In this first episode of a two-part series, pastors Derek and Cliff discuss a pastor’s biblical job description while also explaining what things a pastor is not responsible for.
Derek: Welcome to the With All Wisdom Podcast, where we are applying biblical truth to everyday life. My name is Derek Brown and I’m here today with Cliff McManis. We are both pastors and elders at Creekside Bible Church in Cupertino, California, and professors of theology at the Cornerstone Bible College and Seminary in Vallejo, California. And today we want to ask the question, what do pastors do all day? But before we get to our topic, I want to encourage you to check out WithAllWisdom.org, where you’ll find a large and growing collection of resources that are all rooted in God’s Word and aimed at helping you grow in your walk with Christ. Now on to our topic. The reason why I thought it would be good to ask this question, Cliff, is not just because I’ve been asked the question before—which I have—but because I think this question reflects a broad lack of understanding among Christians of a pastor’s role and responsibilities in the church.
There are historical reasons for this lack of understanding. Cultural expectations for pastors have changed significantly over the last 200 years. And some argue that the reason for this is rooted in the Enlightenment and the intellectual shift that occurred in the 17th century. The Enlightenment is typically dated between 1600 and 1800. It was an intellectual shift that began in Europe. It wasn’t monolithic, but it began in Europe and spread throughout Western culture. But before or prior to the Enlightenment, Scripture held a broadly recognized place of spiritual and epistemological authority in and outside the church. After the Enlightenment, the Bible was dismissed as an authoritative source of truth. Along with this then came a growing cultural disrespect of the pastorate because pastors were, over time, no longer seen as dealing with real knowledge, like scientists and philosophers. They were only dealing with issues of faith.
Here in America, we can trace the confusion about the pastoral role to the enlightenment as a primary cause, but there are also secondary causes. One author I’ve read on this topic argues that a significant shift occurred in America regarding how people viewed the pastoral office. And it all changed with [the] ministry of a man named Charles Finney. Finney lived from 1792 to 1895 in the New England area. He was converted as an adult and ordained to the ministry in 1824. But he entered the ministry without much formal training, which had not been typical up to this point in American history. Pastors often underwent rigorous formal training, either with another pastor or in a divinity school or seminary. Well, in Finney’s ministry, he didn’t believe a sinner needed a supernatural change of heart to believe in Christ. The sinner had an innate ability to do so.
So he focused his preaching ministry on establishing the right techniques to move people’s wills to trusting in Christ. He believed that all you needed to do was to find the right motivator and people would come to Christ. And so now I’m going to actually read from this historian’s account of what he believes happened. He says, “Because of this, Finny instituted the anxious bench and other methods that place tremendous psychological and emotional pressure on the sinner. Unlike past revivalists, conversion for Finny did not require a miracle. It was, with the proper techniques, a sure thing. Finney exerted a significant influence on fellow Christian preachers. Scores of other protestants began to adopt his practices when they saw just how many converts could they could get in a single night of preaching. This can-do attitude went hand in glove with a changing America. This brought a truly stunning change in American life that fit the political mood of the country perfectly. Innovation and no holds barred gospel proclamation became the means by which one won a hearing. In many places, formal training was seen as a deadening agent on a young preacher,” [meaning that people started to think that if you sent someone to seminary, that seminary would kind of deaden their preaching].
So he says, “…formal training was seen as a deadening agent on a young preacher and on the church who endured his stilted preaching. The Puritan sermons with fifty subheadings,” [and if you’re familiar with Puritan sermons, this would be funny to you], “…the Puritan sermons with fifty subheadings were out. The freewheeling pulpiteer, master of the homespun story, was in.”
So—according to this historian—this is a significant change in how the pastoral office had been viewed prior to the 1800s.
