Have you ever had a verse of Scripture grip you? Has a verse stayed in your mind so firmly that you were seemingly prevented from turning your attention to other things? As I reflect on pastoring a church, there is one verse that I continue to mull over. It is Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (ESV).
A Sacred Calling
While one focus of this verse is about the obedience and submissiveness of church members to their leaders, what strikes me is the reason why Christians are commanded to this lifestyle in the church. It is because God provides local churches with pastors who are called to keep watch over the souls of all those belonging to the church. God has established the church office of pastor to set apart shepherds who will keep watch over His sheep.
So this is a sacred calling, since no one should step into this office without God choosing him for this ministry. God is the one who appoints pastors; churches simply recognize whom He has called to serve them. At the same time, we see what pastors are called to do: keep watch over the souls of those God entrusts to their care. What a consuming ministry! A shepherd must not let down his guard in watching over sheep, but he must constantly keep them from dangers, care for them, and love them. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, a pastor must hold firm to the trustworthy Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).
Since pastors keep watch over souls, we also see the importance of biblical church membership and the practice of church discipline. Which souls are pastors called to keep watch over? Those who are members of their local church. How can pastors keep watch over the souls of those whom they never see? The membership roll is far more than a list of names—it reveals the souls of those whom God has given pastors to keep watch over. Pastors must not only see church members, but know them, nourish them, pray for them, and serve them.
A Solemn Responsibility
However, it is at this point in the text that I become uncomfortable. It says, they will have to “give an account.” Not only are pastors called by God to keep watch over the souls of those under their care, but He will hold them accountable for how well they do in carrying out this responsibility. Let us pause to think about this for a moment. Pastors will be held accountable by God for how well they keep watch over the souls of their church members!
Pastors will be accountable to God for their ministry. After all, the Chief Shepherd has entrusted the care and well-being of His sheep to pastors. We should expect nothing less from pastors in light of Christ’s own example of deep love for His sheep. He has given pastors the responsibility to faithfully lead His church, until the day when we will dwell with Him forever.
With God’s judgment of my leadership coming, what hope do I have as a sinner who often fails to carry out this responsibility? I have Christ as my Savior, who forgives me of my sin, cleanses me of all unrighteousness, and empowers me through His Holy Spirit to serve Him and His church. I cannot shepherd in my own strength, but the Spirit provides me with everything I need to keep watch over the souls that He has given to me. I proclaim His Word, in His power, for His glory and the good of His church. I look to Christ so that I can carry out the ministry that He gives pastors until He returns, when I will give an account of His grace and mercy working through me as His humble servant.
Am I Ready to Pastor?
As I reflect upon this verse, I ask myself: “Am I ready for this?” I am certainly not ready to serve in this sacred calling with this solemn responsibility apart from Christ. Without His involvement and blessing, all of my efforts in leading His church are worthless. I would just be spinning my wheels while the brakes remain locked in place, not making any progress while damaging the vehicle.
But with Christ growing me to become more like Him and enabling me to use the gifts and skills that He has provided me with, my prayer is that I will be able to glorify Him through serving His church as a pastor. And I pray that He will raise up many men who will keep watch over the souls of many churches spreading throughout the world, as those who will have to give an account.