Understanding the tasks, as well as the traits of a pastor are both crucial to fulfilling the calling God has placed on one’s life. Additionally, as John MacArthur points out, “To understand one’s role as a minister, one [also] needs to understand the role of the church.” Only by answering the questions as to why the church exists, and what purpose it serves today, can one truly quantify the specific and relevant tasks of any given pastor. While the Bible does indicate several things a pastor should do, much more emphasis is placed on how they should conduct themselves. Additionally, the tasks between pastors will vary depending on the specific calling placed on their lives. God can use those He calls anywhere, so some will be called to shepherd, while others are called to preach, visit the shut-ins, care for the needy, or evangelize. The important thing to remember is one must be willing to serve wherever God plants them, while also trusting in His plan and His perfect timing. For the purposes of this assignment, the role of the pastor can best be compared to that of a shepherd caring for the flock of God: His children, the church.
Top Five Tasks of a Pastor and Why
As a shepherd, the pastor’s first and primary task is feeding the flock and this comes in the form of teaching them the Word of God. Without sound teaching and biblical doctrine, the flock will starve and when they do not understand the Word of God, they cannot apply its truth to their daily lives. This was something Paul ran into with the Corinthians. He told them, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.”
As Gordon Fee explains:
With the words “you were not yet able,” Paul brings to a conclusion the long rehearsal of his former association with them. Both his preaching and their response to it are living evidence of the power and wisdom of the gospel. If they failed to see its wisdom, the fault was theirs, not his. Now he moves to their present situation as the evidence that the problem lay with them, not with him. He begins by repeating what he has just said, but now in the present tense. “Indeed, you are still not ready,” i.e. “you are not even now able.”
To be a shepherd was a mighty charge and in Paul’s final letter to Timothy, he wants him to know first of his steadfast suffering of the gospel and also what would be required of Timothy. Paul considered all of his converts as brothers and sisters and his love for God flowed directly to those he ministered to. Philip Towner demonstrates, “In the Greek world, formulaic charges of similar tone were made in installment ceremonies. Moses, who called on heaven and earth as witnesses, also made such charges. The gravity of this charge being spelled out would not be missed.” This instructional task is still crucial today in leading and equipping the saints to do the work of the church.
The secondary task of the pastor is protecting his or her flock as overseers. This role is rooted out of the first, since the sound teaching of doctrine is vital to repelling the attacks of wolves and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Another facet of this role is the administrative aspect, which also points to exercising oversight and leadership. In Paul’s letter to Titus he lists seventeen qualifications the leader must possess: (1) blameless; (2) husband of one wife; (3) household under control; (4) not overbearing; (5) not quick-tempered; (6) not drunk off wine; (7) not violent; (8) not pursuing dishonest gain; (9) hospitable; (10) one who loves what is good; (11) self-controlled; (12) upright; (13) holy; (14) disciplined; (15) trustworthy to the message as it has been taught; (16) encourage others; and (17) refute those who oppose the Word of God. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck explain, “Not only must an overseer meet moral and spiritual standards in his [or her] personal life, but he [or she] must also be a reliable [person] of the Word.”
The third task of the pastor is fighting against what attempts to attack the flock. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) illustrates, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This task of the pastor runs in this same vein as training and equipping the flock to stand in the gap for each other, while also sharing one another’s burdens. F. F. Bruce illuminates,
The heavenly realm may be envisaged as comprising a succession of levels, with the throne of God on the highest of these and the hostile forces occupying the lowest. The level, which they occupy, is probably identical with “the domain of the air,” ruled by “the spirit which now operates in the disobedient.” At any rate, these are real forces of evil, which are encountered, in the spiritual sphere, and they have to be withstood.
The fourth task of the pastor is modeling their life after Christ, so that the way they conduct themselves is a living example of what their flock is also called to do. In most cases, this is a role that is often caught and not so much taught. When the flock knows and sees the pastor spending time in prayer, meeting the needs of others, and showing care and compassion to the lost and hurting, it speaks much louder than any sermon could accomplish. Peter Davids shows, “Jesus had clearly pointed out that the way of world at large was for leaders to domineer over the led, expecting obedience and the “perks” of leadership. But that was not to be the model His disciples were to follow. His disciples were to be servants, not bosses; ministers, not executives.”
The fifth and final task of the pastor is to remain faithful to his or her calling. Bible knowledge will only get the pastor to a certain point. To be effective in their calling, the pastor must also maintain a moral life centered on godliness. MacArthur demonstrates, “[While] the focal point of any ministry is godliness, ministry is, and always must be an overflow of a godly life.”
Trying to define and understand the role of the pastors, elders, teachers, or leaders is not something new. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Fee illustrates, “He is dealing with their theological misunderstanding of the gospel, the church, and the role of their teachers.” This was something that continually had to be addressed in both new and old churches. In James’ letter, he goes as far to caution, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” This is not a very encouraging statement for those debating going into ministry, but as James Adamson demonstrates:
James turns to wisdom, and begins with a salutary and sympathetic caution to sincere Christians, warning them of the higher standards expected of leaders in wisdom, and the greater risks involved, since in speech, in which most of the teacher’s work is done, it is even harder than in bodily action to avoid the sin of error, willful or involuntary. All men commit many sins (including—but not only—teachers): that is precisely why men should be chary about incurring the risk of greater punishment, as we shall if we become teachers, entrusted, as teachers are, with increased knowledge.
As pastors, it is important to live a life of integrity above reproach, so when problems and misunderstandings arise, they are equipped to handle them. This ability is rooted in godly character and as MacArthur explains, “Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity, possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy.” Pastors are held to a higher standard, so knowing one’s roles and the role of the church is vital to becoming an effective pastor. Being a pastor is a mighty responsibility and as Bicket said, “If you can be happy outside the ministry, stay out. But if the solemn call has come, do not run… In the long run, ministry is what we are as much as what we do.”
Adamson, James B. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005.
Towner, Philip H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Letters to Timothy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
 John MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005), 50.
 I Corinthians 3:2 (ESV)
 Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 126.
 Philip H. Towner, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Letters to Timothy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 595.
 John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 762.
 F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 406.
 Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 180.
 MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 94.
 Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 156.
 Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 180.
 James B. Adamson, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 138.
 MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 91.