The Pain and Glory of Shepherding Christ’s Sheep

By John Greever

John 10:11I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

Acts 20:28Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

1 Peter 5:2-4Shepherd 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 chard, but proving to be examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

The job of the pastor is the job of shepherding Christ’s sheep.  Christ entrusts His sheep to the care of the pastor that he might represent Christ in the shepherdly role.  This is a glorious, yet painful task.  The pastor’s call is a wonderful call, but it will drain and hurt him many times.

It is difficult to exhaustively explain all the tasks and responsibilities of the pastor.  The calling and job of the pastor certainly include preaching, teaching, counseling, leading, organizing, overseeing, praying, and a hundred other tasks that need to be done.  But what is the main job of the pastor, according to the Bible?  At the core of evangelism, discipleship training, and developing leaders for the church, we must understand that the pastor’s main job is to lay down his life for Christ’s sheep.  He must shepherd the flock of God, and do it with love, cheerfulness, humility, patience, and courage.  O Lord, who is capable of such things?  This is a glorious calling and a painful job.

Pick up many books today on doing the work of the pastor, and you will read about marketing the church, advertising, building and campus design, trends and cutting-edge methods, communication skills, entertaining a crowd, and bringing about change in an organization.  But one usually will not find in these books much discussion about being a shepherd of Christ’s sheep.  I want to revitalize my own shepherd’s heart (and yours, if you are a pastor) by re-visiting some of the vital issues concerning being a biblical pastor as found in these texts above.  According to the New Testament, a pastor does the following:

  1. Being a pastor means taking care of Christ’s sheep. One of the most basic perceptions that a pastor needs is to realize that he is not at the center of his ministry, Christ is.  Pastors must accept the fact that our ministries are not about us!  Our ministry is an extension of Christ‘s ministry.  He is the GOOD SHEPHERD, and we are His under-shepherds.  Those who are saved do not belong to pastors who pastor them; they belong to Christ.  Christ died for them; Christ shed His blood for them.  They are His!  We shepherd these precious saints in the name of Jesus Christ.  This will free the pastor to be humble, patient, and sacrificial.  We must not look at people as if they are there to advance our careers; they belong to Christ.  We must seek to bring them along in their holy faith in Jesus Christ, in keeping with God’s will.
  1. Being a pastor means laying down your life for Christ’s sheep. The hardest job in the world (that I know of) is parenting children, but shepherding Christians as a pastor is very close to parenting.  Paul uses this language in the passage 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.  Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”    This is the pastor’s heart; it feels affection for Christ’s people, for Christ, and for Christ’s calling to the pastor.  The pastor willingly lays down his life for Christ by shepherding Christ’s sheep.  He shares the feeling Paul had when he wrote, “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered…We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (Romans 8:36; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10).”  The pastor understands that this will humble us and require of us holy love and affection.
  1. Being a pastor means overseeing and protecting Christ’s sheep. Being a pastor means protecting Christ’s sheep from all adversaries against them.  This usually falls into two major categories:  (1) We teach and maintain true biblical doctrine among Christ’s people, and (2) We protect Christ’s people from those people who would do them harm.  This takes courageous love and loving courage, but it must be done.  And the pastor must do it.
  1. Being a pastor means accepting the responsibility of being an example to Christ’s sheep. The New Testament teaches that Christ’s under-shepherds must mirror and reflect Christ to the people.  Pastors must not tear down with their lives what they seek to build up in their sermons.  Pastors who are honest about their own sin, and humbly acknowledge their own need for grace in growth, will fall on their knees in supplication before God because of this.  Being an example to the people will drive us to prayer, personal confession, and passionate pursuit of godliness in the power of the Spirit informed by the teachings of the Scripture.  Pastors never feel that we “measure up” in this regard, but we must live lives of humility and sincere hunger for God and godliness.  God will use the humble pastor who will do this.
  1. Being a pastor means that we have a vision of Christ’s promise and compensation. Considering these texts of Scripture regarding the pastor’s task, we feel the weight and burden that they give.  But, we must also see the sweet and glorious promise of Christ given to the pastor who will faithfully execute his task in the ministry.  The successful pastor may never seem important to others or be recognized in the eyes of the world, but Christ will acknowledge and claim every faithful pastor for the work that he does for gospel and the kingdom.  There is an “unfading crown of glory” reserved for every bruised and battered pastor who has sought to give his life for Christ and His people.  Heaven will bear witness to the great harvest that God will bring in and through the faithful pastor who seeks to obey and follow Christ in His ministry.  I use the word “compensation” not to suggest that God owes us anything because of a faithful ministry.  But, instead, I believe that the promises of God fulfilled to us and in us in heaven will compensate us for all the turmoil, rejection, and pain that we endure for His sake in ministry.  Paul uses compensatory language in the context of comparing this life’s trouble to eternity’s glory (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  Christ’s glory given to us by divine grace in heaven will more than make up for all the toil and trouble that was ours in ministry on earth.

Pastor friend, this world cannot honor you in such a way as to compensate you for your struggles and difficulties in the ministry.  But Christ WILL compensate you in glory forever, and that compensation will be enough.  When you and I get to heaven, dear pastor, and we see the sparkling glory that Christ will share with us, and when the Chief Shepherd places on us His reward that is beyond price, then we will say without fail, IT WAS WORTH IT ALL.  Pastor, be faithful as Christ’s under-shepherd.  May God bless you as you do!

John Greever is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and pastor of First Baptist Church in Fenton, MO. He is a part of the leadership team of Founders Midwest and will be a speaker the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019. If you would like to attend the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

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