One of my favorite parts of my job as a pastor is to be a preacher.
Sometimes a member of the church will even refer to me as “his preacher.”
However, this is a subtle yet incomplete labeling once you think about it.
For too long, I also shared in this mentality—one that only saw pastoring as preaching. Sure, everyone knows a pastor does more than preach. Sometimes he does weddings and funerals, right? In many people’s minds, preaching is basically what the pastor is there for. “I go to church on Sunday morning, hear the sermon, go home, come back next week, and hear another—he’s my preacher.”
Even when I felt called into vocational ministry in the 10th grade, I would proudly tell you, “I feel called to preach.” People would ask me, “What are you going to college for?” “To be a preacher” would be my answer. Rarely, if ever did I say, “I’m going to be a pastor.”
This “preacher” emphasis was the church culture I grew up around.
“Thank you, preacher.”
“Good to see you, preacher.”
“Well done, preacher.”
“Oh, let me introduce you to our preacher!”
But now, when I hear these phrases, part of me doesn’t like it. Not because preaching is unimportant. I actually think it’s most important! But part of me doesn’t like the phrase because after I actually became a pastor for the first time, I realized that pastoring includes so much more than simply preaching.
Certainly, pastoring includes preaching—and I would argue preaching is the primary task for a senior pastor—but pastoring also includes shepherding, equipping, discipling, counseling, leading, overseeing, visiting, and lots of other tasks.
Many churches have been harmed and neglected in part over the years by pastors who hold the mentality that I once held—only seeing themselves as preachers.
Visitation? Counseling? Discipling relationships? Messy situations? For many “pastors,” the response is—“Not my job. I’m a preacher.”
But Paul tells all pastors, even those types of “preachers”—“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:28
Notice the description of this task.
“Pay careful attention.”
Surely a pastor is to pay careful attention to members, not just his message.
That’s what Paul even says—“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock.”
Pastoring involves diligence to be in the lives of the people we are preaching to. The sermon, as important as it is, is just one way to interact with the flock. Pastoring involves mingling with the flock in meaningful ways, equipping the flock, checking in on the flock, encouraging the flock, directing the flock, correcting the flock.
You’ve probably heard the saying: “Shouldn’t the shepherd smell like sheep?” Well, if he’s paying careful attention to them, certainly he will. This is a task that has been given to pastors.
And this order comes from the highest authority. Paul writes, “Pay careful attention…to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
This charge comes from God himself. Specifically, Paul says that the Holy Spirit ordains that qualified men in the church serve in this overseer role.
An overseer is a word used in the Bible that is interchangeable with bishop, pastor, shepherd, elder. God himself commissions shepherds under the Great Shepherd, Jesus, to provide oversight to the flock—that’s why he calls them “overseers.” To oversee someone is to care for him or to shepherd him, which is why Paul says these pastors have been made overseers “to care for the church of God.”
The primary task of an overseer is to provide care for whom he is overseeing. Preaching is just one way a pastor cares for the church of God, but it must not be the only way. Sure, a pastor can distantly preach to a people without interaction in their lives, but he will not be overseeing and caring for them in the way that God charges him.
In that case, the description is accurate: he is a preacher, but that’s it. A pastor he cannot be labeled.
Paul then finishes his exhortation to pastors to care for the church of God with this weighty reminder: Pastors are “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
That last line is the most solemn of all. Jesus spilled his own blood and bought a people—the flock of God—and in God’s grand design, he then provided human overseers for the church, to care for her and to watch over her.
Think of it! The church being so precious to God, that he bought her, even at the lofty price of his own son’s blood, and then he charges every pastor with this stunning reality: “Care for this bride that I purchased with my son’s life. Lead her, protect her, direct her, counsel her, watch over her.”
Who would then have the audacity to say, “Sorry, God. Not my job. I’m a preacher”?
I’m thankful in many ways for the preaching emphasis label put on many pastors. When I hear, “Hey, preacher…” part of me cringes because I know God has provided so much more for his church. However, part of me rejoices because such labeling does highlight the pastor’s most important task—faithfully preaching all of God’s Word.
In my next post, preaching will be my focus. There I will argue that the church needs to rediscover what true preaching is so that she is actually cared for well by her pastors.
A Word to Us Pastors/Elders
-Do you realize you have been given a heaven-stamped order?
-Are you paying careful attention to your members or only your message?
-Are you caring for God’s church in your oversight given to her?
-Do you see her as precious, as Jesus did when he gave his own blood for her?
A Word to Church Members
-Do you see your pastor as merely a preacher? Realize that God has called him to more.
-Do you recognize your pastor’s job is to care for you and your spiritual well-being?
-Are you surprised if your pastor seems a little “in your business”?
-Are you open to his care for you?
Next time you hear someone say, “Hey Preacher…” remember: All pastors, preach, but not all preachers, pastor.