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Pastors are essentially shepherds over God’s flock who are responsible to oversee the spiritual lives of the community of God. We see this clearly when Peter exhorts pastors (or shepherds) in 1 Peter 5:2. He says, “... 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”.
The word ‘oversee’ means “to watch over and direct a group of workers in order to ensure a satisfactory outcome or performance.” The Biblical implications of that meaning are quite self-explanatory - shepherds are not only called to preach and teach the word of God, but also to help and encourage the church to grow in Christlikeness by watching over their spiritual lives. Sadly, many pastors are partially obedient in this regard - while the preaching of the Word is important they neglect their responsibility to exercise oversight over the spiritual lives of the members of the church.
This neglect is further amplified because we live in a generation where the digital church movement is increasing its foothold on compromising pastors and ignorant churchgoers. This is not biblical. How pastors can oversee the lives of their flock from across the screen is beyond my understanding.
The reverse also comes into play - pastors too are part of the church and their lives ought to be transparent to other members. They are not separated from the church. To appear on a screen once a week to church members is a disgrace to the biblical mandate.
Out of the many important responsibilities that pastors have, there are three things that are critically essential for pastors to effectively serve the body of Christ.
1. Be Available
Pastors should always be available for church members. A shepherd and his flock are inseparable. You won’t find him anywhere near other flocks. His singular focus will be to stay as close as possible to his flock - to feed and keep them nourished as well as to protect them from wild animals.
Pastors are to do the same. Physical and emotional proximity to the members of the church is essential to the mandate of leadership. This was the pattern of the early church. But this isn’t what we see today in our country. We have created a culture of superstar leaders who are simply not available to interact and minister to church members throughout the week.
Many pastors seem to function with a ‘Sunday-only’ philosophy of pastoral ministry. Sundays are jam-packed with preaching and teaching in their home church or at other churches and with interacting with other members. Similarly, there are also pastors who function with a ‘program/event-oriented’ philosophy where their ministry is restricted to officiating birthdays, marriages, and funerals. The level of interaction will only be limited to exchanging pleasantries and indulging in small talk that hardly edifies members.
With such poor levels of interaction, how will church members ever get the time and space to meet their pastor for spiritual nourishment? How can it ever be accomplished through an online format?
I urge every pastor and pastoral intern to create an atmosphere in your church where the flock of God can easily come and share their struggles and weaknesses with you. The first step towards this is for pastors to tell members that their primary responsibility is to take care of them and their spiritual needs.
2. Be Approachable
Pastors living in an isolated bubble - this is another disease spreading across the pastoral landscape. While, on paper, they may seem to be available, they are simply not approachable because of the perceptions they consciously or subconsciously create.
Church members assume that their pastors are very busy people with a lot of work, and so, they conclude that they shouldn’t disturb them on weekdays. Pastors, on their part, do not bother to dispel or address these assumptions for the good of the church. Instead, they encourage a celebrity culture where church members have to use mediators to convey a message or a concern.
The Bible is clear, according to 1 Timothy 3:2, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.”
Pastors should open up their homes and be hospitable. They ought to create an atmosphere for the purpose of spiritual edification where members can freely talk and share. Every effort should be made throughout the week to pray with, encourage and correct members of the church.
3. Be Ready to Address Issues
Apostle Paul wrote these words to pastor Timothy, "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:2).
This verse brings John Calvin’s words to mind, “The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for driving away wolves.” Sadly, pastors today are quite prone to neglecting the latter voice. In essence, they fail to correct false beliefs and practices of the members in the church which can encourage falsehood to flourish.
Here’s an example – caste-based prejudices are so blatantly rampant in churches across the country, especially in the Southern states. When it comes to marriage, pastors who are supposed to discourage this social evil, are seen to encourage and help members find a spouse from the same caste.
In another instance, I remember a pastor mentioning to me that he avoids talking to married couples in the church if they have marital issues. Instead, he limits himself to just praying for them. Now, this may appear to be a safe and comfortable approach. However, it is contrary to the biblical mandate to correct and rebuke the flock when a sheep is living contrary to the Word of God.
Can this ever be accomplished if a pastor preaches to people in satellite churches who only view him from a screen? How will he ever know what is happening in the lives of church members? Can they be addressed online?
Shepherds, you are called to teach, help, correct, and encourage people in your local church to grow in their relationship with God. So, be available, approachable and address issues. This is your God-given mandate.