The Pastor and His Congregation

BeFunky_20140612_153907000_iOS.jpgThe church of Jesus Christ is not just an organization; it’s an organism. It is always growing and maturing, reaching out replicating itself all over the world. But it is also an organization made up of a leadership structure and members. During this Stewardship Emphasis Month, we’ve considered what causes a church to grow: the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. As each member learns how to submit himself to the Holy Spirit within him, he will learn what gift or gifts he has been endowed with, and he will learn how to use those gifts in the most effective way within his church to the benefit of his congregation. All members of the church, from the pastor on down, have a responsibility to be faithful to the moving and direction of the Spirit in this regard.

Beyond this purely spiritual dimension, lies another aspect of a healthy church. It involves the pastor and his congregation, each recognizing their respective roles within the dynamic of the local church. The Bible doesn’t say a lot about the roles of the pastor and his congregation, but what it does say is very significant. God’s people are described as “sheep” in the Bible and our Lord as the “Shepherd,” or if you will, the “Head Shepherd,” with pastors functioning as His “under-shepherds.”

Peter wrote about the pastor and his responsibilities:

And now, a word to you elders of the church. I, too, am an elder; with my own eyes I saw Christ dying on the cross; and I, too, will share his glory and his honor when he returns. Fellow elders, this is my plea to you: Feed the flock of God; care for it willingly, not grudgingly; not for what you will get out of it but because you are eager to serve the Lord. Don’t be tyrants, but lead them by your good example, and when the Head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor. (1 Peter 5:1 – 4 TLB)

And Paul, not to be outdone by Peter, penned this about the congregation:

Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because they are straining to help you. And remember, no quarreling among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13 TLB)

In considering the roles of pastor and congregation, we’ll take these passages as jumping off points.

Part One: What the church may expect of their pastor

Believe it or not, your pastor is God’s gift to you, assuming he is in your church by the will of God. Don’t believe me? Feast your eyes on this:

It was he who “gave gifts”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11, 12 GNB)

Yes, the pastor is a gift to a congregation, but he has his hands full. He has a job to do: to prepare you, his congregation, to serve the Lord with an eye to building the church.

To that end, what can you, as a member of a church, expect from your pastor?

Your pastor should be called by God

Any pastor who is not behind the pulpit God wants him to be behind shouldn’t be there. Natural talent notwithstanding, the pastoral ministry is a calling first and a profession second. All believers are called to serve the Lord, or course, but only a select few are called to stand behind a pulpit. This was something the apostle Paul understood:

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. (1 Corinthians 9:16, 17 NIV)

Like Paul, we whom God has chosen, feel compelled to preach. Preaching is something your pastor must do. Verse 17 is a bit difficult to understand, but turning to The Living Bible, it’s paraphrase clears Paul’s meaning up:

If I were volunteering my services of my own free will, then the Lord would give me a special reward; but that is not the situation, for God has picked me out and given me this sacred trust and I have no choice.

If your pastor is truly called of God, he’ll feel the same way.

Your pastor should be in your church only because that’s where God wants him to be

You, as a member of a congregation, have every right to expect that your pastor is in your church because your church is where God wants him to be. A pastor should never leave a church or accept a position in a church because of the money or the benefits. And he should leave a church only after a lot of prayer and clear direction from the Lord to do so; after the Lord has taken the burden for that particular congregation away.

Salary may be important. Working conditions may be important, especially when the pastor’s family is taken into consideration. As Paul wrote:

Pastors who do their work well should be paid well and should be highly appreciated, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scriptures say, “Never tie up the mouth of an ox when it is treading out the grain—let him eat as he goes along!” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:17, 18 TLB)

Pastors are not oxen, but Paul’s point is well taken. But do you know what your pastor’s real reward is? It isn’t his paycheck. Again, Paul wrote:

What pay do I get, then? It is the privilege of preaching the Good News without charging for it, without claiming my rights in my work for the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:18 GNB)

You see, Paul knew it was his right as a Christian preacher to expect to be paid, but he said his real reward was in the ministry of the Word itself. That’s the attitude you may expect from your pastor, if he is called by God to be filling the pulpit in your church.

Your pastor should be an example of godliness

A congregation rises or falls to the spiritual example set by its pastor. Your pastor may or may not be an accomplished preacher or teacher. But if he is a godly man, that will make all the difference in the world. A godly pastor doesn’t mean a perfect pastor. Your pastor may make his fair share of mistakes. But if he is a man of God, he will always make things right; he will always be learning and growing and going back to God for direction, inspiration, and forgiveness.

You can expect your pastor to be a man of prayer. Behind every sermon or Bible study should be hours of prayer. It takes time to pray, but faithful prayer always pays off. But the pastor doesn’t only pray for his work; he prays for his flock. Mind you, you and your problems are not the reason God has called your pastor to your church; he is there because God put him there, sometimes for reasons known only to Him. But you are his responsibility while he is there. And a good pastor will feel the burden of what’s burdening members of his congregation. The only way to deal with that is through time spent in prayer.

Sometimes church members wonder what the pastor does all day. If your pastor is a contentious man, he will be a man of prayer and prayer will take up much of his day.

Your pastor should be faithful in his ministry

Some of the laziest people I know are in the ministry. It’s easy to be lazy in the ministry. Pastors get a month or more off every year. They don’t work Monday’s. They take long lunches. They go to conferences umpteen times a year. They “work from home.” Right. And congregations in all likelihood have been conditioned to maybe criticize his long sermons but to never do more than that. How many times have you been told this verse applies to so-called men of God:

Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. (Psalm 105:15 KJV)

Fact is, that verse has nothing to do with your pastor. You have the right to expect your pastor to be faithful in his ministry while he is in your church. He should prepare and preach sermons he himself has written with you in mind. He should visit the sick when needed and pray for them.  He should make the time to listen and advise when called upon. He should be honest with how he spends his time. He doesn’t punch a time clock and most pastors don’t answer to anybody. It takes a lot of discipline to be faithful in the ministry. It’s not easy. But if a pastor will honor both his God and his congregation, he will be found faithfully discharging his call.

Your pastor should take his job seriously, but with a spirit of good cheer

The pastorate is great profession for men who like to work as little as possible. Or for men who like a sense of power. Or for men who like lord it over other men. But for those of us who take the calling seriously, we understand that the responsibility of shepherding God’s flock is heavy indeed.

Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say. For their work is to watch over your souls, and God will judge them on how well they do this. Give them reason to report joyfully about you to the Lord and not with sorrow, for then you will suffer for it too. (Hebrews 13:17 TLB)

As a pastor, I can tell you that there isn’t a day that I don’t think about this verse. Every night I replay what I did that day, hoping it was enough for the souls in my charge.

That’s not to say I don’t have a good time doing what I do. There is great satisfaction – personal and spiritual – in the pastorate. No other profession allows a person to be involved in and to watch the spiritual growth of people like pulpit ministry affords. It’s an honor to preach and teach a congregation the Word of God. But it is a dreadful responsibility. There will come a day when I and others in my profession will be called to give an account. The writer to the Hebrews pleads with his readers, as I plead with my congregation, to live lives that will cause me, their pastor, to give a positive report to the Chief Shepherd.

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