The Pastor as a Shepherd

by | Jan 10, 2017 | Austin Hess

This was originally an academic paper titled “The Biblical Concept of Shepherding: Principles that Apply to the Pastorate” and it was written for Austin’s Pastoral Ministry class. This is the second half of the paper. The paper has been reformatted, but all copyright and plagiarism rules still apply. Please contact Austin if you wish to disseminate.

Common themes are starting to appear throughout these passages. Primarily, the Lord’s care for the sheep by protecting and providing for them. The Lord is the Good Shepherd and no matter how insufficient the shepherds on earth may be, he will judge them accordingly and will restore his sheep. As we move to the New Testament, we continue to see this imagery used.


There is a transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament with regards to shepherding. Jesus, in John 10, says that he is the Good Shepherd and showing that he is the Perfect Shepherd.

First, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). This is not because he has to lay down his life for the sheep. Rather, he is willing to lay it down for the sake of the sheep. This is the ultimate example of love for the sheep because, as John 15:13 proclaims, “greater love has no man than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” “Shepherds” who aspire to be the best they can be should meditate upon the example of Jesus.

Second, a good shepherd knows his sheep. By knowing the “sheep,” “shepherds” can help with the “sheep’s” needs. Primarily, they can help develop certain areas of the sheep’s life that are lacking in Christ-likeness and knowledge. Practically, the pastor knows his parishioners’ struggles in life so he can better minister to them. He knows all their life changes ––deaths, engagements, marriages, pregnancies––so he can encourage, support, and act as an instrument of God in cultivating spiritual growth. This also means sharing Scriptures with the parishioners that are relevant to their particular time in life, and encouraging them in their Bible study.

Last, a good shepherd brings other sheep into the fold. Although the shepherd is concerned about his existing sheep, he must find the other sheep and bring them in. The shepherd, therefore, is an evangelist.

However, evangelism is not reserved solely for the outside world. The proclamation of the gospel should happen inside the church, too. The gospel, preached from the pulpit, reminds the saints of their union with Christ, and presents the Fountain of Life to the unregenerate sitting among them. This also helps cut down on those who come into the church and want to hurt the sheep (although the possibility still exists).

The good shepherd loves his sheep and seeks to be the best shepherd he can be so that he can bring glory to God. He can do this by looking to Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of what it means to be a shepherd.

ACTS 20:17-35

Next, Luke records the words of Paul, in Acts 20:17-35, which talk about shepherding. The context of the passage is Paul’s request for the elders in Ephesus to come to him. Paul wanted to meet with them so that he could give instruction and encouragement. This passage has a very serious tone as Paul is informs the elders of what is going to happen when he leaves.

He instructs the “shepherds”––the “overseers” (Acts 20:28)––to pay attention to themselves and the flock. They need to pay careful attention to themselves when it comes to their own care, their theology, and their treatment of the flock. A call to pastoral ministry is not to be thought of lightly. The entire life of the shepherd ought to be thought out prayerfully, for the glory of Christ, and for the spiritual well being of the flock.

Another reason for attention to themselves is that “fierce wolves” (Acts 20:29)––false teachers––are coming. Fierce wolves will attempt to devour the sheep, and an unprepared shepherd will fail in their defense. They need to drive the wolves away with the superior fierceness and determination of Christ.

Men will arise “speaking twisted things” (Acts 20:30) and the shepherd must be prepared to fend off the attack of false teaching. In other words, these men will preach false doctrine leading people away from sound theology. These are not things that lead to schism (i.e. eschatological view, baptism, etc). These are things that make Christianity what it is. The false doctrines, on the other hand, are heresies like Gnosticism, denying the Trinity, denying the divinity of the Jesus. The compromise of the core doctrines of Christianity is heresy, and the perversion of doctrine with which we deal.

This is probably one of the most serious passages dealing with shepherding as Paul is warning the elders in Ephesus that the sheep will be attacked in various ways. The shepherd is to be a “teacher, defender, ruler and pastor.” The role of shepherd should not be taken lightly. Pastoring should only be pursued if the Lord is calling us to lead and protect those whom he loves from the wolves. The pastor should fulfill all these roles to the best of his ability, relying on Scripture and the Holy Spirit for his strength.

1 PETER 5:1-4

Finally, Peter writes about shepherding in 1 Peter 5:1-4. He gives practical advice when it comes to shepherding God’s flock in this passage. The shepherd––or “elder”––should exercise oversight willingly and eagerly being an example to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3). This passage deals primarily with the motivation of the elder, how one goes about it, and how he behaves as a shepherd. His calling to be an elder was placed on his life by the Lord; he will have a deep desire to care of God’s flock and will do so with great joy.

