Pastors or Shepherds

With the introduction of the word Pastor, also the evangelical movement has a title for its leaders. Before that leaders were called brother or sister, just like the rest of the congregation.


  • a pastor is the leader of the church

  • a pastor sets the course of the church

  • a pastor takes care of your soul and your spiritual needs.

How you can also look at it

The great example of a pastor is Jesus, who called Himself the good shepherd (John 10). He refers to Ezekiel 34 where God reprimands the shepherds (leaders) of the people of Israel because they take very well care of themselves, but could not care less for the people. So God says: “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.” (verse 23).

A shepherd has a multi fold task. When we translate that to the care of a church, it means taking care of good teachings (food) and a safe surrounding, look for and bring back members who stray off, nursing members who are hurt or sick physically, emotionally or spiritually and protecting members against each other; correcting strong sheep who shove away the weaker sheep.

This is a very intense job. I have been told one man or woman can mentor a max of 75 church members this way. Because this work is so intense, you see the deployment of ‘sheepdogs’ very quickly. A sheepdog helps the shepherd keeping the flock together and leading them in the right direction. A sheepdog is trained to follow the commands of the shepherd.

The image of a shepherd with a flock is given to make clear how God looks at a shepherd. It is not given as a calling for the church to behave like a flock of sheep. The imitation of the leader is in the faith, as if they were one of the witnesses of faith from Hebrews 11.

Everybody in church has gotten gifts and talents to help the people in the church grow and thrive. The idea behind this is that everybody is actively involved. This is a different picture than a flock of sheep just standing there chewing away with no thoughts of their own, waiting until the shepherd says it is time to move and shows the direction to move in.

If we realise it isn’t expected from a pastor to treat his of her church as a flock of sheep and that it isn’t expected of the church to behave like one, everybody can take a deep breath and relax.

The pastors can relax because they don’t need to be the example of a perfect Christian life, because there is no flock of followers who copy their behaviour. Just like everybody else they have the right to make mistakes, to be frustrated sometimes or have a ‘bad hair day’. They have the right to children who throw a tantrum now and then when they are 3 and who test their boundaries when they are 16. They have the right to non believing family members or neighbours, to periods they are not that inspired and to those moments they are quite tired of certain church members, just like normal human beings. It would be a good thing if the church acknowledges they are human and doesn’t demand the impossible, so they would dare to talk about that. This way the congregation also sees how faith is put into practice when things don’t go by the book.

The church members can relax because they do not have to behave a certain way to belong. Evangelical churches sometimes are know as a peach; soft on the outside, hard on the inside. When you are a newcomer, there are no requirements, you are accepted the way you are. But if you really want to belong, if you want to be a part of the community, especially if you want to go in the direction of leadership, you soon discover there is a hard nucleus. Then it turns out there are strong demands on your behaviour, your attitude and your loyalty. In practice it often means ‘follow the leader’; you do as the pastors say.

But if you don’t have to behave a certain way to belong, you can be who you are without feeling guilty about it or taking a risk of being slowly moved to the sidelines. Then you can say what you like to do and what not, because you are good at the one and not so good in the other, without being told something about flexibility or stretching or being an example.

This way there will be a balance in what you can be for the church and the church can be for you, members and pastors alike. We are there for each other and we do it together, everybody has a part in it. One as a puller, the other as a pusher, one as a dreamer, the other as a thinker, the third as a doer, ten as a team player, one a solo player. It maybe isn’t as efficient as a pastor who makes the decisions for the flock, but is does do more right to the talents of all those volunteers who are supposed to join in.

De pastor on the photo is Nadia Bolz-Weber, founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, in Denver, Colorado, writer of the book “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People”.