The Pastor: His Role and Responsibilities

Address delivered by
His Grace Bishop Demetri
to the attendees of the Antiochian House of Studies
September 6, 2000 – Ligonier, PA

We have now spent these days together, preparing ourselves in this “House of Studies” for the sole purpose of fulfilling the ministry that God has given to each of us. I have witnessed this week your dedication to serve God through His calling for you, and I want to assure you that your efforts are pleasing to Him, because you must be dedicated, zealous, pious, humble, and well-formed in your training to approach the priestly calling . . . to be priests in this third millennium.

My beloved in Christ, the priests of this new era will, through their preaching, direction, and pastoral focus, will bring the leadership that is needed to the parishes of our God-protected Archdiocese to meet the challenges that must be met in the decades ahead. Each must be attentive to the role and responsibility he assumes when he is given the awesome responsibility of shepherding a flock.

The pastoral vocation is the vocation of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who unselfishly and lovingly offered Himself “for the life of the world”. Through His life of preaching, teaching, healing, and self-emptying love, He reveals that the vocation of all people, but especially of His priestly servants, that is, to offer themselves to others in love. It is in this pastoral love — a love shown to all — that the Kingdom of God is revealed and proclaimed to the world. But this great and Godly love must always be accompanied by action. This is the foundation for the work of a pastor.

What are the responsibilities that define the role of the pastor?

First, the pastor shepherds God’s flock . . . We read in 1 Peter (1:1-4), “Shepherd the flock which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly . . .”. The image of the pastor as “shepherd” and the Body of Christ as the pastor’s “flock” is very instructive when we consider the work of a real shepherd.

A real shepherd is born to his task. He is sent out with his flock as soon as he is old enough to go, at an age when the sheep become his friends and companions, and when it becomes second nature to think of them before thinking of himself.

At certain times of the year, when the shepherd was in the mountains, shepherding was a dangerous occupation. To defend the flock the shepherd sometimes had to risk his life. This is a hands-on work, this work of a shepherd. If a man isn’t willing to get his hands dirty, so to speak, dealing with the problems of people, he should not be given this responsibility

Our Lord, speaking of one of the important characteristics of a good shepherd is that he knows each of the sheep of his flock, even by name . . . “the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.” (John 10:3).

We see that the pastor as the “shepherd” of his flock must do his work cheerfully and willingly, without regard to personal ambition or risk – the welfare of the flock is of prime importance. It is this close relationship between the shepherd and flock that is a reflection of Our Lord. Of this, Our Lord said “I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

A second responsibility of the pastor is to be an example to his flock, not lording over them . . . Reading from 1 Peter again, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”

A pastor cannot use his position of responsibility with a heavy hand. He cannot use his office to get his own selfish way or press his own personal convictions, or his family’s convictions, by force. When he enters the priesthood, he leaves selfish desires and personal agendas behind. He lives for the will of God, and the good of the Church and his flock.

Again looking at the image of real shepherds, it is interesting to note that they always led their sheep, and did not drive them. The shepherd was out in front of his flock. If there was danger ahead, he stood between it and the sheep. If they were afraid, the way he dispelled their fear was to move ahead in the face of the danger himself. The sheep followed because they trusted him, not because he forced them.

There is no place for the pastor whose life is a poor example of what he teaches. The “do as I say, not as I do” person is certainly not a candidate for the priesthood or the right person to take on the responsibilities of a pastor. Neither is one who tends to be a tyrant or a dictator.

Within the pastor’s area of responsibility is also the need to teach . . . The pastor must be one who is devoted to teaching. He is a teacher by his words and by his example. In this way he feeds the flock.

The criterion and purpose in the work of preaching must be God’s pleasure. It is towards this goal that the pastor’s teaching must be directed. To effectively realize the purpose of his teaching, there are two indispensable qualifications – humility and fluency in speaking – both of which are an advantage to the pastor himself as well as to his community. The preacher is worthy of his mission only when he possesses both of these qualifications. Absence of one or the other detracts from the priest’s effectiveness as a teacher.

The pastor’s responsibility is also to stand against false teaching and false teachers . . . St. Paul admonished the pastors of Ephesus in Acts (20:28-31), “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert…”

Shepherds constantly scan the horizon for predators of the flock. Wolves and wild cats were nearly constantly lurking around the edges of the flock, watching for a weak or wandering sheep to get beyond protective range of the shepherd.

The shepherd carried something called a “rod” for occasions like that. In the 23rd Psalm, we read “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The rod was a club, usually cut with a ball on one end that was embedded with sharp slivers of bone or metal. The shepherd could hurl this weapon with deadly accuracy over the heads of the sheep. Predators knew not to get too close.

St. Paul told Titus that the pastor must be one who can “exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.” He warned, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers… who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach…” (Titus 1:9-11).

It takes a man of both knowledge and courage to do that.

The pastor must also manage God’s Church . . . St. Paul told Timothy that the pastor must be one who “manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim 3:4-5)

A pastor must be an effective planner. His daily thoughts are upon managing God’s flock in a way that their needs are cared for. In the physical realm, sheep need food, water, exercise, rest, sometimes medical attention, and protection. The shepherd must plan to balance these needs. There are the needs of the new lambs, the older, producing sheep, and the aged ones. He will manage the resources of the flock so that all are cared for.

A good manager also accepts responsibility for the actions of those he manages. He doesn’t shift blame. If something is wrong in the flock, he considered it his concern, his responsibility.

A vitally important responsibility of the pastor is to visit and pray for the sick . . . “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” (James 5:13-15)

With the weight of these vital responsibilities, what would motivate a person to take them on and be a pastor. I believe the motivation to be a pastor comes from several sources:

The first is the great and ever-present need. Spiritual men usually have a hard time ignoring the needs of God’s people. They want to do what they can to help. A good candidate for the office of pastor will be one who recognizes this need.

Secondly, the men called to the priesthood love God and His Church. Our Lord’s work is their work . . . and Our Lord’s concerns are their life. The number one issue of the pastor’s life is Christ and His church.

Finally, I believe that God places a burden of responsibility upon them that they cannot ignore. If a man knows he is qualified and sees the desperate need, he will feel that calling and respond to it.

In spite of these motives to serve, I believe that any man coming to this office ought to feel just a little bit daunted by the magnitude of the task. Hearing the description of the work and responsibilities of a pastor, one might think that it is too big for any man. Without the help of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, in his life, and without the help of the other shepherds working with him, the task truly is too big. With that help, though, a qualified man who desires the work will be able to do what God calls him to do. I am confident that God never calls anyone to a task that he cannot do.

Our Lord charged His apostles to continue His Ministry and to care for and guide His flock. St. Paul writes to Bishop Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you” (1 Timothy 4:14

May God guide and help you as you continue on your path to the priesthood and your work as pastors.