The Under-Shepherd of the Good Shepherd

1 Peter 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us” (Psalm 80:1-2). Amen.

On this Sunday where the Gospel speaks about our Good Shepherd, our first lesson containing the words of St. Peter and the second lesson containing the words of St. Paul, speak of the roles of the under-shepherd – your pastor.

What makes a pastor a pastor? Going to school for eight years, learning Greek and Hebrew, and having fancy diplomas written in Latin does not make someone a pastor. There is no extraordinary DNA or astonishing superpowers that makes someone a pastor. A pastor is no closer to God than you are. In fact, he is just as much a sinner as you are … if not more.

Perhaps in order to learn more about the role of the pastor, we need to examine the job description of the pastor. I found this description of the ideal pastor: “The ideal pastor preaches exactly twenty minutes with an hour’s content. He condemns sin, but never offends anyone. He works from 8 am to midnight, and also serves as the church janitor. He makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years of experience. He is a strong leader, yet also follows everyone’s advice. He can effectively relate to all teenagers and spends all of his time with the elderly. He is tall and short, thin and heavyset, and has one brown eye and one blue eye. He makes 15 house calls a day, regularly visits the hospital, and is always in his office.”

In all seriousness, what is your pastor called to do? If we could summarize the office of pastor into a simple theme and job description, what would it look like? How is his ministry similar to the Old Testament prophet and the New Testament apostle?

Simply put, the pastor is to be the shepherd of the sheep. He shepherds, protects, and feed them with the Word of God. He is to be a servant in the Lord’s house. He is the under-shepherd of the Chief Shepherd. When you hear your pastor speaking in worship that is the voice of Jesus you hear through His called servant. Your pastor may be a great speaker or a stutterer; he may be charismatic or an introvert; he may be dynamic or dry – but it doesn’t matter. You are not following the under-shepherd, but the Good Shepherd.

If you are looking for a job description for your pastor, there are no greater and more inspirational words in all of Scripture than the words of St. Peter: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

Those who are called by God to lead are elders – not because they are old, but they are experienced, trained, and respected. They are shepherds – their work is not evaluated on how successful they appear, but on how well the sheep in their care are doing. They are overseers – they are entrusted with a spiritual responsibility and with spiritual authority.

Your pastor is an elder, a shepherd, and an overseer. But first and foremost, he is a redeemed and sanctified sinner. Your pastor bows his head and folds his hands in solemn confession with the rest of God’s saints. He feels his sins deeply. He knows when he has failed his Chief Shepherd. He is bothered by the times he has spoken too harshly to his sheep or too meekly to his lambs. At times his pride causes him to do too much. At other times his timidity keeps him from doing anything at all.

What is the pastor’s job in the church? All too often the pastor receives too much credit when the church grows and he receives too much blame when the church shrinks in membership. It is the working of the Holy Spirit that causes God’s Kingdom to grow and the hardness of mankind’s hearts that pulls them away from Christ’s Church.

The pastor’s job is not to make sure the pews are filled, the offering plate is overflowing, and the people are happy. His job is to rightly divide Law and Gospel, to truthfully preach Christ crucified, and to faithfully administer the sacraments.

All too often we look at the Church as a business and the pastor as its CEO. We have become a business that judges everything by the bottom line of worship attendance numbers and offering totals, instead of a shelter for lost and redeemed souls. We have become consumed with our buildings and properties instead of caring for the precious souls who are baptized, confirmed, and communing within those buildings. We have become a social club in which we find happiness, satisfaction, and entertainment instead of a community gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord. We have turned Jesus Christ into nothing more than a personal trainer, a life coach, and inspirational speaker instead of the Chief Shepherd who will give the crown of glory to His sheep on the Last Day.

And your pastor is the chief of committing these kinds of sins.

Your pastor knows and feels these sins deeply. That is why he prays Martin Luther’s sacristy prayer on a regular basis: “Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word. Use me as Your instrument, but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.”

