As many readers might know, I’ve been studying to become a pastor for the past year and a half. The idea of becoming a pastor is a big responsibility, one in which, to borrow a phrase from Paul the Apostle (used in a different context), I do with great fear and trembling. The responsibility placed on pastors to work humbly with our eyes and efforts fixed in service to the Lord and His people rather than on ourselves is strewn throughout the Bible, and is fervently demonstrated in the Gospels when Jesus confronts the Pharisees.
Let’s look at the words of Jesus by way of a place in the Old Testament: Ezekiel 34.
As Ezekiel 34 begins, a strong warning is charged specifically against Israel’s rulers. Jesus gave this same imagery and warnings to the Pharisees of his day, and these warnings can be applied to pastors today.
Ezekiel begins his admonition with, “Destruction is certain for you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?”
This is reminiscent of two places in the Bible where Jesus spoke. First is the eternal damnation of the Pharisees who made themselves their main concern while neglecting to care for the poor. “The parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31) is a prime example. Second is Jesus’ commission of Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
The next set of verses in Ezekiel 34 speaks further on this subject, reminiscent of more of Jesus’ parables, specifically “The Parable of The Sheep and the Goats” in Matthew 25 and “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” in Matthew 15. Then, The Lord, speaking through Ezekiel, speaks as if he is talking directly to pastors today: “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord” (v. 7, 9). There is a chilling warning that if shepherds ignore the care of their flock, they become God’s enemies: “and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, along with their right to feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey” (v. 10).
The chapter continues once more in much the same way as “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” and “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats”:
I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…And as for you, my flock, my people, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, separating the sheep from the goats (v.16-17).
The responsibility placed on a Christian pastor should lead one to great humility. God has threatened to become our enemy if we (pastors) feed ourselves and neglect to feed his flock. We must be sure of our calling, seeing that we are pastoring in obedience to God and putting others first, not pastoring out of an attitude of self-importance.