What is a Pastor?


The word pastor means shepherd. I am a pastor and have been for over 30 years. Sometimes when you do something for a long time you have to be reminded of the basics.  We can get lost in detail or repetition and we lost sight of the goal.  We can move from being pastors to being survivors, or salesmen, or self promoters.  We can be in business for ourselves.  But we are shepherds under The Shepherd.

I was taking a day off walk through a near by natural area, and a thought I’d scribbled on  a post it note the previous week reappeared in my mind.  I’d written down “lost sheep, potential shepherds and the lost”. So as my walk turned into a sort of prayer walk and meditation, I began to think about this.

As a Pastor I am a shepherd.  What does that mean?

Practically I have no actual sheep, but I deal with people.

In the Bible the word Pastor means shepherd and there is a lot on that theme.  Moses and David were shepherds before their calling to be leaders.  The Prophets sometimes spoke of the false shepherds in Israel who led the people into danger.  Jesus called himself a true shepherd. Psalm 23 is a loved psalm because we need the Lord to be our Shepherd.

So I have come to this description of a pastor:

  • Feed the Flock – go read John 10 where Jesus speaks of himself as the shepherd and then John 21 where he called Peter to “feed my sheep.”  Pastors feed by teaching, preaching, praying, guarding and training the gathered believers.  We care for the sheep who belong to someone else.
  • Find the Strays – Luke 15 has three stories of lost things that were found, the lost coin and the lost son are in there, but the first is the story of the shepherd who left the flock (regular attenders) to go find the lost one from the flock (a stray).  So we need to find those who are off in the bushes and invite them back into fellowship with the Lord and his people.
  • Welcome the Lost – Jesus used two metaphors to describe the mission of the church in Matthew 9.  After Matthew summarizes Jesus ministry in v.35 as teaching, preaching and healing, he spoke of the crowds of outsiders as sheep without a shepherd.  Then he switched from shepherds to harvesters, that God would send workers into the harvest.  Pastors should find ways to reach out to the outsiders.  They are not enemies, and even if they are, “while we were enemies, Christ died for us.”
  • Maintain the Pen – I’d like to stop at the first three, but there are practical matters.  Sheep would lived in walled in areas, pens.  We pastors have some practical structures to deal with like buildings, budgets and boards.  These can not be neglected, but a building, a budget and a board without the people would be nothing at all.

If this is so, then I can summarize my work simply.  As a pastor I am to:

  • Feed the Flock
  • Find the Strays
  • Welcome the Lost
  • Maintain the Pen.


7 Words – #5 Shepherds – John 10:11

sheepJesus healed a blind man in John 9.  The Pharisees put on an inquiry to find out if some law had been broken.  These wise leaders were too simple to understand what the simple blind man could see instantly.

“You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners…..If this man were not from god, he could do nothing.”    9:30,33

They blindly threw out the blind man who could see.

In the next chapter Jesus spoke of himself as a Shepherd.  First that those who come in over the wall are not the true shepherds.  Here he was referring to those blind leaders who did not enter by God’s word, but by their own word.

Then he said, that he himself was the Gate to the sheep.  He was the only way in for the sheep and the shepherds.

Then he said that he was himself the Good Shepherd.  The Pharisees of Chapter 9 were bad shepherds.

Here then is the fifth word to Pastors.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”  v. 11-13


The very name Pastor means Shepherd.  We Pastors  have to ask ourselves, “Are we really shepherds or just hired hands?”

The hired hand has two defining qualities according to Jesus’ words.  He runs away from danger and he cares nothing for the sheep.

Jesus picked up an important theme from the Old Testament.

 The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul,

He guides me in the paths of righteousness

for his names sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:1-4

 “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”

Ezekiel 34:2-6


 Here is a rich vein of instruction for all who Pastor the flock of God.  Who of us could possibly stand the scrutiny of the words of Ezekiel?  How searching they are!  Have I ever thought of myself first?  Have I ever spoke of the sheep as belonging to me?  Have I ever wept over the broken down Church of God where sheep are scattered because the leaders thought first of their own needs?  Do I leave the 99 who are happy with me to go listen to the disgruntled 1 who is so angry with me that he left?


