SBC Life Articles

Portrait of a Pastor

I recently celebrated my thirty-fifth anniversary in the gospel ministry. Shortly after surrendering to God's call upon my life I accepted my first assignment as a pastor. I was a nineteen-year-old college student who had a passion to serve God and to be obedient to His call upon my life. Although my knowledge of the biblical guidelines for pastoral ministry was limited, I did assume my first pastorate knowing the Bible contained my job description.

My first objective as a pastor was to acquaint myself with God's expectations of me. It was important to me to fulfill the biblical mandate for pastoral ministry. Strictly from a human perspective I saw God as my boss. He was my primary employer. With these thoughts in mind I endeavored to be knowledgeable of my biblical job description. I studied the Scriptures to know what a pastor is to be and to do. What does a biblical pastor look like? That was the question I sought to answer.

Now, almost thirty-five years later, I feel that I have a healthier understanding of the biblical requirements and responsibilities for pastoral ministry. However, I have learned in this pastoral pilgrimage that the people I serve have their personal opinions about what a pastor is to be and what he is to do. The person in the pew also has a mental picture of a pastor.

One of the primary reasons I feel compelled to address this subject is because of the tension that can arise in church life when the pastor and the people he is called to serve have differing views on what it means to be a pastor. Why would a pastor and his people have differing, and at times conflicting, views on the pastoral job description? We assume that both pastor and people are reading the same Bible. The problem occurs when other factors effect our thinking. What other factors shape how we view the pastor's role? The answer: the same factors that influence and shape our thinking in every other area of life. Whether it is the pastor or the person in the pew, our opinions are shaped by personal experiences, culture, traditions, personal preferences, and countless other factors. Personal expectations, on either side of the pulpit, should not be equated with biblical mandates.

Now that we have acknowledged that our mental picture of the pastor can be affected by a variety of issues, our objective is to discover the biblical portrait of a pastor. My burden for the pastor and the layperson alike is that we yield to the biblical requirements and that we put our personal preferences in perspective.

I am captured by the words of E.M. Bounds: "The preacher is not a professional man; his ministry is not a profession; it is a divine institution, a divine devotion."1

John Piper extends a strong admonition to pastors to think correctly about themselves. He said:

"We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we leave in our wake ….

"Our first business is to pant after God in prayer. Our business is to weep over sins…our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God … to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be cast away … to deny ourselves and to take up the blood spattered cross daily.

"The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions. It is precisely by the failure to see this that we are dying.

"The world sets the agenda for the professional man; God sets the agenda for the spiritual man."2

In our effort to see the New Testament picture of the pastor we will examine six different areas of the pastor's life. When put together, these form a composite portrait of the pastor.

The Pastor's Character

The Apostle Paul's words to the church at Corinth certainly apply to Christian ministers: Test yourselves [to see] if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you not recognize for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you fail the test. And I hope you will recognize that we are not failing the test (2 Corinthians 13:5-6, HCSB).

The test of true Christian faith and character must be passed by all who would be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul declared: …we are not failing the test.

Peter White of Scotland, in his book The Effective Pastor, writes: Are there prerequisites for being in Christian ministry? If so, what are they? The list deducible from the New Testament is surprising at first sight, containing as it does few specific skills. On reflection, however, the wisdom of this becomes apparent. Christian work has such a variety that the gospel lays down few qualifications that have to do with particular tasks, although the ones it does name are significant. As Alec Motyer observes, The New Testament does not give a job description but a character reference.3

Many, many times I have heard Dr. Stephen F. Olford, Founder of Olford Ministries International, in Memphis, addressing ministers say, "God is more concerned about who we are than what we do, and if who we are does not please Him, then what we do is virtually useless."

Character issues that demand attention are: personal relationship with Jesus Christ; disciplined personal discipleship; personal holiness; faithfulness and loyalty to wife and family; peaceful temperament; financial responsibility; and biblical and doctrinal soundness.

The Pastor's Duties

The pastor's ministerial responsibilities are a significant part of his job description. Discerning what these duties are presents the challenge. David W. Wiersbe provides a helpful and insightful list of duties:

Nourishing – Providing a balanced and healthy diet is a primary shepherding responsibility. God's people must be fed with the truths of His Word, and our preaching should center on Jesus Christ.

Protecting – Protecting a flock from false doctrine and wolves in sheep's clothing is not an easy task…we have no choice. This involves proclaiming the truth and warning against what is wrong.

Seeking – Wandering sheep must be sought and found.

Sacrificing – A shepherd (like Jesus) must be willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of the sheep.

Knowing – Know the sheep.

Model Integrity – A pastor should be a person others can imitate.

Managing – Managerial skills are necessary.

Healing – Life's wounds are inflicted in many ways. A pastor who knows his people can often tell there is a problem just by looking into someone's face.

Loving – Good relationships.

Leading – Set the pace.

Uniting – A shepherd is responsible for keeping the flock together.4

The Pastor's Relationships

Relationships are chief among all the pastor's duties. Ministry is about people and relationships. Spiritual leadership built upon relationships requires availability, commitment, and trust.

The Pastor's Priorities

D.L Moody once said, "This one thing I do …, not these forty things I dabble in." This statement strikes at the heart of the pastor's struggle. What do I do?

Erwin Lutzer suggests the following priorities: praying is more important than preaching, preaching is more important than administration, the family is more important than the congregation, faithfulness is more important than competition, and love is more important than ability.5

The Pastor's Example

The tenth chapter of the Gospel of John contains a vivid description of the example a pastor should follow. That example is the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this chapter Jesus mentions five specific aspects to remember in shepherding: His Sheep (vss. 14 and 27); His Voice (vss. 16 and 27); His Life (vss. 15 and 17); His Hand (vs. 28); and His Father (vss. 17-19 and 25).

The Lord gave His total life to His ministry to others. So should we.

The Pastor's Importance

Is the pastor's role in the overall ministry of the church important? Absolutely! Dr. Thom Rainer documents some interesting findings regarding the importance of the pastor's ministry. Speaking of interviews with 353 formerly unchurched people, Rainer indicated that in response to the question, "Did the pastor and his preaching play a part in your coming to the church?" nearly all the respondents (97 percent) answered in the affirmative.

When asked, "What factors led you to choose this church?" 90 percent said, "The pastor and his preaching."6

As you can see, the pastor wears many hats. He has many responsibilities. However, in the process of fulfilling these responsibilities, it is of utmost importance that the pastor keep his eyes on his biblical job description.



1. John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2002, p.1.
2. Ibid, pp. 1-2.
3. Peter White, The Effective Pastor, Christian Focus Publications, Ross-Shire, England, 1998, pp. 19-23.
4. David W. Wiersbe, The Dynamics of Pastoral Care, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000, pp. 26-33.
5. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor to Pastor, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998, pp. 102-107.
6. Thom S. Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, pp. 55-57.

    About the Author

  • Roger D. Willmore