The Pastor as Father to His Family and Flock

Desiring God 2008 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor as Father & Son

(The following is a summary from notes taken during the message.)

Is it artificial to call a pastor the father of his flock? It wasn't for Paul (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

There are a number of parallels between fathering a family and fathering a church. Both require:

1) Training and teaching the whole counsel of God.

This is evident in Proverbs and Nehemiah 8-9. We must always be attentive to bringing up our families in the instruction of the Lord. We must not delegate it to another person. Our children must never think that reading and teaching the Bible is for women and children only. Neither should our church (Acts 20:27).

2) Wielding authority.

This is part of leading. Leading doesn't involve teaching only, though that is the heart of it. There is also oversight. That's why, in the New Testament, pastors are also called elders and overseers. The sermon isn't an end in the work of pastoral ministry. It is only the means to an end.

Matthew 20:20-28. We are to reject authority as it is used by earthly rulers. Rather, we are to use it as Christ himself uses it. What's the difference? Pagan authorities want to rule because they like to rule, they like having the limelight. It is very rare to find a person who doesn't let their authority go to their heads.

Jesus, however, doesn't have to fight for his position, because the Father has given it to him. His authority is exercised in such spectacular self-giving, for the sake of others.

Where a minister is giving himself transparently, for the good of others, it is remarkable how much authority he begins to accrue to himself.

3) Exercising compassionate love.

This is evident for the home in Paul's exhortation to not exasperate his children (Ephesians 6:4). For the church, it is evident in 1 Timothy 5:1-2.

4) Disciplining.

This includes admonishing and rebuking. It also includes excommunicating in the cases of 1) major doctrinal sin, 2) major moral sin, or 3) having a continual schismatic attitude and behavior. It's done for the sake of the individual, that he might be saved on the last day. It is also done for the good of the whole body.

Church discipline can be a bitter thing, with no sweet taste at the end. But there are cases where the reconciliation can be wonderfully encouraging and refreshing.

Disciplining is necessary in the home as well. If a man does not know how to rule his own house, he has no right to rule in the church.

5) Having flexibility.

Different approaches to teaching and leading are needed according to the situations of your family members and people. Fathers must adapt their teaching methods as their children grow older.

That is true of pastors as well. Churches must be able to wratchet up the teaching so that they can give meat to those who have outgrown milk.

6) Enduring hardship.

7) Persevering.

8) Being a mentor.

Play games with your children. Laugh at yourself. Invest yourself into the lives of the next generation of leaders and saints. Some of you who are older ought to be looking for younger men to invest in. And those who are younger ought to seek out mentors.

9) Fostering independence.

You don't want everyone's health to be contingent upon you. The aim is to build maturity.

10) Spending time with people.

This means talking with them, listening to them, and taking them out to lunch. For your earthly children it means going bow-hunting and pistol-shooting with them, if that's what they like to do.

is emeritus professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member of The Gospel Coalition, and the author of How Long, O Lord?