By William J. Mishler
Jeremiah watched the spiritual decline of his people and nation, especially the collapse of their religious observances and temple worship. Then God spoke, “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). Likewise, God spoke to Ezekiel, Daniel, Malachi and other priests and prophets.
All God’s warnings, dissatisfactions and judgments point to those men responsible for shepherding the people and nation, particularly in their spiritual relationship and worship. “Woe be unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:1).
Who were those men that God made responsible for spiritual leadership and worship among His people?It was said of John the Baptist, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light (John 1:6-8). Let’s examine three specifics about John the Baptist.
First, he’s called a man, not an angel or a supernatural being, but an earthborn creature with fleshly shortcomings. Second, he was “sent from God,” that is, a man specifically chosen by the Lord. Third, he came “to bear witness of the light.” John’s primary purpose in life was to preach about Jesus.
These same three qualities characterize every gospel preacher today. Paul asked the early Jewish Christians, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?…” (Romans 10:15a). He told the church at Corinth, “Even so hath the lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel (I Corinthians 9:14).The men were called by God to do a specific service.
But what about their call—these men sent from God, these pastor-teachers, shepherds, elders who feed the flock?
I’m a pastor, sent from God, not by my choice, but because God called me. This call is distinct from other church tasks clustered under the ministerial umbrella.
Dr. J. Vemon Jacobs, in his book Ten Steps to Leadershipsays, “A call is seeing a need and having the ability to meet that need.” Sir Wilfred Grenfell says, “Christ’s call was to follow Him, not recognize, much less to comprehend Him.”
While these statements may fit some categories clustered under the ministerial umbrella, they deal mainly with local church leadership. Paul assures the church at Ephesus that God calls the pastor-teacher (Ephesians 4:11-12). Mark describes Jesus calling His disciples, “And straightway he called them: and they left their father…and went after him” (Mark 1:20).
The pastoral call defies clear definition and precise description. I sense it; I feel its inner compulsion, but it’s impossible to state like a mathematical equation.
Here’s my own definition as it applied to my call: It was a deep, abiding conviction that I could not get away from. I had not been involved in an automobile accident, had no catastrophic illness that brought me close to death, saw no vision or message in the sky, had no encouragement from home or church to enter the ministry. As a young Christian I placed my life on the altar as best I knew how and told the Lord to use me however He could.
I tried to do various things in my home church, but there remained that abiding conviction—this is not it. Then, one day returning home from work and thinking of the lord and His blessings in my life, there came that unction from above—that’s it! Peace came; the conviction left; the burden lifted. A few months later I announced my call. From that day till now I never doubted my call to the ministry.
God does not call a pastor because of academic training, church affiliation, family or cultural background. He calls men who are justified, sanctified and consequently faithful in the Master’s work.
Spurgeon told his students, “Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe and have heartily entertained that Christ and spirit which you offer to others.”
The call is not only a summons to service, but also a call to preparation. This must not be overlooked by that “man sent from God.”
What about the preacher’s responsibilities? Just as sure as atoms hold the secret of power in this physical universe, preaching holds the secret of power in the spiritual world about us. (See I Corinthians 9:16; Isaiah 61:1; I Peter 5:1-3.)
The symbolism comparing a pastor to a shepherd surfaces frequently in the scriptures. Sheep are the most helpless and defenseless of all domesticated animals. Without a shepherd, they’re at the mercy of predatory animals and stray dogs.
Just as sheep need constant watchfulness and care from the shepherd, the pastor lives in close proximity to his flock where he ministers. He cultivates the cold and indifferent, comforts those who sorrow, cheers the sick, rejoices with those who rejoice, and weeps with those who weep. He brings back the straying, rebukes the erring, marries the young, buries the dead, ministers to the destitute, and preaches the gospel with longsuffering and patience.
His spiritual sheep must be fed in green pastures and led beside still waters. They need their wounds bathed in the fragrant oil of the Holy Spirit. Above all, they must be sheared tenderly, lovingly, but regularly. The good shepherd still gives his life for the sheep.
Jesus told Peter, “Feed my lambs…feed my sheep.” Every healthy flock contains lambs and every good shepherd keeps his eye on their special needs. The biblical picture of the Great Shepherd in Isaiah 40:11 tells of His wonderful tenderness, “…He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom…”
Donald Gee speaks of the passionate love for the flock of God which the pastoral office demands. He says that while we’ve heard much of a passion forsouls, we sometimes think an equally needed and priceless gift is a passion oversouls—a godly care which yearns and pleads and agonizes that every man may be presented perfect in Jesus Christ.
Paul touched the keynote of the true pastor’s heart when he said, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers [pastors]…”(l Corinthians 4:15). Incidentally, this passage reveals the fact that a teacher is not always a pastor.
Some teachers are as illuminating as an electric light…and nearly as cold! The calling makes the difference. It’s the spiritual fathers (pastors) that are missing in many pulpits today. We must have them if we expect our churches to produce preachers, missionaries and Christian workers.
The pastor is also chief administrative officer. He sees to it that others of his flock have ample opportunity to help perform church tasks. He remembers that he’s a man with human limitations. Someone well said, “Blessed is that pastor who early in his ministry finds out he does not have the answers to all of his church problems, business and finances.”
The pastor is theologian, administrator and divinely-appointed shepherd over the flock. How I pray that God will do for our dear pastors what He did for Elijah in the cave. He gave the prophet a new revelation and a new commission. We never hear of him going back to the juniper tree or to the cave.
When Jesus appeared at the Sea of Tiberias, He took pains to instruct Peter—lovingly, tenderly and compassionately—that he must lay aside his nets and boats and fish for men. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”
It’s still a burning question. Pastor, do you “love me” more than that job, that house or that family? The call echoes across the mountains, the valleys, the plains and the asphalt jungles. What will you do about it?
Don Reiber said it for me: “As a Pastor I may not enjoy the prestige administrators enjoy, nor have the aura of glamour that clings to evangelists. Yet my task is more important than either. In fact, of all the positions on God’s team, mine is the most important.”
Article adapted from Contact magazine, August 1987.