Therefore, an elder should naturally show the joy of ministering to the flock, no matter how hard it becomes. Second, he should know how to conduct himself when he is before the flock. Last, he is an example before the flock concerning what it looks like to live a life of continuous sanctification.

On the flip side, his duty to minister to the flock should not come out of compulsion. The elder should not be ministering to the flock for personal gain. As seen in previous passages, the Lord condemns such shepherds and brings about harsh punishments to those who take advantage of His flock. His attitude should not be one of arrogance. As Augustine repeats, “humility, humility, humility.” The elder should be humbled that the Lord chose him to take care of his flock. Being a steward of what the Lord owns is truly a high calling.

All of this comes together so that the elder can receive “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). Although the elder should not work for his own glory and riches; he should work diligently and to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever (WSC 1.1).”. That is a reward in itself, and to receive even more treasures on top of that is an added bonus. When Jesus returns, he will judge all elders according to the work they have done. If one has been faithful to his calling, he will be rewarded greatly.

These are extremely wise words to consider when it comes to the pastor’s motive and attitude when ministering to the flock of God. It is a high calling with a high price, but it also yields a great reward.


All things considered, how do shepherding principles carry over to the pastorate?  

First, the pastor is to protect the sheep. This may mean literally laying down his life for the sheep. But, this may also mean placing someone out of the church for a time and making the sheep aware of destructive heresies.

Second, the pastor is to provide for the sheep. He does this by preaching the Word so that they may receive spiritual nutrition and grow in knowledge of the Lord in holiness. He should be praying for them and their troubles that they have. Also, they should be administering the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the sheep.

Also, he should bless the sheep in any way he can. For example, sharing Scripture with them for encouragement when they are in life’s trials, visiting church members in the hospital, praying with his people in times of need, counseling young couples desiring marriage, showing hospitality to those he pastors, and the list goes on.

These things are the exact opposite of negligence, surely the Lord will judge shepherds for their neglect of the sheep. They should remain faithful to God’s calling on their lives and to the sheep who they’ve been called to care for.

Third, the pastor should not be unskillful. He should be trained up in the Word so that he can effectively minister to the sheep when they face trials. Moreover, when it comes to preaching, the shepherd needs to ensure he is not preaching destructive heresies, but communicating the nourishing Word of God.

Fourth, he should not be selfish. Pastoring is not all about him––it is about the sheep and how every one of them can give glory to God. Thus, the pastor ought to be the leading example of self-denial. He has been called to lay down his life for the sheep, and labor selflessly for their spiritual good.

Fifth, the pastor needs to preach the Gospel in season and out of season. Those true Christians who have strayed will find their way back provided the Word is preached. Also, the Gospel is the power of God revealed unto salvation for those who are dead in their sins. The shepherd must also be concerned for the unregenerate sitting amongst his congregation. This also helps prevent the sheep from being hurt by the wolves in the congregation.

This leads us to the pastor’s discernment. Knowing that not all those in the congregation are saved, he will need to be watchful for his and the sheep’s sake alike. There also needs to be a special attention given to himself and those in the congregation. There are “fierce wolves” out there and some are easier to spot than others. He needs to be aware of them so he can make the congregation aware, lest they be led away by false doctrine. This also includes the possibility of the pastor himself being wrong. He needs to dedicate much time to the study of God’s Word in order to provide the most accurate preaching and teaching possible.

Sixth, the pastor should know each and every one of his sheep so that he can effectively minister to his sheep. Knowing their names, what they’re going through in life aids a positive, biblical ministry.

All of this culminates in his motivation. He should be motivated out of love for the sheep and the glory of God. He should not be motivated for his own gain. This leads to such a great reward that awaits him in eternity, and includes blessings that come with pastoring now, in this life.


Pastoral ministry is a very high calling and one that should be taken seriously. If one compares himself to the Scriptures and willingly applies what the Lord teaches him, he will know what the Lord wants him to do so that he can be a faithful minister, glorifying God and edifying the saints. The pastor is to do many things, but all of it must be poured into the ministering of the Gospel for the sake of the Lord’s sheep, bringing all glory to God.

Austin is currently taking classes through Lancaster Bible College in pursuit of a dual B.A. in Pre-Seminary and Biblical Studies so that one day he may be able to shepherd God’s flock. He currently fellowships with others at a PCA church on the Lord’s Day.