Perhaps the greatest occupational hazard of shepherding God’s flock is to forget that the shepherd is himself a sheep. But shepherds are recognized as such because they are first and foremost model sheep. Here’s a top ten list of ways for a pastor to be a faithful church member.
Serve. Paul told Titus to “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works” (Titus 2:7)—in all things, not just in public preaching, or institutional leadership, or in your area of primary gifting. Do the little things. Give up your rights. Talk with people at church who others consider unimportant. People will naturally follow your example more closely than your words, so make sure you do as you want them to do.
Pray. You want your church members to pray for each other, right? So … are you praying for them? Pray privately that the congregation will grow in prayer (both private and corporate), in every Christian grace, and in fruitful ministry. Pray through your church directory, just a page or two a day. If you haven’t done so already, start a weekly prayer meeting in your home or at your church so that your people can catch a vision for praying biblically. Challenge yourself to use your pastoral prayer each week as a model for how to pray God’s Word back to Him. Pray a paragraph of Scripture that’s just been publicly read in the service. People need their pastor to pray for them, and to show them how to pray, not just to tell them to pray more.
Know and be Known. The sheep in God’s pasture are social animals. We need each other. And, brother shepherd, you are a sheep too. You need to cultivate, at the very least, one or two close, confessing friendships with other godly men who are members of your local church. A pastor’s friendships do not inevitably lead to favoritism; but a pastor’s lack of friendships will eventually lead him to failure. Isolation is ministerial suicide. Ideally, a pastor will have a few deep friendships among his fellow elders. Regardless, hypocrisy is a loner. And, brother, have compassion on your dear wife—she alone cannot carry the weight of all your sorrows and sins.
Receive Correction. Sometimes we pastors can make people feel like they have to walk on eggshells around us. That’s not good. Don’t be oversensitive about your preaching or about your personal shortcomings. You and I are not George Whitefield, and everyone else knows it. So provide opportunities for godly encouragement and criticism. Ask your elders or fellow leaders how your last sermon could have been better, or how you can grow as a Christian or as a pastor. They already know you’re not perfect. Admitting it and asking for their help will not be detrimental to you. It will be endearing to them. And hopefully, as they see you receiving correction from them, they’ll be quicker to receive correction from you.
Be led by your elders. Good leaders know how to be led themselves. You don’t need to win every vote in the elder meeting to be a godly leader. Trust your brother elders to lead, even if you think they may be wrong on some point of application or procedure. Don’t sell the farm on the doctrine of Scripture or the atonement, of course. But maybe you don’t need to talk so much in all your elders’ meetings. Shepherding the church doesn’t require that you control every decision or determine every outcome.
Give. You will be hard pressed to keep a good conscience if your own personal finances do not reflect kingdom priorities. It’s hard not to love money when you excuse yourself for keeping all you get (1 Timothy 6:9–11). Pastors are often too anxious for finances as they seek first the kingdom (Matthew 6:25–33). You may not be the biggest giver in your church, but pastor, you should be the most consistent. Don’t rob God in your giving; test Him (Mal 3:8–12). Even the Levites tithed off the tithes of the people (Num 18:26). So should you. Trust God enough to give.
Share the pulpit. You need other brothers to feed your soul—in preaching, not just in a commentary. And believe it or not, other people in your congregation need others besides you to preach to their souls. Kill that possessiveness in your heart. Nursing it will only make you more narcissistic than you already are. I’ve lost track of how often another brother’s sermon in our church has been just what my own soul needed to hear, and it would have never entered my mind had I been the one preaching. We all need to experience periodically what it’s like to sit under the preaching of other imperfect preachers. It will edify your soul, and it will give you compassion for those who are sometimes enjoying, other times enduring, your preaching ministry. Besides, would you yourself want to be limited to listening to your own preaching for the rest of your life? Come on, you’re good, but you’re not that good.
Be Content. Check your bitterness. Keep a good attitude. Be cheerful, grateful, and gracious. Pastor, make sure you’re not the malignant member. Don’t assume the worst in people, or put the most negative spin on every sideways comment. Those are the kind of members you dread. Take the little encouragements and thank God for them. Don’t get weary in well-doing. And while we should pray about the relationships and problems that make ministry difficult, we should not allow them to plunge us into inconsolable melancholy or angst. Leave them at the foot of the cross. Jesus died and rose to carry those for you.
Love. Love people as they are, where they are; not as you wish they were, nor as you hope they’ll turn out. There will always be people we don’t know how best to shepherd—and God has our good at heart even in bringing those difficult sheep into our fold. Remember what you were like when God first set His love on you? Ah, yes . . . now we know how He feels. And that is part of becoming godly ourselves.
Stay. As much as it’s up to you, commit to the long haul with your church. Don’t leave just because you’re frustrated. It’s ok to be tired in your congregation, but labor not to get tired of them. After all, Jesus has yet to get tired of you.