There is a shift now starting to take place in America for how people viewed the pastoral office and how they viewed ministry in general. And here’s how this historian sums up the situation in America. He writes, “In one generation, America went from a nation featuring a carefully guarded pastoral office marked by learning communal stability and staunch theological preaching to one in which disestablishment reigned and highly gifted populist communicators like Finney dominated. At the same time, the increasingly secularized American academy, like its European forbearers, expanded and made territorial claims over the intellectual life of the country.”
So what I want us to see in just this brief history is that this change and this shift for how people presently view the pastoral office—it came from somewhere. It has a history. I want to give us some context for understanding why or how people think of the pastoral office today.
For some people today, the pastorate is a helping profession akin to a religious therapist who gives some good advice to folks who are struggling in their daily lives to other people. The pastor is like a CEO of this corporation called the church, and he’s responsible for vision, promotion, fundraising, capital projects, and revenue growth for others. The pastor is a preacher of God’s Word, and not much more. Some folks I’ve talked to think pastors are lazy. Others think their job is just cushy and easy, and on and on it goes. In other words, there’s cultural confusion about the pastoral office, and there is confusion within the church about the pastoral office. But the goal of this podcast is not to get back to some historical ideal. Actually, even some of the pastors in the past—whose writings we’ve benefited from—we will actually critique because we think they had an inadequate view of the pastoral ministry. What we need to get back to is a biblical job description, so to speak, for the pastorate in answering the question, what does a pastor do all day? We need to first ask, what should a pastor be doing? Cliff, how would you describe a pastor’s responsibilities from Scripture?
Cliff: Yeah, thanks for that historical survey that set the stage. Pretty good. Boy, you made me think of a lot of stuff as you were talking there, just with the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment and how important that was with the historical shift of what a church and a pastor was to be. Yeah, that was huge. And then Charles Finney was at the late 1800s.
Cliff: The Second Great Awakening. Then we still see the byproduct of his influence today in a lot of ways in the church. I’d say another one would be (more recently) in the 1980s with the rise of technology and the rise of the megachurch and the superstar pastor who has to look good on video and TV, like a Hollywood star. That’s a whole other element that’s been added to it. And just with those three historical elements, in many ways, we’ve completely lost our bearings of what a pastor’s supposed to be and what a pastor’s supposed to be doing. So what a great question and topic that, actually, you suggested that we discussed today. Pastor Derek, you’re a pastor, right?
Derek: Yep. I am pastor.
Cliff: Which means you’re also an elder, and many other things according to the Bible. And that’s what we need to do, is get back to what is the Bible—2,000 years ago—said about the basics of what the profile of a pastor is. Who is a pastor, and what’s he supposed to be doing? That’s really what we need to do—those are the questions we need to answer. Two simple ones. And Scripture’s clear about it. So we want to lay that foundation. So going back to your original question—say that again, Derek.
Derek: What should a pastor be doing? Or a biblical job description for a pastor.
Cliff: Yeah. There are a few classic Scripture passages that come to my mind, and probably yours as well. I guess you’d start with Jesus, right? Since he was the Good Shepherd. “Shepherd” is the same word for “pastor” in the Bible, in the Greek. And Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd.” I am the good pastor. So he was the model. So that’s where the role of pastor starts: [with] Jesus, the perfect example. He was the model. He called himself the Good Shepherd, the good pastor. Peter calls him the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5. So he’s the good pastor, the chief pastor—which actually means senior pastor. It’s a definite article—the senior pastor. I’d like to emphasize that. I actually got that from John MacArthur.
Derek: Well, I think that’s great. I remember first hearing it from you, and I thought, that is so good. I’m going to steal that first.
Cliff: It’s good to know that we only have one senior pastor of the church, Jesus Christ, who gave his life for the church and purchased it with his blood. The rest of us, we’re just under-shepherds. And then Hebrews 13:20 calls Jesus the “Great Shepherd.” So you could put pastor in there. So that’s where it starts. A pastor of a local church needs to be like Jesus, in terms of what he did and modeled. And the good shepherd is based on Yahweh in the Old Testament as the Shepherd of his people. Many times in the well-known Psalm 23, David cried out to God and said, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” or Yahweh is my Shepherd. He’s the one that takes care of me and feeds me and leads me and protects me and guides me. And I trust in him with my very life and my very soul. And I will dwell with him in the house of the Lord forever, in eternity. So God is the Shepherd of his people.
