Perhaps the most familiar analogy in the scriptures for the role of a pastor is that of a shepherd — and the illustration is a good one. Almost everyone can imagine the image of a shepherd caring for sheep.
A shepherd guards and protects the sheep, plus the shepherd feeds and helps them grow from lambs into mature sheep.
The analogy certainly works. Students of God’s Word can read the textual references comparing a pastor to a shepherd and can visualize and understand the point.
For example, when Acts 20:28-29 describes “savage wolves” (NJKV), the reader imagines a pastor protecting his flock from the vicious attacks from enemies of the gospel.
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock (Acts 20:28-29).
When the Bible in 1 Peter 5:2-4 tells pastors to “feed the flock of God” (KJV), it makes sense to picture a shepherd making sure that the sheep are fed so that they can grow and mature.
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).
The imagery makes sense. God’s people get the point and understand the basic functions of a pastor. In simple terms, it is the responsibility of a pastor to care for his people — his flock. Therefore, maybe the highest priority of pastoral ministry is to provide care.
Why Is Pastoral Care Important?
The illustration of pastors as shepherds comes into play here. It is the responsibility of a shepherd to care for the sheep. There are five key reasons in the two passages listed above that explain why pastoral care is so important.
1. Pastors are used by God to care for His people. The Bible is clear that pastoral ministry is of God. God calls certain people to serve Him in the role of pastors (Acts 20:28-29 uses the phrase “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers”), and God enables or “gifts” pastors to lead His church.
So, Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
There’s no doubt in Scripture that the functions of pastors are ordained and ordered by God. When pastors provide spiritual care for their people they do so in the strength and with the ability that God supplies. Humanly speaking, God uses these earthly, human shepherds to provide spiritual care for His people.
2. God uses pastors to provide spiritual protection. As mentioned above, the scriptures paint a vivid picture of a shepherd as a protector. Certainly, that was and is one of the most important aspects of a shepherd’s responsibilities.
Readers of the Bible can understand the imperative of a shepherd carefully watching over the sheep so that the savage, destructive “wolves” (1 Peter 5:2-4) did not attack the flock to steal and devour the weakest and most vulnerable lambs.
Likewise, pastors are instructed to guard over their flocks to provide spiritual protection for weak, immature church members.
3. Pastors have the God-given ability to feed and lead His people. This passage in 1 Peter 5:2-4 makes a two-fold case for other imperative pastoral responsibilities.
Pastors are to feed their people so that they grow in the Lord and so they do not remain as spiritual children
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:14-16).
Pastors also have the God-given responsibility to provide oversight or leadership of the church. Feeding and leading are both essential ingredients of a pastor’s care of His people.
4. Pastors are to be examples of godly living to God’s people. The Bible is also clear that God expects His spiritual shepherds to be “examples” of godly living in front of their “flock.”
God has a higher standard for those He calls to serve Him as pastors (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9). One of the reasons why His Word presents these lists of character and ministry qualifications for leaders in the church is that pastors are indeed to be examples to their people of spiritual maturity. Part of their care must include being a pattern of godliness in front of their congregations.
5. God’s work lasts forever. Without a doubt, the most important reason why pastoral care is so important is that God’s work will last throughout eternity.
Here’s what the Apostle Peter says about that in 1 Peter 5:2-4, “…and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” When pastors provide spiritual care for their people, they are literally doing something that matters for eternity.
This includes preaching sermons on Sunday mornings and making visits to the elderly or hospital patients. It includes counseling and teaching, as well as providing spiritual oversight and leadership to the local church.
God’s people must remember that pastoral care is definitely something that is an eternal matter. God never intended His church to run like a company that may go out of business in a few years. Pastoral ministry is God’s work, and it is something He uses to impact the lives of true Christ-followers forever.
‘Take Care of My Sheep’ (John 21:16)
Readers of Scripture have no problem visualizing the duties of a shepherd. This is someone who has taken on the responsibility to watch, feed, and care for their sheep. This biblical illustration makes sense to country folk and city dwellers alike.
Without a shepherd, sheep are prone to wander away and are vulnerable to attacks from a variety of predators and enemies. The Lord Himself provides the analogy of a pastor as a shepherd in His Word and that helps us understand why pastoral care is so important.
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Mel Walker is the president of Vision For Youth, Inc., an international network of youth ministry, and he is also the youth pastor at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Mel has been actively involved in various aspects of youth ministry for over 40 years. He is also an author, speaker, and a consultant with churches. More information about his speaking and writing ministry can be found at www.GoingOnForGod.com. Mel has written 13 books on various aspects of youth ministry, including Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church. Mel & Peggy Walker are the parents of 3 adult children—all of whom are in vocational ministry. You can follow him on Twitter: @vfyouth.