What do you think of when you think of a “pastor”? The leader of a church? A preacher? Someone with a friendly personality? A pastor may be all of those things, but fundamentally, Biblically speaking, the essence of a pastor is something else: a shepherd. This shepherd keeps watch, over a flock, and if you are part of that flock, the shepherd keeps watch over your soul.
Being a pastor, therefore is not about the ability to teach or build big things, or draw a crowd, it’s about the ability to care for God’s people. The goal of the pastor is to protect and corral the sheep so that they can grow into everything God wants them to be. I want to begin a series here on how to be an effective pastor, in that sense of the word: a person who helps others grow in God.
When you start to look for it, you find that Jesus teaches very extensively on pastoring, and being a shepherd. I want to explore some of that and make it practical. Jesus says in John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Here we learn the first principles of being a pastor.
First, to be a pastor, you must be like Christ. In not just any way, but in this very specific way: You have to have the heart of Christ toward other people. You need the dimension of love which would cause you to lay your life down for the sheep. This is what Jesus did. He possessed a love so deep and profound that he found it joyful to die on behalf of the sheep. In order to be a true pastor, a pastor of God’s heart and sheepfold, you must have this same heart — the heart that would gladly die for the sheep.
When you really think about it, that’s a profound dimension of love, that you would lay your life down for someone you are trying to help. I would lay my life down for my wife or my children, but for God’s children? That’s another level. That’s the mark Jesus sets though: a love that is so profound, so intense, that you would go to the cross to save them.
On a practical level, this means you really care for them, not just from a distance, but like a life exchange. The way you love your son: wanting the very best for them all the time, understanding their decisions better than they do, and most importantly loving them more than are capable of loving themselves.
When I enter a pastoral relationship with someone, that’s what I feel. I feel an intense desire to save them from themselves, to show God to them, to demonstrate God’s love to them in the body. My life for yours. I want and see not just what is good for you, or just what is best for you, but I want the dreams of God for you and in you that you can’t even see. But first and before all of that, I want to be with you in the midst of your life. I want you to no longer walk alone, but to know that someone in your life loves you so much that they would cross the ocean to save you.
This means that to be a pastor is to be a Christ-figure in someone’s life. I don’t me to be “the savior” but to be a model of The Savior, to live out in the body the depth and dimension of the sacrificial love of God. That means, I don’t have my own agenda, I can’t have a way that I want to “use you” in my ministry. My only agenda has to be that I want to break every bondage off of you that has held you back so that you can be who God the Father has always wanted you to be. And that’s a major part of what a real pastor does. They show you a love so real and tangible that you see God. You know He’s real because you’ve been loved at a dimension that surpasses anything human. Someone has walked with you as Christ would.
The first and most essential dimension of being a pastor, then is love. Not just a general care, but a “go out of my way, drop everything I have” kind of love. When you begin to pastor people you will find that their emergencies do not come at times that are convenient for you or your family. They interrupt. They do not come in small manageable doses. They overwhelm. But that’s who you are now. You are God’s firefighter. You rush into the burning building of people’s lives and you bring them out alive. And you don’t wait for the call, all you need is to see smoke. When crisis comes, I will be there with you in it. Your life fell apart and there is no one to call? I’m on call. You’re trapped in a situation you can’t escape? I’m there to pry you out. You’re running from God? I’m there to chase you down.
If you want to be a pastor, I mean a real “God pastor” you need that kind of sacrificial love. And you will know when you have it, because it will compel you to do things you wouldn’t do. You’ll do them, because someone else’s life and walk with God depend on you. They are a sheep– they don’t always know where they are going, or where there is danger. You will do them because your life is no longer your own, but you have lain it down for the sheep.
I’m going to teach how to make sure this all happens in a healthy way, in a God-kind-of-way, but before any of that, beneath it all, you need a love that’s so strong that it beats like Paul when he said “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,” Paul is saying he loves those who hate him so much that he wishes he could go to hell on their behalf. I’ve honestly never met anyone with love that strong, but that’s what it means to have a Christ-love. I would do anything to save you if I knew it would work… that’s the pastor’s heart.
To read more about the heart of a pastor and the art of pastoring, check out my book Unlocking the Heart: A Guide to Pastoral Care.