This week I received some admonishment from a minister concerning how a pastor should love his flock. I was told it is more important to love the flock than it is to give them long sermons. By “loving the flock” he meant that consists of going to the hospital and being in homes. I’ve been thinking about this admonishment for the past few days since I received it.
I absolutely agree it is an act of love and super critical for a pastor to spend time with his sheep. I’ve found that in ministry this is a big part of being a pastor, and this ministry often extends to folks that are beyond your flock to family members and friends. I’ll also be the first to admit that as a young pastor I still have a lot to learn about visiting my church members in their homes and in hospital beds. I fall short in this area and so I take the admonishment seriously. I’m not sure I’ll ever spend as much time as I’d like and perhaps as I need to spend among my folks at church. (PSA: They’re a fantastic group of people to pastor and spend time with.)
Being in the hospitals, nursing homes, and homes is part of being a pastor. I’m not sure how a man call can himself a pastor without spending time with his sheep. The very word for pastor in the New Testament is the word for shepherd. You cannot be a shepherd without spending significant time with sheep. It means spending time with them when they’re born, when they’re sick, when they’re feeding, and when dying. Being a pastor means being a shepherd. As important as it is to be a shepherd, it isn’t mutually exclusive from being a preacher.
I take my admonishment to love my people and my community by spending time with them, but I reject the idea that our churches don’t need pastors who can preach “long sermons.” I think the Apostle Paul would reject it also. When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 about the people and ministry that Christ has given to the church he says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Paul says God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, then he lists another office: pastors and teachers. He links the two together because as far as the New Testament is concerned the role of a pastor/elder is always that of a pastor/teacher. Christ has given the church pastors and teachers. Pastor, our role is to be a shepherd and a teacher, not one or the other.
It is absolutely essential that pastors shepherd and teach because souls are in danger, Paul continues:
“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:12-16 ESV
I think what our churches need are pastors who will spend time with them and spend time in their study. We need pastors who spend time with their nose in their Bibles and their books and pastors who spend time in hospital waiting room chairs and 1970’s green couches. It isn’t mutually exclusive that pastors need to be “visiting pastors” or “preaching pastors,” God calls us to be both and if we neglect one or the other we will not love our flocks well. May God give us grace to shepherd well in the home, in the study, in the prayer closet, and in the pulpit.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV