A Pastor's Dual Roles: Teaching & Shepherding

A Pastor’s Dual Roles: Teaching and Shepherding

Pastors have the dual responsibilities to teach and shepherd. Consider the relationship between Ephesians 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:17. If pastor-teachers have the responsibility of equipping the saints, and Scripture is what they’re equipped with to do every good work, then pastors shepherd (or feed) God’s flock by teaching them Scripture. Because pastor means “shepherd,” Ephesians 4:12 combines the pastor’s dual responsibility of shepherding and teaching.

The terms elders, bishop (also translated as overseers) and pastors, are interchangeable. All three refer to the same office, with each providing a different emphasis:

  • Elder emphasizes who the man is, his office or title
  • Bishop (overseer) emphasizes what he does in overseeing the affairs of the church
  • Pastor (literally: shepherd) refers to an elder who’s uniquely given a heart to tend to, care for, and feed God’s flock.

The Pastor’s Responsibility

The Greek word for pastor is poimen, occurring eighteen times in the New Testament. Seventeen times it’s translated as shepherd, and only one time translated as pastor:

[Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-12

Despite the attention pastors receive, this is the only place they’re mentioned in the New Testament!

The Importance of Teaching for Pastors

The Greek construction of the words pastors and teachers indicates the two terms go together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher emphasizing the pastor’s ministry of shepherding and teaching:

The phrase is best understood in context as a single office of leadership with the word translated ‘and’ meaning ‘in particular.’ Since pastor means shepherd, the terms go together defining the shepherding teacher.

John MacArthur’s Commentary

Not all elders labor in teaching:

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

1 Timothy 5:17

The word “especially” shows some elders will give themselves to teaching, and these are the pastors-teachers. This is the position I hold at Woodland Christian Church, as I do most of the preaching. Other elders will hall elders labor in teaching, but some will have that ministry separate from the other elders and that’s the pastor-teacher.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Consider the relationship between Ephesians 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:17. If pastor-teachers have the responsibility of equipping the saints, and Scripture is what they’re equipped with to do every good work, then pastors shepherd (or feed) God’s flock by teaching them Scripture. This explains why the one time pastors are mentioned in Scripture, they’re tied to or united with the word teaching. Pastors (shepherds) best tend to and care for God’s flock by feeding them God’s Word.

The Benefits of God’s Word

Scripture nowhere presents any books or verses as being superior to another. The blessings God’s Word affords are found in all Scripture. Every verse accomplishes the following blessings:

  • Equips: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
  • Cleanses: Christ…cleanses [the church] with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26, 27).
  • Convicts: For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
  • Sanctifies: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).
  • Imparts faith: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

Are Pastors Prophets?

If someone asked me what verses most accurately describes what it feels like when I’m studying the Bible (as opposed to simply reading it) I would say:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

1 Peter 1:10-11

The prophets are pictured as straining to see the truth contained in God’s Word; they’re striving to understand what God has written so they can proclaim it to the people. I’ve always thought of the prophets almost like individuals standing in a dark room with very little light trying to clearly see what’s on the other side.

I don’t consider myself a prophet (as it’s listed as a separate office in Ephesians 4:11); however, prophecy is still part of the preaching of God’s Word according:

He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

1 Corinthians 14:3

The Amplified reads: “The one who prophesies [who interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired PREACHING AND TEACHING] speaks edification…” Unfortunately, we tend to think of prophecy as only predicting (foretelling) the future, but it’s much better to think of prophecy as proclaiming (forth telling) the Word of God.

This looks to one of the biggest changes preaching. Instead of focusing on explaining what verses mean (basically providing a running commentary), my desire is for people to feel like God is speaking to them through His Word. My desire is prophecy takes place. My prayer throughout the week is for people to hear from God through the Scriptures. My prayer throughout the week is always something like, “Father what do You want to say to Your people?” Of all the feedback I could receive regarding sermons, nothing is more encouraging than, “I felt like God was speaking to me while you were preaching.”

The Importance of Shepherding (Overseeing)

Since pastor means “shepherd,” Ephesians 4:12 combines the pastor’s dual responsibility of shepherding and teaching.

When I received a youth pastor position at Grace Baptist my pastor and mentor, Joe Gruchacz, placed a strong emphasis on shepherding. He counseled, discipled, and followed up with people. he functioned as much as an overseer as a teacher. Paul told the Ephesian elders:

Take heed…to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church.

Acts 20:28

Peter also told elders to:

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers.

1 Peter 5:2

Pastors are supposed to oversee or shepherd in addition to teaching. When Woodland Christian Church hired our associate pastor, he took on the majority of counseling and discipling so I could focus on teaching and preaching. This allowed the dual responsibilities, teaching and shepherding (or overseeing), to be covered.

