by David Zellers

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”[1] Just as many Americans answered John F. Kennedy’s call to duty for their country, pastors are answering God’s call to duty for the Body of Christ. Sadly, many pastors find their congregations expect their pastor to lead, or at least be involved in, every program and be at the beck and call of every member 24/7; in addition, they expect an award-winning sermon during every service. However, what are the pastor’s responsibilities according to God’s Word?

The Bible says a pastor must take care of his own family before he can take care of God’s church. If a pastor does not take care of himself and his spiritual life, he will have nothing to give to the flock. Indeed, the Body of Christ is called to19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, …, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…”[2] The Bible shows that one of the pastor’s primary duties and service to the Body of Christ is to equip the Body so they can fulfill the Great Commission. One must know what God says a pastor’s duties are, concerning self, family, and the Body of Christ to be able to honor Him in the fulfilling of one’s calling as a pastor.

A Pastor’s first duty is his relationship with the Lord and taking care of his Body

Because a pastor cannot give what he does not have, his first duty, as it is for all who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, must be his relationship with the Lord and taking care of his Body. In support of this idea, Paul asks,16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”[3] (1 Cor 3:16).  Many of us are very zealous about what types of activities occur in our church buildings and just how those buildings are maintained. Nevertheless, how many pastors, or other believers, are equally zealous in caring for their own bodies? Paul also tells Timothy that he must maintain a close relationship with Jesus through studying the Word and prayer. Jesus had a routine of time in service to others, then time to be with the Lord in solitude, prayer, and rest.

One can only give to others what he has received from God through prayer and the study of His Word

One can only give to others what he has received from God through prayer, and the study of His Word, the source of life and truth. Joseph M. Stowell, in his book “Shepherding the Church,” points out that “As our relationship to Christ blossoms, our words will reflect warmth, healing, helping, careful inquiry, wise perspectives, discernment, righteousness, and justice. [Our words] will reflect His truth, spoken at times courageously but always compassionately.”[4] This transformation will be evident in all aspects of one’s life, not just in one’s words. Lee and Fredrickson in their book “That Their Work Will Be a Joy” state that “… Sabbath rest [, which is a lifestyle, not just the absence of work] is part of the good order of God’s creation, [so] we shouldn’t be surprised that overwork comes at a price.

For pastors, this kind of stewardship takes on added significance, given their role as examples to the flock. Like it or not, when pastors preach self-discipline from the pulpit, people will filter that message (right or wrong!) through their perceptions of the pastor’s own lifestyle.”[5]  While some may not like their pastor setting boundaries to care for himself and his relationship with Jesus, only through this relationship with Jesus and care for oneself is one a much better husband, father, and pastor of the local flock, through whom people will see nobody but Jesus.

A Pastor’s next duty is being the husband and father God created him to be

With the pastor caring for himself and his relationship with Jesus, he must now meet his next duty, which is being the husband and father, God created him to be. In his book “Unfinished Business,” Greg Ogden demonstrates the importance of a father’s teaching and life example through George Peck’s father’s life story. Peck’s father’s life ambition was to be an ordained pastor. Although he never obtained this ambition, “He served his family by raising three children, two of whom became ordained pastors and a third a missionary.”[6] Peck’s father had many other accomplishments as well.

Paul gives these criteria pertaining to a pastor, his wife, and their children: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; … one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)”[7] (1 Tim 3:2-5);  Stowell tells how the demands of people take the pastor away from time with his wife and family. This causes the wife and family of the pastor to resent the flock and the pastor’s calling.

Setting ethical boundaries

When the pastor does not know how to protect the quality time with his family, they feel that the pastor cares more about the flock than them. Stowell talks about how, when the pastor protects his quality time with his wife and family, they encourage him to attend to real emergencies of the flock that demand the pastor’s immediate attention.[8] Lee and Fredrickson talk about setting ethical boundaries to protect the family and the pastor’s privacy. It is necessary to clearly state and enforce these boundaries to protect one’s private and family time.[9] Just as what applies to the pastor taking care of himself flows into his family life, these things are relative to serving the flock.

