“Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (Tit. 1:4b, ESV). Amen. Today is the Church’s commemoration of St. Titus, Confessor and Pastor, a day on which we remember the special role that Pastor Titus had in spreading the Gospel in the early Church. This is the third in a series of feast days on the Church calendar remembering famous pastors from the New Testament: Timothy, the apostle Paul, and Titus. Titus was the apostle Paul’s colleague and connected to his ministry. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus in the New Testament are known as the Pastoral Epistles because of the careful instruction Paul gives about the qualifications and requirements of pastors. Then as now, pastors and people needed to know what a pastor is supposed to do.
Most parishioners and pastors have many different ideas, understandings, and misunderstandings about what a pastor is supposed to be: a life coach, the church’s CEO, a free therapist (you get what you pay for!), a fun youth leader, or everybody’s best friend. I once came across a humorous job description for “The Perfect Pastor” (sermonillustrations.com):
• The perfect pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes.
• He condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone’s feelings.
• He works from 8am until midnight and is also the church janitor.
• The perfect pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the church.
• He is 29 years old and has 40 years’ experience
• Above all, he is handsome
• The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens
• He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church
• He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed
• The perfect pastor always has time for church council and all of its committees
• He never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the unchurched.
• The perfect pastor is always in the church down the street!
We laugh because we know it’s true! Most of our expectations for the supposedly perfect pastor don’t even align. So on this commemoration of St. Titus, Confessor and Pastor, let’s take a look at what the Bible actually says about a pastor’s job description.
Yet before we even talk about the pastor’s job description, we need to discuss his job title. The New Testament primarily uses three terms to refer to pastors: shepherd (Greek: poimēn), elder (presbytēr), and overseer or bishop (episkopos or episkopēs). This terminology can be confusing to modern readers of the New Testament because the way we use the terms has changed over the centuries. For instance, if you come from a Roman Catholic or Episcopal background, you probably think of a bishop as a pastor who oversees other pastors. Not so in the New Testament, where a bishop/overseer is the same thing as a pastor/elder. Similarly, many Protestant congregations, including those in the Lutheran Church, have a so-called “Board of Elders” to help manage the spiritual affairs of the church. But Epiphany’s church elders are not the same thing as elders in the New Testament. They’re more akin to what Paul calls deacons (diakanoi), or “servants,” who assist the pastors (cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-13; Acts 6:1-7). Properly speaking, in the New Testament an elder is a pastor is a shepherd is a bishop is an overseer. The terms are interchangeable, as Paul shows (Tit. 1:5, 7). So you can call me a lot of things. Just don’t call me late for dinner!
So what does the Bible say about a pastor’s job description? Pastors are called to do primarily three things for the people of God, the same three things shepherds do for sheep: (1) lead, (2) feed, and (3) make them heed.
Pastors lead God’s people. They do not abuse the church or “lord it over them” (Matt. 20:25). After all, pastors are not supposed to be dictators (not even benevolent ones). But they also can’t be pushovers or reeds shaken by the wind of popular opinion. Pastors need to stay the course and point God’s people in the direction the Lord wants them to go, even if the congregation is fearful or uncertain like Israel in the wilderness with “Pastor” Moses (cf. Ex. 16-17).
As called and ordained servants of the Word, pastors lead and speak with divine authority. As the apostle Paul tells Titus, “Exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Tit. 2:15). The Greek word for “authority” (epitagē) refers to God’s divine command (Rom.16:26; 1Tim. 1:1). Pastors in the Church receive similar authority from God (Tit. 1:3). As we learn in Luther’s Small Catechism: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC, The Office of the Keys).
And so the pastor is not a hired hand or mere “employee” of the church (cf. John 10:12-13). He is God’s servant, placed in Jesus’ Church in spiritual authority over you for your benefit (Heb. 13:17). On Judgment Day, I will have to give an account to the Lord Jesus of the way I shepherded his sheep. So no pastor can take lightly his responsibility to lead the Church.
Pastors also feed the people of God. The pastor’s job is often described in the Lutheran Church as one of Word and Sacrament ministry (AC V and XIV). Pastors preach and teach the Word of God, rightly dividing Law and Gospel, and administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in order to comfort people with the Good News of the Gospel. Throughout the New Testament, teaching is highlighted as the most essential work of the pastor (elder). In today’s epistle, Paul writes that a pastor “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit. 1:9).
