Over many years of serving churches as a missionary-pastor, I have often contemplated the question of what it really means to have a pastor’s heart. Now that I have moved from active pastoral ministry in a church to the role of District Representative, I get to visit many churches and dialogue with many of our missionary-pastors. As I listen to them share the burdens they carry in their hearts, I am reminded again of how important a pastor’s heart really is.
In Jeremiah 3:15, as God was calling the nation of Israel back to repentance, he told them, “And I will give you shepherds [pastors] after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (ESV) The word translated as “pastor” throughout the Bible is the term “shepherd.” So what does the heart of a shepherd look like? There are many good books that have been written on this subject, and much that could be said, but I would like to suggest three words that characterize a “Pastor’s heart.”
In Ephesians 4:11, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the church has been given certain gifted people for its edification and equipping for ministry, of which one is pastors or shepherds. The heart of a truly effective pastor is guided by a sense of God’s calling on his life. He knows that he is serving his church, not because he is special, but because God has placed him there and given him certain gifts for the task. There is an attitude of humility and selflessness that is rooted in the call of God on his life. And it is that calling that keeps a pastor strong in the face of the struggles and difficult times in ministry.
In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul makes a statement that says a great deal about a pastor’s heart. He was not the pastor of a church, but he felt the responsibility for many churches that were under his care. As he talked about the persecutions and the torments he had faced, he added this thought, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:28 ESV) The heart of a pastor is burdened by the things that burden the people under his care. When others hurt, he hurts. His desire is to come alongside and carry the burdens of others. Not because he is compelled to, but because he is empathetic to the needs of others.
In Acts 20:17-35, we read Paul’s words of wisdom and guidance to the elders of the church in Ephesus. In his message he reminds those pastoral leaders that they need to be concerned about the dangers facing the flock of God. It is a shepherd’s responsibility to protect the flock from dangerous wolves and other attackers. The pastor’s heart is very protective of those under his care. When he sees them make bad choices, his heart aches and he reaches out to guide them back onto the right path. When false teaching threatens his church, he warns the flock about the error and faithfully preaches the truth to protect them from being led astray.
A Village Missionary’s Heart
As I listen to our Village Missionaries share their joys and struggles, their satisfaction and disappointments, I see the pastor’s heart shining through their stories. We are blessed to have so many missionary couples who are convinced of their calling to the ministry, who are compassionate as they reach out to hurting people, and are concerned and protective of those under their care. May the Lord raise up many more missionary-pastors after God’s heart.
by Gordon Rowland
District Representative for the Prairie Provinces