Isaiah 40 is a beautiful portrait as well. Verse 11 talks about how, not only is God the Shepherd, but it says how he shepherds—tenderly leading his sheep, protecting them, carrying them when they need it. So that’s the model. That’s where it starts. A pastor is to model and mimic the care that Jesus gave for his people and that God, Yahweh, gave for his people. And then there are explicit Scriptures of what that means. Jesus—after three and a half years of training his apostles and getting ready to launch them after his death and resurrection before he ascended into heaven—calls his apostles together and has a conversation with Peter, who will be the head apostle. [Jesus was] commissioning him as a shepherd or pastor before the church started.
And Jesus said very clearly in John 21—three different ways—his commission to Peter as a pastor. He said, “Shepherd, tend to my sheep.” Those are imperatives. Those were commands. That’s where it all started. That’s what a pastor’s supposed to do. Shepherd my sheep; tend to my sheep. So Jesus gave the commandment of what a pastor primarily is supposed to do, which is “shepherd my sheep.” So today, when people ask you, Derek, or me, “So what do you do as a pastor? What does that mean?” Well, I always [say], “I’m responsible for shepherding Jesus’ sheep.” That’s where it starts. Shepherding. And then Paul repeated that in Acts chapter 20—that great chapter where he planted that church in Ephesus and then trained up leaders, called elders. An elder is the same thing as a pastor. And as he was about to leave, after three-plus years of ministry, he called all the elders of Ephesus together and just had that beautiful, intimate meeting with the elders. And first he talked about how he’s been an example among them. I was a pastor, I was an elder, I was a shepherd. And here’s what I did, publicly and from house to house. I loved on the people. I trained people. And then he gives us five verbs of primarily what he did and how he ministered. And that was through declaring the truth of God’s Word. That’s primarily what he did, but he did it with loving the people.
And after laying himself out as an example of how to be a shepherd, he called them to be shepherds. And the main imperative he gives them in Acts chapter 20 is “shepherd the church of God.” That’s what a pastor does. You need to shepherd the church of God. And then Peter, a little later in his life, in 1 Peter 5:2, is talking to elders as well. And that’s the same charge he gives. Here’s what a pastor needs to be doing; here’s your priority. You need to shepherd the flock of God among you, the ones entrusted to your care. So that’s how I would summarize it. The umbrella term and responsibility and job description and main command of the pastor is this: we’re supposed to be shepherding the flock of God. We’re supposed to be shepherding Jesus’ sheep. And everything else that we do flows from that priority. So that would be my simple answer.
Derek: Well, that’s, I think, a really good starting point. I want to just comment on two things. I think it’s really helpful that you started by pointing out that Jesus is the model shepherd. My tendency and inclination is just to go straight to the pastoral epistles and say, “Oh, this is what a pastor does,” and I bypass Jesus! So that’s a really good reminder. He is the Chief Shepherd. He’s the Good Shepherd. And he is our primary model. So that was really helpful.
The second thing I want to point out is your point about shepherding being the overarching category. To me that is particularly clarifying and helpful, because what that does is that places these other elements like preaching within and underneath that category. And maybe you’re going to talk about that. But I think when you put shepherding where it should be in terms of the overarching category, it keeps you balanced in the pastoral ministry. Because I know of some men who conceive of their pastoral ministry as pretty much only preaching, and yet preaching is a vital part of it. And we would agree that preaching is very vital. In fact, that’s been lost in American culture largely—the importance of preaching. Nevertheless, it comes under the shepherding element of our task. It doesn’t supersede it. It’s actually under it. So that’s—for me—really, really helpful.
