disciple-making, pastor.
C. What are ways I can pray for you?
One of the blaring facts about wanting to be a pastor is that the one who wants to be a pastor is not a pastor. All my plans are immaterial, and unrealized. And so, if you think it acceptable and good and pleasing to God, please pray for me on my journey to become a pastor. God is pleased when saints join in helping through prayer, “so that thanks may be given by many persons” for the favor “bestowed ... through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11). He loves to hear His children and answer for His glory and their good!
Please pray that I be qualified. I look at the qualifications of a pastor in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and find myself untested, and so under-qualified, in more than half of them. So please pray that I would be fit for the pastorate that I so long for. If I am not fit for it, I will not be a pastor. God must be honored, and I will not dishonor His word for the sake of my own desires. Pray for me always to think this way.
2. Humble and humbled
Please pray that I be humble and be humbled, for God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
Pray that I would be humble before God, waiting for Him to exalt me at the "proper time" (1 Peter 5:6), and that I would give credit where credit is due, saying like John the Baptist, "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:29-30). Christ must receive glory; I must never.
Pray that I would be humble before my elders, and would subject myself to the authority that they have (1 Peter 5:5), for God has considered them worthy of the office. Pray that I would be humble before all peoples, especially those I would shepherd, for "whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave" (Matthew 20:27). Woe is me if I "lord it over" anyone like the Gentiles, exercising authority as if I were a "great" man! Rather, let me be a slave of all (Matthew 20:25-28). Pray particularly that I would "not think more highly" of myself than I "ought to think" (Romans 12:3) and instead consider that I am just one member of the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-5) and that each member of the body is necessary and important and beloved.
3. Adequacy from God
Please pray that God would make me adequate for ministry. Even after studying the pastoral ministry for six months, reading the entire NT in light of pastoral ministry, and reading six extra-biblical books about pastoral ministry, I’m just beginning to grasp the gravity, the weight, the seriousness, of being a pastor. It is not merely a job nor a vocation. It is an all consuming work. I am too, a sheep of His pasture, and yet, if I am to be a pastor, I must also be a shepherd of that very flock. I must be like Christ! I must shepherd like the Holy One of Israel, the Light in whom there is no darkness at all, the perfect Holy One of God, the most compassionate, merciful, wise, godly Man to ever walk this earth! Any man who approaches this position of ministry without a grave and somber concern does not understand what the pastorate is. And so, looking at the infinite high task to which I am called, I know that I am wholly in adequate.
Yet, I also know that those who pastor are not "adequate in [them]selves to consider anything as comingfrom [them]selves, but [their] adequacy is from God, who also made [them] adequate as servants of a new covenant" (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). God can make weak men adequate and complete, wholly fit for the ministry. He has chosen to put "treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:7). When I am a nothing and a nobody, He gets all the glory! When the Almighty works through a nobody, He gets all the fame! But only He gives adequacy, so please pray that God would be gracious and grant me the power to fulfill this great task. May I join the great throng that glorifies Him because they've been given the great and awesome burden of the ministry.
4. Adequacy from the Word of God
Please pray that I be made adequate for ministry by the Word of God. It gives me great hope to know that all "Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16). I must be a man of God who is adequate, equipped for the work of a pastor. So please pray that I would be "mighty in the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24), wholly absorbed in the great Word which is God's primary means for molding His clay.
Pray that I would delight in the Word, constantly remembering that it is "more desirable than gold, yes than much fine gold; / Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10).
Pray that I would be “diligent to present [myself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed” because I “accurately handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Please pray that I would be disciplined for Christ. "No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier" (2 Timothy 2:4). If my Master chooses to enlist me, I must be absolutely focused on my task, and not let legitimate but less important things distract me. I must be as an athlete who "run[s] in such a way that [he] may win" (1 Corinthians 9:24), "compet[ing] according to the rules" to "win the prize" (2 Timothy 2:5), exercising "self-control in all things … to receive … an imperishable" crown (1 Corinthians 9:25).
May I discipline my body and mind, making it my slave subject to Christ so that I may be qualified for the ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27)! How much strain and work goes into bodily discipline for a "little profit" (1 Timothy 4:8)! How much more should go into spiritual discipline for the sake of godliness, for it "is profitable for all things" (1 Timothy 4:8)!
6. Trust in the Lord
Please pray that I would trust my God. The future is a fluid and tricky thing, that a mere man like I cannot hope to stand upon. Yet, my God is a solid Rock, and He is my foundation. Pray that I would surrender all things, especially the plans to become a pastor, to Him.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
7. The Harvest
It is fitting that this be the last prayer request: "beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest" for the "harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few" (Matthew 9:37-38). I want to be one of those workers. But regardless, if I work as a pastor or not, this command from Jesus still stands. We must beg our Lord to send more workers, missionaries, pastors, evangelists, lay leaders, church members, into the harvest — there are souls to be won for Christ.
May You draw them Lord. For Your own glory and fame. In the name of Christ the risen Lord, Amen.
D. Final Conclusions
I am both impressed and humbled that you have read thus far. Thank you for your love for our God, and your love and prayers for me. I praise God for what He is doing to my heart; and I praise God for what He has done and is doing and will keep doing in yours!
May you and I both glorify our Savior by whatever means He chooses. I pray that until this life ends, I would be say like our Lord, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work" (John 4:34). May you do the same.