Citified folks have sometimes been observed to confuse the words pastor and pasture (sort of the way you sometimes hear people switch cavalry and Calvary.) That’s understandable when two words look and sound kind of similar – and particularly when they’re words we don’t use real often (rural people almost never confuse a pastor with a pasture!) But here’s the thing – there actually IS a strong connection between pastor and pasture! (And yes, it does relate to the pun in the title!)
Pastor is a Latin word which literally means ‘shepherd.’ The word pasture derives from a related Latin word pāstūra, which means “a grazing place.” So both words relate to ovine husbandry (i.e., sheep farming)! And do we need to explain that ‘ewe’ (pronounced ‘you’) is the term for a (female) sheep? It’s obviously a pretty lame pun that requires that much explanation! But that aside: let’s talk about Pastors. More specifically, what’s a Pastor’s role and how are we to relate to them?
There is no specific Biblical definition of the office of Pastor, but Jesus used the model of the shepherd with respect to his own ministry (John 10:14) and also that of His followers. In one of His last resurrection appearances, Jesus instructed Peter to “Feed my lambs … Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17) This image of shepherding is reflected by the Apostle Paul’s final instructions to the elders of the congregation in Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28).
Sometime around 400 AD, Saint Augustine described the pastor’s job in a sermon:
“Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low-spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, litigants pacified, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with, and all are to be loved.”
There are two particularly notable things about this description of the Pastor’s role: (1) It involves the exercise of both authority and compassion; and (2) all of the flock is to be loved – including disturbers, objectors, the treacherous, the lazy, the contentious, the haughty, and the litigious! (What a job description!) What’s perhaps most interesting to a modern reader is that Augustine doesn’t specifically mention preaching, administration, or social skills – the qualities we lay-people tend to think of first. But Augustine’s definition of the Pastor’s role is completely consistent with the job description of a sheep herder in that it’s intended to assure the well-being of the ones being herded, even though it may not conform to their preferences! It’s instructive to note that the ‘crook’ (curved staff) traditionally carried by a shepherd was not only used as a weapon to fight off predators, but also as a hook to snag a wayward sheep – an operation invariably accompanied by a lot of distressed bleating! So it may be with a Pastor who is truly shepherding his/her flock. Perhaps we should pay more attention that the title is sheep-herder – NOT sheep-leader, sheep-coach, or sheep-schmoozer! Not that those qualities aren’t important and something we look for in our Pastors, but getting the flock safely home is the main thing – whatever that takes!
Though it is popular in many churches today to “hire a Preacher,” the Lutheran tradition is to “call a Pastor.” This isn’t just semantics, but reflects the depth of our understanding of the Pastor’s role. In the ancient tradition of the shepherd, our Pastor is indeed a “hired hand” who serves the owner. But we recognize that ultimately it is not us who own our flock, but our Savior. Thus, we ask God’s Holy Spirit to guide us in the process of selecting our Shepherd and then “extend a call” which we understand as a call from Christ to serve His Church. Yes, the Pastor is certainly accountable to the congregation, but that accountability is to be the shepherd who faithfully guides and protects the property of the Good Shepherd, who purchased His sheep at great cost.