Her eyes sparkled and her wrinkled face was radiant as she said, “He was like God to us.” The elderly saint was referring to a very loved Pastor.  He had been there when the children were baptized and later confirmed and still later married.  He was the first face seen when waking up from the surgical anesthesia.  His home was open for Sunday dinner, especially for the single students far from home.  He taught the word.  And so this sheep was yet in awe of his memory.

Yet the phrase “He was like God” is disturbing.  If it meant that he was often the one who’s voice spoke out loud  the Word of God and who’s presence showed in the flesh the love of God who has no body, then it is ok.  However I wonder if he did not become a bit confused with his Over-shepherd.

The Good Shepherd owns the sheep.  Pastors don’t own anyone.  Does that make us hired hands?  No.  We don’t run away, and we do care a great deal for the sheep.

We are under-shepherds.  We serve the Good Shepherd.  He owns the sheep.  He gave his life’s blood to buy them and us as well.  We serve in his flock as under-shepherds because he has asked us.  They are never really ours because they are his.

I have seen it increasingly in the eyes of the sheep.  It is not the glow of the older saint, but is the question mark in the eyes of the younger sheep.

“What does he want?”

“Wouldn’t he really like it better if I just left?”

“Is he doing something with the other shepherds that I should know about?”

“If he really knew me, he wouldn’t love me.”

“Why does he keep looking at his watch?”

The older saint had seen faults in her under-shepherd, and could even tell a good story at his expense.  But those flaws only made the bond stronger.

The younger saints see faults and wonder if they don’t reveal a much bigger fault.  They could forgive a mis-stated historical fact in the sermon, and even the way we mix up names and family connections.  But they sense that what they see is not so innocent as that.  What they see is a heart that is empty of love and full of something else.  It could be ambition or vision or a love for process.  It could be annoyance at being disturbed from his study to deal with a human need.

We think because they need direction that sheep are stupid.  They may choose stupid paths and they may choose the wrong grass to eat.  But they do not make mistakes in judging the heart of their shepherds.  Their lives depend on the shepherd, and they know it. 

If we make mistakes along the way, they are forgotten.  We become the butt of loving humor.  If we forget that we should love, feed and defend the sheep one of two things will happen:  They leave or they turn on us.

Their bodies may remain in the pew long after their hearts and minds have gone elsewhere.  It sometimes takes a long time for the body to actually follow the heart in leaving.

Or they may turn into wolves.  It is a kind of anti-miracle that these fuzzy gentle creatures can sprout claws and fangs and turn on us.  When the sheep become wolves, it is because of the shepherds.

Later in this chapter Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”  v. 15.  Later in the Gospel he said, “Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…”  15:13,14.  And still later he said to his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 21:21

“As” means many things.  One of those is that Jesus came as a shepherd who gave his life for his sheep. We also show our love by laying down our lives for the sheep.

Shepherding is a trade and it is a way of life.  We learn our trade by schooling and by experience.  We can not lay it aside after hours.  There are no “after hours” for shepherds.

A profession is hard to enter because the guardians of professions want to maintain the prestige and the market value of those called.  Shepherds are different.  The sheep are not a route for advancement.  They are not numbers leading to a resume.  They are people with names and families.  The more we know them and their places of living and working, the better we can be their pastors.

Many professions have a union or guild.  What would be the point of a shepherds union?  Wouldn’t the sheep die while the owner and the shepherds argued?

Shepherding is a calling.  It is a calling to avoided at all costs, unless you are called by the Good Shepherd.


Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;

Keep watch over the door of my lips.

Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil

to take part in wicked deeds

with men who are evil doers.

Let me not eat of their delicacies.

Psalm 141:3,4


An oracle is within my heart,

concerning the sinfulness of the wicked,

There is no fear of God before their eyes,

For in his own eyes he flatters himself

Too much to detect of hate his sin.

Psalm 36:1,2

David E. Carlson c 2000

John 10 a Worksheet

shepherdA worksheet for John 10 – the topic is Shepherds (i.e. spiritual leaders) and Sheep (i.e. people).

