There is one verse in Scripture that gives us God’s intentions of calling pastors into the service of His church and its Ephesians 4:11 which states, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”
The word that the King James translates as “pastor” is actually the word for “shepherd” and that is the Greek word “poimēn.” The word pastor is a Latin version of the word shepherd. So in case you didn’t already know, the title Pastor literally means Shepherd.
Somehow the modern American Christian church has re-interpreted the title Pastor to mean Executive. Today’s church organizations have made the Pastor into a Chief Executive Officer, rather than a Shepherd. A shepherd is one who cares for the flock of sheep under his care. A shepherd leads his sheep to sustenance and watches for threats to the flock.
The model for today’s pastors is Jesus Himself, who said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:11-14). The life of the pastor is given for the care of the sheep and it is spent among and with the sheep so that each is well known by the other. This model is a bit different than the Executive model often strives for in today’s church congregations.
I once had an Old Testament professor who shared a story about the time he made a flight from Israel to Ethiopia. He said as he took off from Israel, looking out the window, he saw a shepherd walking along the countryside with a flock of sheep dutifully following him. Then as he landed in Ethiopia he saw a shepherd walking along the countryside behind a flock of sheep and the shepherd was swatting the sheep with a long stick, keeping them moving ahead.
He said that while he couldn’t hear the first shepherd leading the sheep in the Israel countryside, he assumed the shepherd was likely calling the sheep as they moved forward together. What a contrast between the two approaches and a visual for pastors to consider when it comes to their own ministries.
My fear is that too many pastors are represented by Ethiopian shepherds. Being a pastor who pushes the sheep has got to be exhausting and not sustainable. Perhaps if more pastors simply rested into their pastoral care calling of following in the model of Jesus there would be less burn-out in the pulpit and less discontent in the pews.
There are considerations here for chaplains, too. Chaplains are pastors whose flock is defined by their area of service, but their calling is the same as that expressed in Ephesians 4:11. The chaplain’s role is to support those in their area of service cope and deal with any spiritual crises that may arise and effect their healing (if it’s a hospital setting) or performance (if it’s a business setting) or end-of-life process (if it’s a hospice setting).
Of course, chaplains also provide pastoral care roles in military, sports, and law enforcement settings. Wherever a chaplain may serve, may they shepherd their sheep by leading and not by trying to beat their sheep in the right direction.