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Shepherds of the Church

  • May 2020 Issue
Practical Theology

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are often referred to as the “pastoral epistles” because they include guidelines for church practice and qualifications for leaders. Paul does not use the term pastor. In 1 Timothy 3:1–13, he speaks of overseers and deacons. In Titus 1:5–6 overseers are called elders. The term pastor comes from the Latin word for shepherd. Paul uses this term in his farewell address to the elders at Ephesus. He urges them: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Peter uses the same language urging church elders to be “shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Peter 5:1–2).

Today’s churches often consider pastors who have great resumes. They want someone who has valuable experience. Interestingly, Paul’s qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus primarily emphasize character. The skills he does list have to do with teaching and management. When Paul says the church’s leaders must be “able to teach,” he means they must be knowledgeable in the faith. Titus 1:9 develops this thought in greater detail: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” The emphasis is not on preaching style, but the pastor’s conviction and ability to defend the faith.

The way a leader manages relationships takes precedent over the development of church programs. The proving ground for this skill is in our family (1 Tim. 3:4; Titus 1:6). In addition to positive qualifications, the apostle also includes several negatives. Church leaders should not be bullies whose interactions are marked by violence and quarreling (1 Tim. 3:3). They should not be addicted to alcohol or consumed with greed (Titus 1:7). The pastor holds a significant role as a shepherd of the church. They teach the Word and shepherd God’s people. For a pastor, competence is measured by character.

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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