As the title implies, a pastor is a shepherd. Just as a shepherd cares for the flock under his care, so a pastor cares for the flock or people of God over which the Holy Spirit has placed him (Acts 20:28). It is a position of great responsibility with moments of joy and sorrow alike.
The pastor leads the flock by means of his example and vision. He feeds the flock by preaching the truths of God’s word faithful. He takes heed to the flock by watching for anyone or anything that would threaten the spiritual health and unity of the body.
In truth, every local church pastor is an “under shepherd.” This is because Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11 and 14 and Psalm 23). Even more, He is the great shepherd (Psalm 23 and Hebrews 13:20) under whose authority and watch every other pastor serves.
As a matter of first priority, the pastor must watch his own life (i.e., behavior, testimony, etc.) and teaching closely (1 Tim. 4:16). If his testimony is tainted, his teaching will be undermined. If his testimony is solid, but his doctrine is erroneous, it not only jeopardizes himself, but threatens the well-being of those who hear him and of the church as a whole.
There are three terms in the New Testament that are synonymous and describe the office in view here. Those are: pastor, overseer, and elder.
The term pastor is based on the Greek term that means to shepherd. It is a term that points to the tender heart that a pastor is to have for his people. He shares life with them in special moments like baby dedications, weddings, and funeral. This often leads to relationships that are as strong as a family’s bond. He also feeds the flock by faithful biblical exegesis. Prayer and the word are to be the primary focuses of the pastor.
The term overseer points to the leadership that the pastor exercises. He is to lead. The senior pastor (if there are multiple staff members) coordinates the work of all the diverse ministries of the church. He also typically has input into the calendar and finances of the church. Administrative skills are helpful for the demands of these aspects of the pastor’s role.
The term “elder” points to the maturity and character of the pastor. A novice should not be entrusted with the pastoral role. It is for men who meet the qualifications of such passages as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. There are indications that New Testament churches often utilized a plurality of pastors/overseers/elders. This shared leadership has numerous benefits like accountability, shared workload, variety of gifts, etc. The pastoral role is one that has its aim to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).
Because of the increasing complexity of issues facing churches, the pastoral ministry is becoming more challenging. Adequate preparation is essential.
Though it is not essential, a seminary education at an institution that holds to the principles of the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible is recommended. Southern Baptists are blessed in that we have six seminaries that abide by these principles. They also have a commitment to evangelism and world missions. The typical degree sought is a Master’s of Divinity. There are a number of other degrees that will vary slightly but a strong concentration in subjects like theology, church history, evangelism, and missions are valuable.
Every church needs a pastor or a plurality of pastors. This is God’s plan. There are some 47,000 Southern Baptist churches thus, there is a need for qualified pastors. One route is to serve in an established church. Another equally valuable route is to plant a new church. Often a senior pastor will have begun in a role such as an associate pastoral role (such as youth minister, associate pastor, etc.) and progressed to the role of senior pastor.
Pastors are usually nominated by a search committee and elected by the church. Search committees often learn of prospects by requesting names from church members, college and seminary placement offices, and association and state convention offices.
Pastors can often find multiple places of service. Beyond the local pastorate, they can serve as chaplains in the military or hospitals. Many go on to become Bible professors in colleges and seminaries. Others may serve cross-culturally as missionaries. Others may find that their giftedness applies best in counseling services.
There is no higher calling than that of serving as a pastor. He invests his life in eternal matters.