Consider how the idea of legitimacy fits the teaching of Jesus from about Chapter 6 to 10, where Jesus and his audience are involved in a series of discussions and controversies: some believe in him and others seek his destruction.

Consider the idea of sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd – and the man healed in John 9 and Lazarus who hears the command of Christ from the grave.  (John 11)

Worksheet – John 10 Worksheet

Why Shepherds?

In the Birth Narratives (Luke 1, 2 and Matthew 1, 2) there are kings and rulers: Caesar, Herod, Quirinius, Archelaus, the ruler of Micah 5:2 (Mt 2:6), David (Lk 1:26-32), the Proud (Lk 1:51).  The child is called “a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord…” (Lk 2:11). 

So why shepherds?


So why Shepherds?

First, because they are commonplace.  It was once said of Harry Truman, that if someone had thrown a rock into a crowd, they would have hit someone like Truman.  That is he was very ordinary and very American.  So the shepherds were very ordinary and very ancient middle eastern.  If you tossed a rock into the hills, maybe even today, you might hit one.

Second, because the child-king is different from other kings.  He was born to no wealth, no privilege and no great family name.  He had nothing to make him stand out (except for all those angelic and prophetic announcements).

Third, there have been a lot of Shepherd-leaders in Israel. 

  • Abraham was a keeper of flocks – we see that when his hired hands got into conflict with Lot’s so they parted ways – Lot to the plains and Abraham to the hills. (Genesis 13)  He gains additional wealth, measured by flocks after his adventures with Abimelech (Genesis 20). 
  • Moses was watching sheep and goats in Midian, the middle of nowhere, when God called him to be the shepherd of the hebrew people and lead them out of Egypt.  One professor I had in Seminary suggested that the language of Psalm 23 suggests the story of the Exodus.
  • David was out watching sheep when Samuel came along to anoint him to be King.

Jesus himself talks about the importance of spiritual shepherds in John 10.  And to this day “pastor” means shepherd.  The church is supposed to have servant-leaders who know their people by name, who feed them (the word of God) and bring them to quiet waters, and guard them against all enemies.

So, it turns out Shepherds are a good choice.

Mind Your Business – Luke 2:8

Mind Your Business

  “Mind your own business,”

My mother said when I was

Inserting my nose and opinions

Into the lives

 of friends and foe alike.

Get your head out of the clouds

And take care of business.

You have work to do today

And more tomorrow

And even more the day after.

Mind your own business

Said shepherd mothers to their sons.

There are ewes and lambs to watch

Wolves and foxes to watch for

And brambles and crevices.

It is dark, and it is cold  

Make sure you are awake

As your watch crawls slowly to dawn

Or you’ll lose your lambs

And death will come to the flock.

Minding our business,

Passing the watches of the night,

Watching our flocks one night

When it came, but it was not death

It was light, joy and song.

It had to be angels

There’s no other option

They came, first one,

And then a host,

Speaking and then chanting

A baby has been born in David’s city,

Yeah, that happens all the time,

Saul had a girl last year at this time

And got to leave us with the sheep

To keep watch with his new family.

But this child is different,

He comes with a choir

Angels, looking like soldiers,

Armed with words not swords,

Told us to go and see.

Mind your own business,

I thought, as look at the sheep

The same sheep I had watched

For days, weeks and months.

Mind your own business.

Glory to God

In the highest

Peace on earth

To whom God chooses

As He minds His business

So we go, and see the newling

Like one of our lambs,

In a stall, not under the stars,

But with straw and

That country smell we know.

She had been

Minding her business

And he his,

When angels came to them

About a boy child

To be called Jesus.

So we looked,

And it was as they had said

We left our business

To observe for once

Something of heaven.

Mind your own business!

We did get back to our sheep,

Who were watched by the Almighty

While we, we watchers,

Became tellers of tales

Mind this business!

Angels, a baby,

Signs and wrapped cloth,

Sheep and straw

And something totally new.

Now you, mind this!

Your business goes on each day

As the day before,

And the day to come.

The Lord has come,

Mind this business!

David E. Carlson, 2010