Your pastor confesses his sins so he can lead you before God’s altar in confession. He receives Christ’s forgiveness so he can offer you Christ’s absolution. He listens to Christ’s voice speaking to him in his sermon and Bible study preparation so you can hear Christ’s voice clearly from the pulpit and the classroom.

Here is some advice I received from an older, wiser pastor: “Preach the Law and Gospel to your people – from the pulpit, the bedside and behind the desk. When they come looking for marital advice? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. When they come looking for sympathy and a listening ear? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. When they have a new baby, lost their job, or are afraid of retirement? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. No matter what the circumstances, what the situation, you preach Christ crucified. Never compromise the simple truth that has saved you.” Sage advice.

As Lutherans we know that the Holy Spirit works only through Word and Sacrament. Still, there is always the very real temptation to try to make the Church more appealing to various age groups with various means and methods – all separate from the actual Means of Grace.

But we don’t need good advice, better techniques, and newer ideas to make us better parents, better spouses, and better friends. No. Because our old sinful flesh clings to us until we die, we need God’s Law to crush our Old Adam and reveal the sin that resides hidden within our hearts, to show us where we have been deceived, and indicate to us where we have injured our neighbors. We also need to hear God’s Word of forgiveness declared to us so that we might hear that our hidden sins are absolved, that we are declared righteous for Christ’s sake, that our guilt has been removed, and that there is now no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus.

The main job of the pastor is to proclaim God’s Word to his flock. He is to drive you to despair of yourself. He wants you to feel your sins weighing heavily upon you. He is to make you feel the flames of hell licking at your feet. When that is accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s Law, then the pastor is to lift you up and point you to Christ. He lets you know your burden has been put upon Christ’s perfect shoulders. He is to make you enjoy the sweetness of Gospel as you wait to walk the streets of heaven. That is accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s Gospel.

So a pastor’s job is not to be your buddy or pal. Biking, soccer, and sheepshead are all great, but you did not call him to be your friend. You called him to be the caretaker of your soul. You called him to stand at the font to baptize your baby who is dead in sin in order to make her alive in Christ’s baptismal waters. Your pastor has been chosen to exercise the ministry of the Keys, doing the unpleasant work of locking heaven to the impenitent and carrying out the pleasant work of unlocking heaven for the penitent. You have asked him to guard you from the savage wolves of false preachers and persecuting pagans. Your pastor is the one authorized by Christ to counteract the accusatory lies of Satan that burden the consciences of sinners. He is the one you seek for God’s comfort when you are depressed, Christ’s love when you are lonely, and the Spirit’s healing when you are sick. Your pastor is ordained by Christ to feed you the body and blood of Christ. He is the one you call in the wee hours of the morning to come to your grandmother’s bedside to read the twenty-third psalm to her and pray the Lord’s Prayer with her family.

These are great responsibilities. But they are even greater privileges.

Just like all good things God gives, this, too, is a matter of grace. Undeserving as your pastor is, Christ has entrusted him with the responsibility of shepherding the members of His flock. There is no greater job than serving those who have been “bought with his own blood.”

There is no greater job than being an under-shepherd for the Good Shepherd. What could be better than talking about Jesus every day? Better than offering Christ’s forgiveness to a repentant adulterer? Better than sharing Christ’s comfort with a cancer patient? Better than deepening a man’s faith in his Redeemer? Better than baptizing a baby or praying with an overwhelmed mother or ministering to an out-of-work dad or ushering a saint’s soul to heaven?

Is a pastor’s job a difficult one? You bet. Leading stubborn sheep and guarding from the wolves and chasing down straying lambs is draining. But it is the comfort of God’s gracious Word that calms the pastor’s heart and allows him to close his eyes in peace at night. And the start of every new day begins with the knowledge that your pastor once again gets to be the under-shepherd for his Good Shepherd. That’s his job. Amen.

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).