Cliff: Yeah. And it’s very helpful for me as well. I’d say that’s God’s favorite metaphor of what a pastor is supposed to be and do. And it is, like you said, an overarching term. And then there are many elements under that. Many manifestations of that. So being a shepherd—that speaks to our character as a person, but also our duties. And then you get specific mandates in Scripture from the New Testament in the pastoral epistles and others in terms of what that entails. I want to go back to John 21:16-17 because Jesus commissions Peter, who will be one of the first pastors of the local church in Jerusalem, along with the other eleven apostles. They will shepherd. That’s their main responsibility. They will shepherd sheep.
Jesus says, “Shepherd my sheep.” And then in the next verse, he says, “Tend my sheep.” The word “shepherd” in verse 16 is a different Greek word than the word in verse 17. And that’s important. And that distinction shouldn’t be blurred. Those aren’t synonyms. Those are words. And that makes a difference. The King James, unfortunately, translates both words with the English word “feed.” They shouldn’t have done that. So they conflate the two, and you lose the distinction. He already said he was a shepherd. It was a specific term that referred to a shepherd, in what he did and who he was primarily, with providing care, leading, and guidance to the sheep and all that that entailed. And you have the authority to do that. That’s what a shepherd was. So he said, “Shepherd my sheep.” It’s also a position of service that God is putting you into. To shepherd means to lead the people on God’s behalf. But the New American standard says “tend,” which is kind of too obscure, non-specific, and generic today. I mean, what does that mean here? Tend to the dishes, you know, or tend to the kids, or who knows what it means. When, actually, the Greek word is very specific, and is used nine times in the New Testament pretty much consistently. And it means “feed.” That’s what it means, literally. The King James got that one right, because it should say “feed.” So it’s “take care of” or “shepherd” my sheep, and Peter also says, “feed my sheep.”
Those are two distinct responsibilities. And the feeding falls under the big umbrella of shepherding. It’s the main thing we’re supposed to do. The English Standard Version, the NIV, the CSV—they all get it right on John 21:17. They all translate it not as “tend my sheep,” but as “feed my sheep.” And that’s very helpful. First and foremost, we’re supposed to shepherd the sheep, because that’s what Jesus said. Well, what does that entail? And then it gets more specific. Well, you need to feed my sheep. And then we’ve got the rest of the New Testament, with Peter, Paul, James, the apostles, and the epistles. They explain more specifically how we shepherd and also how we feed. And that word for “feed” is used in reference to pigs eating food.
And the nine times that word is used, it’s used in reference to what pastors are to do to the people—it’s a metaphor. And we’re supposed to be feeding them the truth of God’s Word. That’s the main thing that we’re supposed to be doing. Caring for the people spiritually, as spiritual under-shepherds of Jesus, and following his model. And one of the main ways we do that is by feeding our people the truth of God’s Word, which is their spiritual food. And also we operate in accordance with God’s Word in how we conduct ourselves. So one pastor said to me when I was in seminary—I’ll never forget it—he boiled shepherding, or being a pastor, down to two things: it was leading and feeding. I like that because it rhymes. And also that’s exactly what Jesus said in John 21:16-17. He said, lead and feed; guide and provide. And I think that’s a good way to succinctly state it.
Derek: Yeah, that’s helpful. As you have thought about the leading and the feeding component of shepherding, what element do you think is most easily neglected? Do you think that it tends to be the feeding that’s neglected or the leading that’s neglected? The reason I ask is because I have an idea of what I think is neglected, but what are your thoughts? Do some pastors fail to feed, but lead well, or vice versa? Or is it something where if you’re not doing one, you really can’t do the other? I mean, because you said that they’re not synonymous—they’re distinct job descriptions or distinct roles. But what would you say, in your experience, has been neglected? Or is easily neglected?
