We have very high ideals of people in leadership. The President of the United States is expected to not only be the political leader of the country, but he also must be the moral, social, economic, etc…I mean, why do Christians expect their Presidents to maintain the same “Judeo-Christian” values as them? Why is it such a scandal that Obama might be a little more agnostic than Christians would like? This might be delving into a topic that might garner some pushback, but it is interesting to note our expectations of those in leadership.

These expectations are also placed upon pastors. Pastors have these unhealthy expectations placed upon them to be the best in all attributes of their lives. Modern day pastors must be good teachers and preachers, of course, but they must have good style too. Relevant Magazine released an article recently about the correlation between the jeans that pastors wear and the content of their sermons. It was definitely meant satirically, but the truth remains: we as the church have expectations of what the pastor does, says, wears, eats, drinks…

What is a pastor? And what exactly is the role and function of the pastor?

In Ephesians 4, the author writes on different offices within the church saying:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The word for “pastor” is ποιμήν, a word used 18 times in the Greek New Testament. Interestingly enough, the word itself means something closer to a shepherd. It is used in the beginning of Luke’s Gospel describing the shepherds watching their flocks by night. It is used with Jesus describing himself as the shepherd over his listeners in the Gospel of John. And in Hebrews, it again describes Jesus as the great Shepherd over sheep.

Or in 1st Timothy 3, the author writes on the role of the bishop, an office close to our modern day pastor saying:

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.

Here in this passage, the pastor has all these “qualifications.” But I think it is the person’s actions, the huge long list of descriptions, that are more byproducts of that person’s right-standing with God. For me, it is not that this deacon creates a list of all these things that must first be accomplished in order to be a shepherd. It’s not a check-list in order to become a good deacon. The deacon does these things out of their relationship with Jesus. The shepherd, as a follower of God, bears these fruits.


Not all the time.

I think the second we start looking at the pastor as a human being as our mentor and shepherd and not as some superhuman, we release the pastor of these expectations. Pastors are people. Some pastors are great people. Some pastors aren’t…But they are people nonetheless.

And I am not advocating that we just let any old person be the pastor. I follow 1st Timothy by saying that those who aspire to be a deacon desire a noble task. It is difficult being a pastor. It is not an easy task.

P.T. Forsyth quoted in William Willomon’s Pastor said many years ago, “The ideal minister is three things at least. He is a prophet, and he is a pastor, but he is just as much priest. What he is not is a king.”

Leadership is a gift. It is a calling from God to lead, and we as the congregation must accept that calling. How awful would it be to be a shepherd without sheep? Or even worse, how bad as sheep would it be to have no shepherd?

The church needs pastors. We need leaders. We need these people that are being faithful to their call. But we should not expect them to be anything more than what they are. It is because of God’s ongoing grace in their lives that they are even able to perform the duty God to which God called them. Ministry is an act of God. Ministry is an act of the church. To be a pastor is to be tied in a unique way to the church, the believing community in Christ. And ministry is difficult.

Pastors just can’t go beyond the call of duty. They are simply human.


A view of the retreat that I took this past summer with pastors and other people wanting to spend time in silence with God and Benedictine monks at the Abbey of Gethsamani.