The church’s pastors
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28, NIV
The role of pastor isn’t exactly a high-status occupation. TV vicars are often portrayed as rather odd and dishevelled - not always without justification! But in the Bible, this particular calling is a strikingly high privilege.
To see why, come with me to a coastal town in Asia Minor in the late 50s of the first century. Paul, the great missionary Apostle, has asked to meet the elders of the church in Ephesus. He charges them to look after the church properly, and in so doing - particularly in the verse quoted above - gives them some reasons why their role is so important.
Notice, first, he emphasises the preciousness of the church to God. Be shepherds of the church of God, he says, which he bought with his own blood. Have you ever been given anything really precious to look after? Well, the church - and Paul probably means a local church - is so precious to God that He bought it with His own blood. Paul is referring, of course, to the death of Jesus on the cross. If the church matters that much to God, then no wonder he wants it looked after!
Secondly, it’s God’s plan that churches have pastors. Be shepherds of the flock of God, he says. Here we find the word ‘pastor’, which is simply the Latin for ‘shepherd’. It may not strike us as particularly complimentary that God’s people are described as sheep, but so they are, and sheep need shepherds! This is a term used several times in the Bible for the leader(s) of a local church - here almost interchangeably with the term overseer or elder.
At times in the history of God’s people, there have been those who have reacted against an excessive clericalism by saying we don’t need pastors - the Plymouth Brethren movement in the 1840s, for instance - but here they are, in the Bible. God’s gospel work in the world is done through people; His church is looked after by people. Pastors matter: in countries where the secret police call, it’s often the pastor who gets taken away.
Third, the role of pastor is very influential - for good or ill. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Paul has a keen sense of the dangers which arise when a pastor wanders from the faith or behaves in an ungodly way. Indeed, in the same speech he foresees that this will happen even in Ephesus. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have pastors; it’s just that precisely because the role matters that all of us in pastoral ministry must keep watch over ourselves. And a pastor who does can have enormous influence for the good.
I wonder if any readers of this blog should be considering pastoral ministry? Good pastors are needed! I like the story of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, who received a complaint about the low standard of the clergy. “The trouble is”, he replied, “they are all recruited from the ranks of the laity!”