Cliff: Yeah. Well, shepherding and feeding—I think they overlap. Even though they’re distinct, they’re interrelated, for sure. They complement one another. They’re interdependent. I think it depends on your circle of influence and exposure, in terms of which one is neglected at the cost of the other. Because I’ve seen both neglected, and one over-emphasized. As a matter of fact, I was at an ordination service one time where a lead pastor was being inducted at the church, and the speaker he chose to speak on his behalf who knew him well, said, “Well, he’s not the greatest preacher, but he makes up for it with his love for the people.” He said that at the ordination—in public, in front of everybody. And the guy that was getting ordained agreed! “Actually, sometimes I don’t even like to preach, but I love people.”
So that can’t be the case. That is a lack of balance. I don’t like to teach, I have do it out of duty and compulsion—but I like people! I like that shepherding element! So I’ve seen that firsthand. You can’t do that. The one I’ve seen probably more, because of the circles you and I come out of, is the lack of balance on a pastor. In some seminaries, that’s their emphasis. You go to seminary and you get taught one thing—how to do Greek, Hebrew, or “X” of Jesus so you can preach. And being a pastor amounts to being an expositor of the Bible. That is one component of being a pastor, but that is not all-encompassing of what God expects us to do as shepherds.
And so they are neglecting a very important part of being a shepherd. If your idea of being a pastor is just being an expositor or just a preacher at the neglect of shepherding—like Paul said in Acts chapter 20, “From house to house, I ministered.” That’s very personal; very intimate. He knew the families. And then in verse 31 of Acts 20, he says, “I admonished each one with tears.” I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. So I think [those are] the two elements that absolutely have to be a part of an elder’s ministry or a pastor’s life. If you’re missing one of these, you’re not really a pastor or you’re abdicating your responsibilities. You’ve got to have a teaching component in your ministry. Even if you’re one of seven elders and you’re not the main preacher, you’ve got to be teaching the Bible somewhere on a regular basis as a shepherd. But also, if you’re a pastor at a church, you’ve got to have a personal connection with the people in your local congregation of your church. If you don’t, you’re not doing your most basic responsibilities as a shepherd, because God has called us to be shepherds of the local church, first and foremost. Not pastors of the world. Actually, can I make a comment, Derek? I gave a positive definition of what a shepherd should be doing. I want to give the opposite—what a pastor is not called to do.
Derek: Please, feel free.
Cliff: I’ll just run through this list. This might help, in light of what the Bible says. As pastors, we are not called to be fathers, lords, or masters over our own local congregation. And you and I have seen problems with local pastors thinking they’re the lord over their local church. They micromanage and control every area of a person’s life in their congregation. We are not supposed to do that. They go outside the boundaries of what Scripture does give them authority to do, and start to control every element of their life. Who they date, where they should go, what they should drive, how they should think about these [things], making their decisions. That’s dangerous.
Derek: It is. Yeah. It’s not fiction. We’ve seen that.
Cliff: Yes. One pastor I know personally, I heard his sermon, and he referred to himself as the father of the congregation, and his people as his children. I’m thinking, “That’s a violation of 1 Peter 5.” Jesus said, “Let no man call himself father.” You have one father who is in heaven. And I’ve worked with, sadly, some senior pastors and others who believed that because they were a pastor, that means they had the authority of God to control people, which is completely wrong. When you’re a pastor, you have the authority of God to serve people. That’s the difference.
Derek: That’s a huge difference. I mean, it’s fundamental. And I’ll just say, too, that my experience in dealing with the fallout of those kinds of pastoral situations is never good for the person. The people in those congregations never thrive spiritually.
Cliff: They don’t. They become dependent upon that person. As pastors, we’re not supposed to be fathers. We’re not supposed to be high priests or priests. We’re not the mediator. Jesus is. We are not prophets. We don’t have special insight that other people don’t have.
Derek: That’s a good point.
