The New Testament uses many words to describe the lead servant in the church. In I Timothy 3, Paul calls him “bishop.” The focus of this title is one who oversees. In chapter five he speaks of elders who both rule or direct the affairs of the church and teach. Favorite terms of Paul and Peter are the words “pastor” or “shepherd.”
Across the centuries, all these designations have been used to describe the man who leads the local body of believers. The one that is most used and cherished, however, is pastor. I think that word has become the most popular because it is the most descriptive of the cherished head of the church—Jesus the Good Shepherd.
While it is an oversimplification, the role of pastor is three-fold. He is to lead, feed and care for the flock of God. It is not a task for wimps. Sheep are soft and cuddly, but they wander, bleat and make messes. The task of leading a church goes beyond human skills and requires divine wisdom, patience and love—a huge requirement for men of clay.
Pastors come in all shapes and sizes. As creations of the hand of God, they are as different as the events that have shaped their lives. In Baptist life, they come with all levels of training. Some have never been inside a college or seminary classroom. Others have terminal degrees (named such because they kill you to complete!) from the seminary. Some are excellent teachers and others fiery preachers. Some are by nature loving, and others have the hard side of a prophet. But when a pastor is called and committed to serve in the power of the Holy Spirit, God uses him to meet the needs of the sheep in remarkable ways.
The shepherd of the flock touches us at the most significant times in our lives. He counsels and listens to us. He is there when we are born and when we are born again. He marries us and buries us. When we suffer traumatic experiences, he is the person we call to our side. When we fail miserably and sin overwhelms, or when we have lost our way, he is the one to whom we go for correction and direction.
Of all the things a pastor does in our lives, none is more important than his feeding of the flock. Sheep die without food and water. The same is true of the flock of God. No task requires more attention and focus than opening the truth of Scripture and placing it before the people of God. To accomplish this, the pastor must prepare both his mind and heart. His responsibility is not to get a sermon, but to let the Word of God get him. Sermons are not well connected thoughts applied to the Word, but the Word applied to our thoughts. A well-developed sermon devoid of the anointing of God is no sermon at all.
This month is set aside across America as Pastor Appreciation Month. It is a time for us to express our love and appreciation to the men God has called, equipped and set before us to shepherd us. My prayer is that every church member and the church as a whole will find appropriate ways to express love and appreciation to the pastor, his wife and family. Notes of encouragement and gifts of love given from the heart will mean much to these servants of the Lord and His people.
Being a pastor is an exhausting task. It strains nerves and wears on the spirit. His wife and family are often shortchanged in order for him to serve you. Don’t let this month pass without significant expressions of love to your pastor. He deserves your best.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.