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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

12 July 2006

A Pastor’s Heart

Q: What does it mean to have a pastor’s heart?

Good ShepherdA: Since “pastor” means “shepherd,” it means to have the heart of a shepherd. This involves caring about others, taking time to get to know them, and loving them with God’s love even when they are being completely unlovable. It also means doing what is best for the flock, not necessarily what is most popular or trendy. Thus, having a pastor’s heart means speaking God’s truth in love, never compromising the truth or shorting the love.

Christ is the One True Pastor (the Good Shepherd). Therefore, a pastor’s heart is the heart of Christ and might be best expressed by seeing our own pastors in one of those “Good Shepherd” pictures (Jesus carrying the lost sheep across His shoulders or cradling it in His arms). A good pastor desires to lead people through this life and into life everlasting. Therefore, one with a pastor’s heart will continually seek to reach the lost, find the missing, strengthen the weak, and guide each lamb entrusted to his care to its eternal pasture.

This shepherding goes from birth — especially the rebirth of Baptism — throughout all of life (particularly life in the Church), through the “valley of the shadow of death,” and to the threshold of eternal life. We know that no earthly pastor will fulfill the role perfectly, yet that is the model given to us and, with the help of God, this we struggle so to do, knowing that Christ works in and through us, succeeding where we continually fall short.

The best way of understanding the heart of a pastor is to read Scripture concerning those God calls to shepherd His people. The pastor’s heart fails if he is not grounded in God’s Word. Jeremiah said, “The shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered. (10:21)” Ezekiel 34:1-24 illustrates the problems stemming from shepherds who will not lead God’s people on paths of righteousness, who look more to themselves than to their flocks, and who neither rebuke the wicked nor comfort the afflicted.

The voices of the flock, important as they are, cannot be allowed to lead the shepherds astray. Some pastors, worried about what people will think of them, tolerate sin in their congregations because they don’t want to upset folks by speaking the truth. Because of this, having the heart of a pastor may mean exercising church discipline, rebuking even the powerful (and the wealthy contributors) in a congregation.

Pastor BonumPaul illustrated the pastor’s heart to Timothy and Titus by showing the deeds and attitudes a minister of the Gospel should possess. We’ll take just one passage, from 1 Timothy 3:1-7, to touch on some of these items.

Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

Before continuing with our study, we note that where Paul used the word episcopos [overseer, bishop] in this epistle to Saint Timothy, he used presbyteros [elder] in Titus 1:5-10 to say many of the same things. Thus, whether one is a “senior” or an “administrative” pastor or an assistant pastor, what Paul wrote to both Timothy and Titus applies to all who have been called and ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry.

A “noble task” is one worthy of high honor and carrying great responsibility. The pastor’s heart must be able to bear this burden joyfully but without false pride. Being “above reproach” doesn’t mean perfect — Paul himself had already confessed that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1:15)” However, a pastor recognizes his own sinfulness and confesses it humbly that he might be forgiven. The “reproach” comes upon those who fall into extreme sin, particularly premeditated transgression, or who persist in ongoing sinful behavior despite the warnings and admonitions of others.

Reproach particularly comes when pastors fail to heed the series of obligations and attributes which follow. Having “one wife” sums up an entire life of sexual purity. Not only adultery but other sexual sins also bring deep and lasting reproach. Self-control is more than just holding on to one’s temper. It includes financial responsibility and holding a tight rein on all his desires, that he not become a spendthrift, a miser, or an addict.

Respectability is important not only so his own flock will listen to him but also so that he doesn’t shame his church or his Lord before the world by crude talk or actions. Being hospitable doesn’t necessarily mean opening his house as a homeless shelter or inviting every congregational guest to Sunday lunch. It does, however, mean that he has a welcoming heart, rejoicing in all opportunities to interact with people and willingly surrendering his time for the benefit of others.

Pastoral InstallationAnd even if his heart is in the right place — he loves his Lord and loves people — the pastor must be informed and wise. Being “able to teach” isn’t only having the attitude and the aptitude to sit and instruct others but also having the content. Paul expanded upon this thought in Titus 1:9, saying “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound [healthy] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Therefore, the pastor’s head and heart must be “on the same page.”

As you continue through the rest of the list, you can imagine how one called to speak for God could destroy credibility if he drank too much, persistently argued or fought for no good reason (as opposed to one who contended “for the faith” — something which Jude 3 commends), or seemed to be more interested in his bank account than in giving an account of his deeds to the Lord (cf. Hebrews 13:17). And as Paul notes, how would he inspire confidence in his leadership if his wife and children mocked and disobeyed him constantly?

On the other hand, when a pastor acts in accord with the Lord’s instructions through Saint Paul, he not only adorns the Preaching Office with a godly life but also sets a good example for the flock entrusted to his care. He inspires others to similar attitudes and actions while also nipping in the bud the world’s tired old complaint that we Christians are “just as bad as everyone else.”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an ELCA pastor concerned at the direction of the ELCA and my congregations welfare. What is the process of me being ordained in the LCMS and the congregation becoming LCMS?
LCMS is the one denomination that seems to be solidly Lutheran and Orthodox.

06 January, 2010 08:47  

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