I tell small group leaders this all the time. I’m not always sure they believe me. Or perhaps they think I’m trying to validate them or make them feel important, but I don’t really mean it. But if you are a small group leader, I have an announcement for you: YOU ARE A PASTOR.
Maybe you’re still skeptical. “Thanks for the encouragement. It’s cute. But pastors are seminary-trained professional Christians. They preach, administer sacraments, have ministerial status from the IRS, and receive a paycheck from a church. None of that applies to me. You surely don’t really think I’m a pastor.”
Oh, but I do. And I expect you to take this seriously
In fact, most of the pastors in the early centuries of the church did the same stuff you do as a small group leader. They had people over to their home regularly – not random people, but a small core of individuals or families who were committed to the group. They ate food, sang together, shared scripture, and prayed together. Then they spent hours in dialogue about the mission of God and the teachings of Jesus, and what that meant for them.
As they met in each other’s homes they were devoted to one another (Rom. 12:1). This means they accepted each other (Rom. 15:7), were patient with each other (Eph. 4:2), honored each other (Rom. 12:10), forgave each other (Eph. 4:32), instructed each other (Rom. 15:14), carried each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encouraged each other (1 Thess. 4:18), prayed for each other (James 5:16), confessed sin with each other (James 5:16), and spurred each other towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).
That sounds like the kind of stuff that happens with your small group.
Or it should.
And the people who led these small groups – these gospel communities or house churches – were pastors.
Most of these pastors were employed elsewhere; they didn’t receive a paycheck from their group. They didn’t have a church office. They didn’t have a seminary degree. (They could read Greek, but that’s only because it was their native tongue.) Truth be told, none of those things are required to be a pastor.
Let’s cut to the chase. What are pastors supposed to do?
First let’s talk qualifications. Pastors are expected to be mature and trustworthy, faithful to their family, hospitable, and display blameless character (Titus 1:5-9). If you can commit to this Christ-like lifestyle, you can be a good pastor.
Next, let’s talk responsibilities. Pastors are required to be in disciple-making relationships with their people. That means the people in this group are being equipped to do ministry and make disciples as they mature into fully devoted followers of Jesus (Eph. 4:11-16). If you are willing to lead and equip your group this way, you can be a great pastor.
Finally, let’s talk roles. This is surprising to some, but the word “pastor” never occurs in your New Testament. It’s written that way in English, but the title is translated from three different Greek words: Shepherd, Overseer, and Elder. These three terms sum up the job description of an excellent pastor. A shepherd knows his flock, cares for their souls, and equips them for ministry. An overseer monitors the health of his/her people (Acts 20:28), manages the group (1 Tim. 3:1-5), and leads (Philip. 1:1). An elder exhibits model character (Titus 1:5-9) and offers spiritual guidance (1 Tim. 4:11-16).
Good pastors live Christ-like personal lives.
Great pastors equip and lead.
Excellent pastors exercise shepherding, oversight, and eldership.
It’s time to pastor
As a pastor who leads dozens of pastors, I am humbled to partner in ministry with you. I don’t know your group very well, but you can. I can’t shepherd your group, but you can. I can’t lead your group, but you can. I can’t have real, individual conversations with each person in your group about their place in the mission of God, but you can. In short, I cannot pastor your small group. Only you can do that.
Take time to meditate on or memorize the following texts. Pastoring is an awesome opportunity and an enormous responsibility.
“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. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:28–31, ESV)
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:5–9, NIV)
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1–4, ESV)
“It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, NET)