On Being a Pastor
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On Being a Pastor

From Series: The Pastor's Study, Volume 7

Ephesians 4:1-16  (ID: 3118)

What does it mean to be called to the position of pastor and teacher? Both an inward and outward charge, God enables those whom He has called with every good gift as supplied through the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Alistair Begg suggests four assurances by which pastors and teachers can boldly endure hardships and press on when caring for the flock given to them in Christ.


Sermon Transcript:

We’re going to read from the Bible once again, from Ephesians chapter 4. I want to address my remarks to the church, but also, in some sense, to Matthew. And, of course, we always preach to ourselves when we preach. Ephesians 4:1:

“I therefore,” writes Paul, “a prisoner for the Lord, urge to you walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all [reach and] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Amen.

Father, we humbly pray that these moments that we now spend in thinking on your Word, you will bless them to us and use them in setting forward your purposes. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, as I say, we enjoy an immense privilege this evening as a church family in sharing in this ordination. It’s no small thing to be ordained. In fact, if we were doubtful about Matthew’s own understanding of the gravity of the thing, all of that was removed with one simple gesture: he wore a tie. All right? I did not ask him to wear a tie. I thought about wearing one myself, and then I thought, no, I wouldn’t like to embarrass him. Then he wore a tie and embarrassed me. But that’s fine. And I appreciate that. Thirty-nine years ago, when I was ordained, I wore a clerical collar. So this is close. And it is no small thing. It’s not to be treated lightly or carelessly but thoughtfully, with reverence for God and with due consideration of the purposes for which it is established by God.

The godly Murray M’Cheyne wrote in his diary on the fifteenth of February 1835, “To-morrow I undergo my trials before the Presbytery.” He was going to go through one of these examinations prior to his ordination. “I go through my trials.” “May God give me courage in the hour of need. What should I fear? If God see [fit] to put me into the ministry, who shall keep me back? If I be not [fit], why should I … thrust forward? To [your] service I desire to dedicate myself over and over again.”[1]

And Matthew has given testimony here tonight to the unmistakable conviction that God has called him to this particular task. The call of God has both an inward dimension to it, to which he testifies, and also an outward element to it, which has been our privilege, both as a church leadership and as a congregation, to, over these fourteen or more years, recognize the gifts that God has given to Matt. And so, when we focus in this way, we do so with great purpose.

And I want just to spend the balance of these moments thinking about what it means to be expressly called to the task of pastor and teacher—for I take it that this is actually one office and not two. The call to shepherd the people of God and to teach the Word of God is a distinct and special calling because of the place that it has in the spiritual well-being of Christ’s flock. It is no exaggeration to say that the gifts of a pastor-teacher are gifts of the ascended Christ to his people. He has poured out his gifts from heaven, and one of the gifts that he has given is this role of the pastor and the teacher. And it is directly linked, as we saw in our reading, to the maturity, to the growth, and to the usefulness of the church. And as I say, this one office has, if you like, twin tasks. Let me identify them, point them out.

Number one, a minister, or a pastor, the servant of Christ and the servant of his people, is first of all a shepherd. That means that he must know the flock so that he has a sense of where they are spiritually, relationally, in terms of their understanding of the Bible and of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the objective in being called to that shepherding role is so that they may be, in their fellowship and engagement with their pastor, encouraged, comforted, urged, warned—not all of those things all of the time, but each of these things as necessary. And in each circumstance that gives rise to that kind of encouragement and exhortation, the objective is not simply that the pastor becomes friends with everybody, because he can’t and he won’t. But it is that the pastor is prepared to help everybody to grow in grace and to grow in a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.[2]

Secondly, a minister who is a servant of Christ and a servant of his people is not only a shepherd but a teacher, as it says here. The sheep require good pasture. And the pasture of God’s Word has to be presented in a way that is balanced, spiritual, heartwarming, so that the sheep themselves are nourished, they’re encouraged in their commitment to Christ and in their growth to maturity. So the good pastor provides the best pasture by means of sound instruction. The good pastor provides the best pasture by means of sound instruction. He’s not called to be a storyteller. He’s not called to go into the Bible and produce magic tricks out of a hat. He’s not called to be liked by everyone. He’s called to lead the church, along with his fellow leaders, in such a way that on the day when each one stands before God, they may be able to testify to the fact that Matt McAlvey was to them both a shepherd and a teacher.

Now, the New Testament clearly employs a number of other descriptions that amplify what it means to be both a shepherd and a teacher. It’s not my purpose to use up time this evening to identify them, except just to point out two: that the pastor is to be like a father, Paul says when he writes to the Thessalonians, in the encouragement that he gives to his children to aim at their best and to aim at their highest; and interestingly, the pastor is also to be like a mother, like a mother with her young children, who gets down to where they are, who speaks to them with gentleness and with care.[3] And the pastor also has a responsibility to be a watchman or a guardian, along the lines of Acts chapter 20. “I want you,” says Paul to the Ephesian elders, “to make sure that you tend the flock of God that is in your charge, realizing that after my departure there will be all these kinds of spiritual wolves that will come around. And therefore, you watch out for them, teach them, guard them, guide them, help them, warn them.”[4]

The good pastor provides the best pasture by means of sound instruction.