Teaching and Shepherding Can Prevent Certain Situations

Teaching and shepherding produces mature believers who can engage in ministry themselves, without having to expect the pastor to do everything. Here are two situations that can be prevented:

First situation: “Pastor, YOU should talk to Brian!”

James sees Brian do something he thinks is wrong, so James makes this request of me. I tell James to go directly to Brian based on:

  • Matthew 18:15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
  • Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

Neither verse encourages people to first go to their pastor. Instead, the verses instruct Christians to go to each other. Matthew 18:15 gives one reason with the words “between you and him alone.” In case the person repents, God desires to keep knowledge of the sin to the fewest number of people. Including even the pastor.

I might also add the verses don’t mention age or maturity. The words “you who are spiritual” is a way to refer to believers, not ultra-mature believers. Sometimes when I’ve told people they should go to the person, they say something along the lines of, “But I haven’t been a Christian long enough.”

There are only two situations where age matters:

  1. If Brian is still under his parents’ authority it would be appropriate for James to speak to Brian’s parents.
  2. If Brian is much older than James, it might be appropriate for James to encourage someone older to speak to Brian. I base this on: 1 Timothy 5:1-2 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father [and] older women as mothers.

Second situation: “Pastor, what do you think about Brian doing _____.”

Sometimes people come to me for counsel, genuinely wanting to know how/whether to confront someone. Even when I share my thoughts, I try not to condemn what Brian did. I don’t want James going to Brian saying, “Pastor Scott said it was wrong for you to _____.” You see the potential problems with this:

  1. Brian will feel like I gossiped about him. This happened some time back when someone talked to me about someone else’s actions. No names were mentioned; it was presented like a hypothetical situation. So I thought it would be okay to say, “No, I don’t think it would be a good idea for someone to do that.” Next thing I know the other person contacted me accusing me of gossip.
  2. James shouldn’t pass along my thoughts to Brian. He might misquote me.
  3. James should share his own thoughts. If the Holy Spirit burdens James to confront Brian, then He’ll give him the right words to say.
  4. James should not go to Brian on my behalf. If I think Brian did something wrong, I should go to him myself. Like we’ve been discussing.

One of my biggest mistakes as a pastor has been involving myself in situations that shouldn’t have involved me. Most pastors want to help or they probably wouldn’t be in ministry. But oftentimes the best way to help is by saying, “No, you should go talk to that person.”

8 Responses

  1. Good word, Scott. I’ve had people do the same thing to me. What would your response be if you know the person, who is carrying the offense or who is aware of a brother’s fault, is not following through by going to the other person?

    1. Hi David,
      I’ve been in that situation before. I followed up a couple times, but it was clear the person wasn’t going to follow through and go back to the person. I’m not sure what I could really do beyond that. If that person comes to me again, before I hear the person’s next complaint, I’m going to say, “How did it go talking to the person last time?” I’m not going to move on to the person’s next issue until the previous is resolved.

      Also, I’m currently facing a situation like this now and my associate pastor told the individual that the two of us were available to help the person figure out what to say. I thought that was wise. I wish I would’ve done that last time, and from now on that’s what I’ll do.

      I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    2. I was told i have a calling to be a minister and believe me im ecstatic i love the idea to serev God in such a way but im so weak and being defeated by anxiety. To the point of being afraid to go to sleep just wishing i could access to the spirit of peace,love and sound mind not fear this anxiety and fear is not from God seven years ago my son died i gave my life to God and was on fire for him studied every day i wish i could hit a reset button like in a video game and start over and be on fire for him again like nothing ever happened just wish i never would have turned my back on God and walked away. really needing a strong brother and guidance ive been hearing this for years about my calling and i want it to be true

      1. Timothy,
        Maybe you are called to be a minister, but it seems like God has revealed to you some areas of weakness. That is a wonderful thing.

        I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your son. That must be terrible. Should you become a minister, I am sure that God would use such a tragedy in a powerful way in your ministry. I will pray for your comfort and that God makes the path clear for you.

  2. Yes, the pastor is not a policeman, but a shepherd. I always suspect I am being baited when I get questions like, “What would you say if you heard someone was doing this?” The person is probably getting ammo’d up for something and will say, “Mr. B said __” to another person. I have had students do this also. One was, “If you were gone for two days, would you come back and give a test?” My response is “Hmm, I don’t know. What is going on?” May we have the courage to speak with grace and humility to our sisters and brothers in the spirit of Eph. 4:32 when we need to.

  3. To summarize if both adults about the same age: one on one in private with gentleness. Would change the world for the better overnight!

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please let me know. I do my best to respond to each comment.

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