Cliff: Sometimes people think we do. We are not to be pioneers or innovators and inventing new stuff. So instead of pioneers and innovators, we’re supposed to be propagators and imitators of what God’s already given to us. We are not sinless. As pastors, we are not CEOs or corporate executives. Some of these you’ve already mentioned. We are not political leaders. We are not community organizers; we are not social justice warriors. We aren’t superstars. Things we’re not supposed to be doing as pastors. We are not supposed to be gaining notoriety or fame in our role because it is a leadership position. And you aren’t high-profile in terms of your congregation. We aren’t supposed to be building a legacy or worried about leaving a legacy. We’re not supposed to be about building our own little empire or kingdom. We are not called to lead a national or international ministry. Let me say that one again: we are not called to lead a national or international ministry That is nowhere in the Bible. The apostles were apostles to all of the churches. But other than that, the pastor’s supposed to be a pastor of the local church. We are not called to get wealthy off of church work or ministry.
Cliff: Yeah. That’s a common one today. We are not called to run a soup kitchen.
Derek: Really? [Laughs].
Cliff: Can we run a soup kitchen? Yeah. Are we called to run a soup kitchen? No. That’s not our business. Do we believe in soup kitchens? Yeah—when they’re helpful. But are we called as pastors to run a soup kitchen? No. People get confused about that. And then my last one is, we are not called to invest most of our energy beyond the local church, doing a lot of good things. There’s a lot of good things to do—parachurch ministries, working at a seminary, doing missions abroad or helping other organizations. That’s all good stuff. But if you’re called to be a pastor, that means you’re called to be a local church pastor. Shepherding your people—Jesus’ sheep—first and foremost. That’s your priority.
Derek: Yeah. And that’s a good point because each time we introduce this podcast, we mention that you and I are both pastors and professors of theology at the Cornerstone Bible College and Seminary. And that’s a parachurch organization that is training pastors. But, nevertheless, it’s not the local church. It’s important to point out that that’s a small part of what we do. Our main work is pastoral ministry.
Cliff: Well, let me ask you a personal question, Pastor Derek.
Cliff: You are one of six elders at Creekside Bible Church. [You are a] shepherd and pastor, yet you do a lot of other stuff. You are the dean of a seminary, professor at a seminary, you write books, and you’re involved in other ministries as well. How do you keep the balance and stay in check, knowing that your priority is Creekside Bible Church and the people here? What helps you keep in balance so that you don’t lose it?
Derek: On a practical level, maintaining a schedule. That strictly keeps the balance, because I only allow a certain amount of time for the seminary. And so I allot the majority of my time to the church. I mean, the majority of my time is allocated to church ministry. And actually, I just thank God for this. In my own heart and mind, if things drift out of balance, I always feel it. I’m like, I’m a pastor, first and foremost. I’m grateful to have opportunities in the seminary, but I’m first and foremost a pastor. So I think just practically, the schedule helps. Staying in the Bible helps—in the pastoral epistles. Just staying in Scripture and staying in the New Testament is vital because it always brings me back, face-to-face, with what my priority must be as a pastor. And then spending a lot of time with the people at CBC. That keeps me grounded. And that’s really the joy of the ministry. And so I’d say probably those three things, just off the top of my head.
Cliff: I had those on my list, too. I think another key one for me and you, because we’ve served at different kinds of churches, but we’re at a church now that I think has a biblical model of leadership. So we’ve got six elders. I do a lot of stuff outside of this church as well, but having a team of elders keeping me in check, too, [with] my involvement at the seminary and whatever else—they help hold me accountable. “Remember what your priorities are—your family and the local church.” Your bandwidth is not unlimited, in terms of what you can give.
Derek: Well, I think this has been a great introduction, Cliff. I’d love to come back and talk more about what Scripture says about the pastoral job description, and then even talk about various aspects of being a pastor. You know, like in our case, we have different elders on our elder team. We have six elders. And so each of us have different ministries that we oversee. And then even seasons of life tend to shift what we’re able to do. So I’d love to come back and talk about those practical realities in pastoral ministry. So we’ll do that. We will be back here for part two. We would love for you to join us. Until then, check out WithAllWisdom.org, where you’ll find a large and growing collection of resources that help you grow in your walk with the Lord Jesus. And until next time, keep seeking the Lord.