And so, a night like tonight is a bit like getting married in some ways. It’s the first step on a journey that hopefully, in marriage, will be a long and happy marriage, and in pastoral ministry, we hope for Matt that it’s going to be a long and fruitful ministry. And unless he’s peculiar in ways that I haven’t yet identified, it’s almost inevitable that the pastor will have occasion along the routine journey of life—on a difficult Sunday night, on a rainy Monday morning, when the letters have come that have suggested that he would be better serving in another place a long, long way away from where he happens to be—in the midst of all of that, the pastor will almost inevitably find himself at least being buffeted by the thought, “I wonder, do I have any assurance of the very genuine nature of my call? I mean, have I missed the point here? How do I know that what I said that night in September of 2015 was all genuine?” and so on. Well, the work of the Holy Spirit to encourage and enable us is there at our disposal, but I want to suggest to you—and I’m only going to mention, don’t be alarmed when I tell you there are four—but I want to suggest to you that that sense of assurance will come about as a result of four things.

Number one, by recognizing as a pastor that all of our gifts belong not to ourselves but to Christ and to his people. The gifts that have been given to us have not been given for us. They have been given for them. Therefore, if you are enabled with language and gifted in teaching, it has not been given to the individual in order that he might enjoy the sound of his own voice, in order that he might voice his own opinions, as it were. No, they have been given so that as we administer the grace of God in its various forms, we will appreciate the fact that our gifts are God given, and therefore they are a trust.

Secondly, confirming our sense of calling, realizing that when we speak, we will do so as Peter says in 1 Peter 4, as uttering the very words of God.[5] I think it’s Calvin or Luther who says, “What a mystery it is that the salvation of one individual depends on the voice of another!” How can this possibly be? Because we are entrusted with the opportunity to proclaim the gospel, the very words of God. Therefore, we will not want to impress our opinions upon people, but rather to make it our high and holy calling to release the Word of God into the lives of those who are under our care. We will not be mindful of our own authority, because our God-given sense of call will itself authenticate our ministry.

Thirdly, assured of a sense of call as we become increasingly aware of the fact that we’re not here to please men but to please God. It’s a real snare when in pastoral ministry, the pastor determines the only way he can function is if everybody likes him. I don’t know anybody that everybody likes. Certainly not pastors. And so we have to realize that the accolades we look for take place in secret, in silent places, in unheralded venues, so that the pastor learns not to look to the congregation for human praise. It’s a dreadful tyranny. We will not despise either the praise or the appreciation of God’s people, but we have to make sure that they are not what we seek nor do they become the criterion of what we should do.

The last Gaelic-speaking minister of the Presbyterian Church in Newmilns in Ayrshire in Scotland wrote the hymn that begins, “Courage, brothers, do not stumble.” And he must have been having a bad week. And one of the stanzas in the hymn I think will be known to Matthew, because we’ve quoted it at the pastoral team:

Some will love thee, some will hate thee,
Some will praise thee, some will slight;
Cease from man and look above thee:
Trust in God and do what’s right.[6]

And in that there is safety.

I can’t remember who it was who, on the occasion of being called into a particular sphere of pastoral ministry, at the event made clear to the congregation with this sentence: “I will be your servant, but you will never be my master.” “I will be your servant, but you will never be my master.” For we all have only one Master, and that Master is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the head of the church.

Fourthly and finally, a sense of the ongoing genuine nature of our call as we serve God with the strength he provides, that in all things he may be praised through our Lord Jesus Christ. When we think about this and when we think about all that is before Matt and the team that will be there, for whom we’ll pray in a moment or two, after Communion, we want to make sure that we are praying along biblical lines—praying for Matt that he will be an example to the flock amongst whom he serves, as Paul says to Timothy, “in speech, in [life], in love, in faith, in purity,”[7] so that whatever the flock has learned or received or seen in him, they may be able to put into practice with confidence.[8]

That’s enough, except just to say this: every pastor needs a wife, if for no other reason than to keep him humble. And God has been very good to Matthew in this regard. Not that he needs particular help in this area, because I don’t believe he does. But it is worth saying, it is purposeful, for me to acknowledge before you and in Matt’s company that Beth is not only your best friend, your wife, your partner in prayer, your encourager in disappointment, and your one particular reminder to check your ego when you come in the front door. It really is a peculiar world that you enter. And the place of Beth is so vital, so huge. It’s not possible to state the depth that’s involved in that.

And so, with you, Matt, I want to pray, as I pray now before we share in Communion, that your love for one another will abound and grow more and more; that your boys will never, ever doubt that; and that within the framework of all that God has given to you and will provide for you, the fact that Beth is at your side… She doesn’t need to be playing the piano or singing solos. She just has to be there in your bed when you come home. She has to be there at breakfast when you waken. She has to be by your side. And to the extent that she is, then it will be all the easier for you to do what we always say to each other we must do: “Keep your head …, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,” and “discharge all the duties of your ministry.”[9]

Let us pray:

God our Father, thank you so much for the fact that we have the Bible to which we can turn, and it lays out for us what it means to be elders. And we thank you that the distinction that is there in 1 Timothy 5 between those who labor in the Word and in doctrine, and all together who are apt to teach, so that as we share in this night, we bless you and praise you for the gifts that you’ve poured out upon your church and given to one another. And we pray now that as we have the opportunity to break bread together, as we’re led in prayer, as we share this cup, that it may just be a wonderful approbation, it may be a wonderful expression of all that fills our hearts on a night like this, in gratitude to you for your grace poured out. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


[1] Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: William Oliphant, 1869), 37.

[2] See 2 Peter 3:18.

[3] See 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11–12.

[4] Acts 20:28–31 (paraphrased).

[5] See 1 Peter 4:11.

[6] Norman MacLeod, “Courage, Brother, Do Not Stumble” (1857). Lyrics lightly altered.

[7] 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV).

[8] See Philippians 4:9.

[9] 2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV).

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.