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Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | Comments (11)

by John MacArthur

Many of my favorite people are pastors. I grew up the son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor. And after more than four decades of my own pastoral ministry, and many years of training young men for their own, I think I have a good understanding of a pastor’s heart—both his joys and his struggles.

These days, my heart aches for pastors.

It aches because today their job is as difficult as it has ever been. We live in an anti-authority culture—one that has lost all respect for people in positions of authority and influence. The modern mindset is to tear down everybody and everything. It’s a destructive culture, driven by fierce pride and runaway self-esteem. It seems very few pastors are run out of their churches over bad sermons or ineffective ministry—usually, they’re run out by a person or a group contending for power and authority.

That difficulty is compounded by the intimidation of massive media ministries and celebrity preachers on TV, the Internet, and in flat-screen churches all over the country. Pastors today are told they need to embody an entrepreneurial spirit—that they need to grow their churches the way you would grow a business. They hear a lot about needing to impact the culture and engage the community, and they get all kinds of pragmatic advice on how to accomplish that. They’re told they need to reach beyond the church and revolutionize society. In fact, it seems much of the modern pastor’s work is supposed to take place outside the church.

That’s a discouraging, disheartening message for men who love the church and have given their lives in service to God’s people. It’s also unbiblical. Pastors have one job. They’re not called to be cultural evangelists, entrepreneurs, or revolutionaries. They’re called to faithfully feed the flock of God. They’re called to be shepherds.

Consider the apostle Peter’s instruction to church leaders in 1 Peter 5:1-2.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 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.

The solemn duty of every pastor is to feed God’s sheep. And as a pastor, the day you let your eyes move beyond the people sitting in your church is the day you’ve lost your purpose.

The focus of pastoral ministry is not the people outside the church, and it’s not drawing unbelievers to the church. The focus is on the people inside the church—the flock the Lord has sovereignly drawn together and entrusted into the care of a shepherd. The pastor has been set apart, as the apostle Paul put it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

Pastors are not called to the culture, and we’re not called to the unconverted. We have been mandated to feed our flocks so they can grow spiritually. We’re called to serve the redeemed people of God as an agent of sanctification and protection. The measure of a man’s effectiveness in ministry is not the number of people in his congregation every week—it’s the Christlikeness of his congregation.

Over the next few days we’re going to take a closer look at what Scripture says about the marks of an excellent pastor. We’ve timed this new series to coincide with Grace Community Church’s Shepherds’ Conference, which begins today. More than three thousand pastors from all over the globe have gathered to be taught, encouraged, and refreshed to go back and continue faithfully feeding their own flocks. Let me encourage you to watch along with the conference, streaming live online at Regardless of your role in your local congregation, I know the next several days will provide you with rich insight into God’s Word and lasting spiritual encouragement.


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#1  Posted by Samuel Selvaraj  |  Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 1:17 AM

Could you provide the streaming live link to the shepherds conference.

#2  Posted by Paul DeVall  |  Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:31 AM

Thank you for this reminder Dr. MacArthur. As the pastor of a small rural church who sometimes feels the pressure to increase the numbers of the congregation, I needed this reminder of what my role is -- To feed the flock.

#3  Posted by Dede Loshinsky  |  Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:02 AM

Thank you for making the conference available streaming live online. My husband, our pastor and another pastor friend are in attendance. How exciting as a wife/helpmate to be able to watch along with them to better know how to pray for and encourage our men. I am praying for God to richly bless each man's time at the conference - that our Holy and Awesome God, His precious Son our Lord Jesus, and His powerful Holy Spirit will be GLORIFIED. And that His "sharper than any two edged sword" WORD will be powerfully proclaimed. Praying with thanksgiving from a grateful heart. Thank you for a trustworthy ministry! To God be THE GLORY!

#4  Posted by Jennifer Phillips  |  Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Thank you for a very timely message that will likely encourage pastors everywhere to get back on track and avoid the distractions and marketing gimmicks that pull their attention away from focusing on the people God has brought to them. I would imagine this change in direction would be liberating for them to have that singular focus. As I have heard John MacArthur say many times in the past, he focuses on the depth and leaves the breadth to God. I pray God will encourage the men at the Shepherd's Conference to renew their faithfulness to that sole purpose and trust God with the results.

#5  Posted by Scott Sorum  |  Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:27 AM

Dear John & GTY staff,

Couldn't have said it any better. You willingness to speak out on subjects like this is so needed and warranted. Can't say it enough how appreciative my wife and I for your ministry. We are CONSTANTLY using the resouces made available on your website. Keep up the great work!

#6  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Samuel (#1),

If you click the link above, it will take you to the Shepherds' Conference homepage. You'll see the daily schedule on the right side of the page--the live feed is only available during those sessions, and it should stream on the homepage, or there will be an obvious link to send you to the correct location.

#8  Posted by Elaine Bittencourt  |  Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:11 PM

I am looking forward to reading this series.

And thanks for allowing us to watch the Conference through live stream!


#9  Posted by Jessie Arce  |  Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 9:09 AM

Thank you very much Dr.McArthur for your messages. It really helps me a lot to stay focus and be true the Word of God. Blessings to GTY, to your staff and to your church. I hope to meet you someday.

#10  Posted by Chris Arnold  |  Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 1:10 PM

I have attended a well known Southern California Church for many years. (Still visit occasionally since we have friends there) There was a time when the pastor shifted his emphasis from preaching to writing a book designed to reach the lost. This book became imensely popular wordlwide. I remember, very distinctly, feeling abandoned after comprehending this shift in emphasis. Your letter above seems to be a perfect explanation of what happened and a validation of my thoughts and feelings. Thank you for clarifying what a pastor should be concerned with. I think God gives us internal spiritual discernments like this to help us stay on track.

#11  Posted by Craig Heilman  |  Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 10:20 AM


Thank you so very much for your comments. As a part-time pastor in a small church, it has been difficult to educate the congregation as to my role. I replaced a pastor who every six months was beating on the elder-ship to come up with a growth program. Anything to increase the numbers. My efforts stay focused on feeding the flock. Appreciate the confirmation that I am on the right track.

#12  Posted by Janice Noland  |  Friday, March 15, 2013 at 10:03 AM

As with so many of Pastor MacArthur’s blogs, I enjoy reading the comments just as much as reading the article itself. For all you pastors who are faithfully feeding and shepherding your flock and not giving in to the church-growth programs and the latest gimmicks to pack the pews, God bless you and stay faithful! You are walking uphill against the wind – I know it must be hard. Everyone probably thinks they know your role better than you do. But God is pleased with your obedience and faithfulness. Don’t give up and don’t give in!

We are so blessed to have such a pastor in our church here. He encourages us to do the work of the ministry – support missionaries, evangelize, disciple, serve each other – while he focuses on faithfully, carefully, and systematically teaching us the Word of God using expository preaching. And God has blessed his efforts. As the Holy Spirit would have it, we are growing numerically but we are also growing spiritually which is causing the body as a whole to be more like Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Being a godly shepherd is not glamorous – you’ll probably never be famous or write best-selling books – but in the end you will get a “Well done, my good and faithful servant” from the Lord, which is priceless.