What is a Pastor?

I am currently reading the book entitled The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson and have been reminded just how much our increasingly secularized culture has shaped the perception of what it is to be a pastor. When we think of a pastor, we get one of two pictures in our minds. One is of a clean shaven, sharply dressed fellow who stands behind the pulpit and wows the congregation with his oratory and poetic skill. The other, a tattooed hipster with gelled hair in a tee-shirt and skinny jeans with the masterful ability to communicate the mysteries of spirituality all the while keeping you relaxed enough to not spill your overpriced coffee. Neither of these caricatures even come close to what is a real pastor.
I guess the simplest definition for “pastor” is the person who leads a church, but that definition does not help unless we define what is a church. A church is a body of believers. What is a body? It is a metaphor illustrating how many members are joined together to function as one person. Just as your hand has a specific function in your body but is not independent of the feet, so also each member of the church has a specific function but does not operate independently of the rest of the members. The body that is the church was fashioned by God and has Jesus as the head.
The pastor leads this body, but I must be careful with that word “lead” too. He leads by being a servant. He cares for the members and makes sure each is functioning properly. This is a daunting task in this dark and evil age. His members are navigating difficulty, loss, temptation, and the consequences of sin. He keeps them fed with the word of God. To do this, he has to know them. He has to be available to them in their hardest darkest days and able to encourage them with the truth of God’s word.
Perhaps there is an even better definition. A pastor is one who cares for a congregation. What is a congregation? It is a collection of people. His congregation is made up believers and unbelievers. There are people in the congregation who are loving servants of the Lord, and there are some still wrestling with whether or not to follow Jesus. There are others who have been deceived, either by themselves or others, into believing that they are Christ followers, but they are really not. The pastor must care for all in this congregation of people. He must be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged and able to correct gentleness (cf. 2 Timothy 2:21-25).
Additionally, I would say that the office of pastor is a vocation. By “vocation” I do not mean that he is a professional. The word vocation literally means a calling. Pastor is not just a title. It is definitely not just a job. A pastor may attend seminary and receive training in his vocation, but a pastor does not become a pastor by earning a degree(s). Neither does he become a pastor by being ordained. The title of pastor is earned as he works in his vocation and is formed into the role by his God.
I am in no way offering myself as the picture of what a good pastor looks like. When it comes to leading the body, caring for the congregation, and learning the vocation, I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. I want to be better though. I want to earn the honor of being called “pastor” by the people I love and serve. I know that I have been called by God, and I pray daily that He will form me into my vocation.
If your pastor leads the body, cares for the congregation, and takes his vocation seriously, then you can count it another blessing from God. If your pastor is not the leader he should be, then pray for him. He is probably just like me, still learning. Be patient with him. Be understanding. Encourage him regularly.
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” 1 Timothy 5:17-18