A more literal translation would be that a pastor must “be able also to encourage and comfort [Greek: parakalein] by the sound instruction and to correct those who speak against it” (Tit. 1:9, CSM). Thus Paul lays out for us the right division of Law and Gospel in a pastor’s preaching. The Law corrects those who err by sin or false teaching. The Gospel comforts us with the Good News that our sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Teaching is primary in a pastor’s ministry. In Paul’s letters to Timothy, he repeatedly insists that a pastor “must be… able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; cf. 2 Tim 2:2, 24). In another place he writes, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Of course, pastors pray and lead worship (Acts 6:4; 1 Tim. 2:1-2), visit the sick (Jas. 5:14), as well as a whole bunch of other tasks. But above all, they preach and teach!
Yet pastors are called to speak God’s Word not only to their congregations, but also to the communities in which they live and work. The Great Commission says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19). This means that pastors minister to the churched and the unchurched, believers and unbelievers, both the lost and found. As Paul writes to Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). In order to fulfill my ministry, I need to reach out to people who don’t yet know and love Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And I need your help to do it because you carry Christ in you to places throughout the week that I may not even be able to go.
At one time each of us was lost in our sins, far from God. But then someone told us the Good News of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Perhaps it was a pastor; probably it was a lay person. A friend or neighbor brought us to church or Sunday school. Our parents or grandparents brought us to be baptized. A pastor offered to share the Scriptures and pray with us. Jesus came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and that is our commission too (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
All right! So pastors lead and feed the people of God. They also make them heed God’s Word. This is, perhaps, the most difficult and least enjoyable part of a pastor’s job: correcting sin and warning against false teaching. Most pastors go into ministry because they want to help people. We like people—and we want to be liked by them. Therein lies the danger. Because a people pleaser will always be tempted to smooth over sin and soft peddle the Word when it comes into conflict with popular opinion. It’s not easy to tell your friend—another brother or sister in Christ—that they need to stop committing some particular sin or believing a false doctrine they heard on Christian radio or read in a popular devotional book. Who wants to be told they’re doing something wrong, or that their beliefs are mixed up? And who wants to be the bearer of that bad news? Ever hear of “shoot the messenger”?
And yet if I back down from this task, I fail you in my calling. As Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). My job is to speak God’s Word to you, even when you don’t want to hear it—and even when I don’t want to say it! Paul warns us that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). In our reading from Acts, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that “fierce wolves” would do just that (Acts 20:28-31). Pray for me, that I never be tempted to become one of those false prophets who simply tell people what their itching ears want to hear. For if I ever do that, it would be better for me to have a stone tied around my neck and be cast into the sea (Matt. 18:6). That’s how serious God is about truth! Even when it’s hard or inconvenient, I need to help you heed the Word of God.
So now you know what a pastor/shepherd/elder/overseer/bishop is. You also know what my job is: to lead and feed God’s sheep and make them heed. And, as you can tell, it’s not at all an easy job to do. But it’s totally worth it!
The Bible calls pastoral ministry “a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). I may not be a knight in shining armor, but what makes this job so noble is that I am called to love God and love people—pretty cool stuff! Pastors are an important gift from God because we are part of his plan to bring the Good News to you. The summary of Lutheran teaching known as the Augsburg Confession, strongly affirms that we are justified, or saved, by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ (AC IV). You have a place in heaven not because of who you are or what you’ve done or haven’t done, but solely and simply because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, when he died for your sins. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That’s what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.
And the very next sentence of the Augsburg Confessions underscores the special role pastors have in people coming to faith in Christ: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted” (AC V, 1). The German word for “ministry of teaching” is Predigtamt, “the preaching office.” God gives us pastors to preach the Word so we may come to saving faith in Jesus Christ! A noble task, indeed!
So I beg you to pray for me (1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1). Continue to encourage me with your cards and hugs (1 Thess. 5:11). Support the ministry through your tithes and offerings (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:14). And gently chide me when I make mistakes or get off track—preferably in private (Matt. 18:15)! As your pastor, Paul says I have a right to demand these things of you (1 Cor. 9:1-18). But I don’t want to do that; I would much rather ask them of you in Christian love. Would you keep doing that for me, please? You’re already very good at it!
Before I close, I want to make one more point… to myself. We pastors always need to remember that we’re sheep too. We’re fallen sinners in need of God’s forgiveness—just like everybody else. God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for me just as much as he did for you. Just like you, I’m a lost sheep that gets wanderlust and runs away from God (Isa. 53:6). Even shepherds get a little sheepish!
As shepherd and sheep together, we remember that even our Lord Jesus was both sheep and shepherd. Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Yet, ironically, he is also the Good Shepherd, who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for sin. Uncomplaining, he laid down his life on the cross to save us from our sins. Three days later he rose again. Because Jesus died and rose again, we have the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We have the hope of eternal life. And that is the only hope any of us have.
As Jesus’ sheep, let us listen to his voice, spoken in the Word preached and taught by our pastors. God gave you a pastor. What a wonderful gift! But the best gift of all is Jesus himself. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of + the Holy Spirit. Amen.