If the charge of pastoral ministry is "shepherd the flock," how, precisely, does a pastor go about doing so? What tasks are involved? Again we look to the Bible for our answer.
A good summary of the way in which pastors care for the flock is found in Acts 6:4, where the apostles who shepherded the Jerusalem church insisted on giving themselves above all “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” These are the two essential duties of pastoral ministry. A faithful ministry will surely involve more but must never involve less. If the pastor is a shepherd then prayer and the ministry of the word are his sling and staff – the tools he uses to care for the flock.
- Prayer - The pastor shepherds the church by diligently praying for it, for “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). He prays for the church as a whole to grow in knowledge, discernment, fruitfulness, purity, unity and love. We see prayers of this kind throughout the NT (e.g., John 17; Acts 20:36; Eph 1:15-19; Phil 1:3-11). The pastor also watches over individual members by interceding for each of them regularly, just as Jesus interceded for Peter (Luke 22:31-32) and Paul remembered Timothy “constantly in [his] prayers night and day” (2 Tim 1:3).
- Ministry of the Word - The pastor proclaims God’s Word to God’s people: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). He declares to them “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), the center of which is “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). A robust Word ministry is utterly crucial, for, as pastor Mark Dever has said, “The consistent message of Scripture is that God creates his people and brings them to life through his Word.” Acts 20 highlights several important features of Word ministry:
- Public Word ministry - Paul taught “in public,” meaning he preached when the church was gathered together for worship. He later instructed Timothy to do the same: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). “The heart of Christian worship,” says R. Albert Mohler, “is the authentic preaching of the Word of God.” Word ministry in the church’s public gatherings is vital because the pastor is able to communicate God’s Word to the whole congregation at once week by week. He proclaims to them the greatness of God, the sinfulness of humanity and the hope of the gospel, and exhorts the hearers to respond in trust and obedience. Book-by-book expository preaching, which makes the point of the text the point of the sermon, should be the regular diet of the church. In addition to the church’s regular meetings, public Word ministry takes place when the pastor proclaims God’s Word at weddings, funerals and other such gatherings.
- Private Word ministry - Paul also taught “from house to house,” meaning he engaged in one-on-one discipleship. He visited people in their homes in order to provide more personal instruction from God’s Word. The pastor must get to know church members personally and become familiar with their unique circumstances, problems and struggles so that he can encourage them in the gospel and teach them how it applies to their lives. In so doing, he shows the members how to disciple one another. Private Word ministry also includes activities such as counseling, personal evangelism, visiting homebound members and making hospital visits.
- Setting an example - Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his hard work and humble service in dependence upon the Lord and exhorted them to follow his example (cf. also 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17). The responsibility to set an example of godliness for the flock is inseparable from the ministry of the Word, for the pastor’s personal walk with Christ gives weight and substance to both his public and private Word ministry. The pastor must invite the flock into his life so that they can imitate his walk. Example-setting also includes the pastor’s responsibility to identify and mentor future leaders “who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2; cf. also Titus 1:5).