Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
One of the most important persons in the life of the normal Christian is his pastor. Paul pleaded with the Thessalonians to "know" their pastors and to "esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). In this lesson we will study to know what a pastor is as we begin to understand what the relationship ought to be like between the normal Christian and his pastor. Our text shall be a part of the great message Paul had to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, for contained in this single verse is the complete definition of the pastor.
As we read our text, we must consider the context and in particular to whom the message was being given. In verse 17, we find that it was the elders of the church at Ephesus that Paul was addressing. Now these were not elders in the sense of elderly people in the church. The word elder is often used in the Bible as the title for an office (for example, Exodus 3:18 and Numbers 11:16-17) and it is one of the three words used in the New Testament to refer to the same man - the pastor. This is clear from verses such as 1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:5-7, and 1 Peter 5:1 where Peter says that he was an elder too. No doubt the term elder was given to the pastor because we are to apply to the pastor those good attributes that we would find in an elderly person - respect and wisdom. In other words, the title of elder shows the character of the pastor.
There was a day when children especially were taught to have respect for the aged. This is a lesson that God commanded for all as given in Leviticus 19:32, "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD" (see also Job 32:6). Imagine the kind of respect which would cause you to stand up when an elderly person walked by, or a respect that would keep you from speaking, out of fear. As an elder, the pastor is to be given this kind of respect (see also Exodus 22:28, Acts 23:3-5). This means that we had better be careful what we say about the pastor. We had best treat him with reverence when his name comes up in casual conversation. We ought to address him with respect and not the way we might address our peers.
Another attribute that we would apply to those increased in years would be that of wisdom. Job said, "With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding" (Job 12:12). Obviously, one who has lived a long life has probably learned a great deal and built up a great store of wisdom. As an elder, the pastor should be thought of as wise whether young or old. The Word of God can bring wisdom greater than that acquired by age (Psalm 119:98,100) and the Word of God is something in which a pastor immerses himself. Therefore we ought to listen to our pastor as we would a man of many years and great understanding. We ought to heed his counsel, and we ought to take great care before ever considering his words to be incorrect. Many times we judge the pastor's decisions based on our wisdom and limited understanding, but most of the time the pastor knows a whole lot more than we do!
Notice the word "flock" that is used in our text. Paul uses here the analogy of the shepherd and his flock, applying the position of shepherd to the elders. The word pastor is used only one time in the New Testament, and that in the plural form in Ephesians 4:11. There alone the Greek word poimen is used which is translated everywhere else as "shepherd". When we speak of our pastor, we are literally talking about our shepherd and we, the church, are his flock. This position of shepherd illuminates the pastor's role as the leader and caretaker of the church.
The shepherd had the duty of leading his flock in and out of the fold through the valleys over the mountains to the pasture (Psalm 23). In fact they gave names to their sheep as we would to our pets. The sheep had the duty to follow and would come when the shepherd called out their names (John 10:3-4). The sheep knew their shepherd's voice so well that even in the midst of other sheep, they would follow their own shepherd (John 10:5). What a great picture of the pastor and the church! As sheep, we should follow the pastor. Where he goes we ought to go and what he does we ought to do, as long as he is following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, Hebrews 13:7). If the pastor leads the church to start some ministry, they ought to follow. In addition, as sheep we should follow our pastor and not another - our pastor's word ought to come before the TV preacher.
The caretaker role of the shepherd took on the following responsibilities:
The shepherd led his sheep to the pasture and the stream where they might find food and water (Jeremiah 23:4). Likewise the pastor is to feed his flock with the Word of God making sure they grow in grace and knowledge (1 Peter 5:2).
The shepherd would heal the sick sheep and bind up the broken (Ezekiel 34:16). The pastor of a church must be a spiritual physician.
The shepherd would keep watch all night outside the sheepfold, often having to fight wolves in defense of the flock (John 10:10-13). So is the responsibility of the pastor guarding against those that would destroy the church with false teaching (Acts 20:28-31).
The shepherd would keep a count of his sheep and search for those that got lost (Ezekiel 34:12, Jeremiah 33:13, Luke 15:4-5). So the pastor must often seek after those that have gone astray or fallen into sin.
In our text, Paul says that these pastors were overseers of the flock. In the Greek, "overseers" is the word episkopos and is translated elsewhere as the word "bishop". Thus a pastor is a bishop as defined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and referred to in Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:7, and the subscriptions to both 2 Timothy and Titus. So, what is a bishop? He is an overseer of the church as plainly shown in our text verse. When we think of overseer or bishop, let us remember these two aspects: authority and accountability.
As overseer, the pastor has the authority over the church, meaning that he is the authority over the members. The pastor makes the final decisions on all matters concerning the church. He has the final decision on what is taught or preached, what directions the church will head as far as ministries, and who will do the work. The pastor oversees each service and every ministry.
Now, let us emphasize something that Paul says in Acts 20:28, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers". The normal Christian ought never to forget that it is God Himself that appointed the pastor to be the authority over the church! We had better be careful how we respond to the pastor lest we find ourselves fighting against God (Acts 5:334-39). Many that have gone before us have rebelled against the man God put into the position of authority, and they paid dearly for it. Korah stood up against the authority of Moses and was consumed by the earth (Numbers 16:1-3, 32). Jeroboam tried to lay hold on the man of God and his arm was paralyzed (1 Kings 13:4).
Paul's warning to the pastors from Ephesus clearly shows the accountability they had for their flock. Hebrews 13:17 explicitly lays out this awesome responsibility of the pastor, "for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account". As the man is accountable for the home, so the pastor is for the church and the ministry to which God has called him (Ezekiel 34:2-10). It's real easy for a Christian to try to run the church from the pew saying, "If I were the pastor of this church I would …". Let that Christian try overseeing the church from the perspective of accountability at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Let them be accountable for some decisions and no doubt they would quickly change their minds. What other responsibility can there be that is greater than the oversight of the church which God "hath purchased with his own blood"?