What we have learned about the pastor’s duty

What we have learned about the pastor’s roles of personal and family care directly affects and is part of his role of servicing the flock by equipping and protecting it, among other duties such as weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc. Demonstrating why a personal relationship with Jesus affects the pastor’s ability to perform his duties in the church, Jesus tells us: “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, [and] the relation[ship is] intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. [But,] separated [from Me], you can’t produce a thing” [10]  (John 15:5 Msg with emphasis added). One must look at what the pastor’s roles and responsibilities are regarding the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

The pastor is not responsible for doing everything, nor can he do everything

Contrary to the belief of many, the pastor is not responsible for doing everything, nor can he do everything. The major theme in Ogden’s book is that the church in America needs to change from a dependency model to an equipping model. Pastors should function as a coach, preparing their flock to fulfill the Great Commission.[11] Ogden uses this quote about the roles of a pastor written by Elton Trueblood: “The ministry is for all who are called to share in Christ’s life, the pastorate is for those who possess the peculiar gift of being able to help other men and women to practice any ministry to which they are called.”[12]

Identifying Spiritual Gifts to provide opportunities in ministry

This means helping believers identify what their Spiritual Gifts are, providing opportunities and encouragement for them to develop those gifts, and ultimately meeting their God-given calling in ministry. Just as the areas of ministry for all believers are determined by one’s spiritual gifts, the pastor’s exact duties must be determined the same way. Typically, pastors still have the traditional duties of baptisms, weddings, dedications, and funerals, but this does not always need to be the case as other leaders can fulfill some of these duties. Paul gives this instruction to Timothy, which applies to all pastors:

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”[13] (2 Tim 3:16 – 4:2)

Shepherds need not be perfect, but they must be making progress in their own Christian life

Stowell says that shepherds need not be perfect, but they must be making progress in their own Christian life. The progress should be observable by others to engender and maintain the respect of the flock and those outside the church.  He likens life as a pastor to living in a giant fishbowl, living on display for all to see.[14] Once again, we are seeing that the different roles of the pastor are impossible to separate from one another, including those of family and personal life, as they are all part of the Christian life and the pastor’s calling.

Therefore, the pastor’s duties of taking care of himself physically and spiritually, quality time with his wife and family, as well as the equipping and care of his flock are all imperative to him fulfilling his God-given calling. The pastor must keep himself focused on his relationship and walk with Jesus; he must set appropriate boundaries for himself and his family to maintain his health, spiritual life, and his family relationships. These are also the primary duties of all Christians.

The shepherd’s primary duty to the flock flows from fulfilling his duties to himself and his family

The shepherd’s primary responsibility to the flock is to equip them for the ministry that God calls them to. The pastor’s strength and guidance to work with the Lord flow from fulfilling his duties to himself and his family. Without an intimate relationship with Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the duties of a pastor are a daunting task that nobody can withstand, nor will bear fruit. So, who wants to live in the fishbowl? In any case, those called to the pastorate cannot turn away. The Holy Spirit keeps urging them on in their relationship with Jesus and the care and equipping of their family and the Body of Christ. Like John F. Kennedy’s call to service, how are you being called to minister with your Lord and Savior?


[1] President John F. Kennedy inaugural address (Washington DC, 1961)

[2] Mt 28:19–20 NKJV: The New King James Version. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982)

[3] 1 Co 3:16 NKJV

[4] Joseph M. Stowell, Shepherding the Church: Effective Spiritual Leadership in a Changing Culture (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition, 1997), 165-166.

[5] Cameron Lee and Kurt Fredrickson, That Their Work Will Be a Joy: Understanding and Coping with the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, Kindle Edition, 2012), 115.

[6] Greg Ogden, Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. Kindle Edition, 2003), Kindle Location 751.

[7] 1 Tim 3:2–7 NKJV.

[8] Stowell, Shepherding the Church, 198-199.

[9] Lee and Fredrickson, That Their Work Will Be a Joy, 129-130.

[10]John 15:5 Message: E. H. Peterson, The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005)

[11] Ogden, Unfinished Business, Kindle Locations 0-4338.

[12] Ogden, Unfinished Business, Kindle Location s 2012-2015.

[13] 2 Tim 3:14–4:2 NMJV

[14] Stowell, Shepherding the Church, 0-325.