The Pastor’s Role: Duties, Tasks, and Responsibilities of a Pastor/Shepherd/Elder/Overseer

According to D. A. Carson (For the Love of God, vol. 1, [Crossway: 1998] Nov. 2):

  • Feed (as a shepherd)
  • Defend (as a shepherd)
  • Guide (as a shepherd)
  • Discipline (as a shepherd)
  • Be mature (as an elder)
  • Be respected (as an elder)
  • Oversee (as an overseer)
  • Godly manage (as an overseer)
  • Hold in spiritual accountability (as an overseer)

According to Mark Dever (The Deliberate Church, [Crossway: 2005], 89-95):

  • Practitioner of the marks (preaching, administering the ordinances)
  • Teaching
  • Meet with staff
  • Be disciplined and stick to a workable schedule
  • Graze – feed the flock
  • Guide – direct, model, equip, and keep the flock
  • Guard – from false teachers and false teaching
  • The 4 P’s (from chapter 1) – preaching, prayer, personal discipleship relationships, and patience

This list is staggering, convicting, and clarifying. It staggers me to think about the weight of the responsibility God has placed on the pastor for his church. It is convicting because I see how I personally have failed. I want to pray and improve and grow in putting more of my time into teaching/preaching responsibilities, meeting with my small group leaders and training new teachers. I want to get more involved in knowing the lives of the students in my church. I also want to be in better communication with the pastoral team that I serve with, giving them weekly reports of the ministry, even if it is not asked of me. I want to seek their input and evaluation. I also want to pursue those who are straying that God has put under my care. This also clarifies my task. I need to defend the flock, discipline the unrepentant, hold them in spiritual accountability, disciple them, and most of all feed them and point them to the bread of life and living water, Jesus Christ himself.

[Also see Pastor-Elder Vows, a sample]

What are your thoughts? Are you thankful for your pastors? Do you pray for them? Do you make it easy or hard for them to shepherd and love you? If you have pastoral responsibilities, does this list help you? Why or why not?

Added lists:

Benjamin Griffith (1743) (Added 2/11/08):

  1. Preach God’s Word
  2. Watch over every member of the flock (emphasis mine)
  3. Visit the flock to know their state.
  4. Administer the ordinances (Baptism and Lord’s Supper)
  5. Pray for them
  6. Model Christlikeness

Lig Duncan’s job description as Senior Minister:

  1. Preach the Word
  2. Love the People
  3. Pray Down Heaven
  4. Promote Family Religion
  5. Train the Elders
  6. Under those 5, it is to live a godly life

Mark Driscoll’s list of duties for the elders-pastors (from Vintage Church, [Crossway: 2008], 72):

  1. Praying and studying Scripture
  2. Ruling/leading the church
  3. managing the church
  4. caring for people in the church
  5. giving account to God for the church
  6. living exemplary lives
  7. rightly using the authority God has given them
  8. teaching the Bible correctly
  9. preaching
  10. praying for the sick
  11. teaching sound doctrine and refuting false teachings
  12. working hard
  13. rightly using money and power
  14. protecting the church from false teachers
  15. disciplining unrepentant Christians
  16. obeying the secular laws as the legal ruling body of a corporation
  17. developing other leaders and teachers

PJ Tibayan (My list on the pastor-elder’s role):

  1. Prayerfully teach God’s Word
  2. Oversee the whole flock and each individual member’s spiritual good
  3. Equip the church for the work of ministry
  4. Model godly Christian living and love for Christ

John Piper’s take on the function of Elders: governing and teaching.

5.1. Governing

1 Timothy 5:17

Let the elders who rule (proestotes) well be considered worthy of double honor. . .

1 Timothy 3:4-5

He must manage (proistamenon) his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage (prostenai)his own household, how can he care for God’s church?

Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2

The duty of elders to “oversee” or “supervise” the flock implies a governing function.

1 Thessalonians 5:12

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you (proistamenous)in the Lord and admonish you. . .

(No reference to “elders” but the function of the leaders is governing and the natural assumption is that the leaders are elders that Paul had appointed according to Acts 14:23.)

Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.

Obedience and submission implies a role of leadership and governance. Again, the reference is probably to the elders, though the leaders are not described.

5.2. Teaching

Ephesians 4:11

Pastors and teachers are pictured as one office, so that the pastor (whom we have identified as an elder) has the responsibility of teaching.

1 Timothy 3:2

The overseer must be “able to teach.” And we have seen that the overseer and elder are the same office. This qualification is not included in the list of qualifications for deacons.

1 Timothy 5:17

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Note that all have to be able to teach; but only some “labor,” that is, they devote more time and energy to it, perhaps earning their living by it. Each elder is vested with the right to teach and exercise authority in the church and so must have the qualifications for it.

Titus 1:9

He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.

Note: Not all elders need to be able to do public preaching. The requirement is not for a preaching gift, but for a solid grasp of doctrine and ability to spot and correct errors and explain Biblical truth plainly.

5.3. Conclusion

The function of elders may be summed up under two heads: teaching and governing. They are the doctrinal guardians of the flock and the overseers of the life of the church responsible to God for the feeding and care and ministry of the people.

We have seen from Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:1-13 that deacons served alongside the elders. These two are mentioned together in a way that suggests their unique official and ongoing role in the churches. We turn now to examine the role of “deacon.”

Other resources:

  1. The Desiring God staff’s description of the role of the elder.
  2. The Gospel Coalition has resources on the topics of “eldership” and “pastoral ministry
  3. 9Marks has a bunch of good articles and audio resources (see more categories on that page) on the topic.

PJ Tibayan

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