“When we step on the battlefield, I will be the first boots on and the last boots off.” Lt. General Hal Moore spoke these words to the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Calvary Division prior to the Battle of la Drang Valley in Vietnam in 1965. It was his promise to not ask his men to endure anything he was not willing to persevere through himself. He was their commander and leader. Yet, he saw himself as one of them. He kept his promise, never leaving his outnumbered troops, leading them to victory, and flying out on the last transport from the field. He was elevated to an office over them, but he was among them as they fought and struggled.
Paul addresses the elevated office of the shepherd/teacher whose role is to equip the saints for ministry and build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11–12). We cannot separate this role from the context and the theme of unity in Paul’s letter. This unity identifies the pastor as one member of the whole body under the headship of Christ (4:15–16). Additionally, Peter gives the exhortation for elders to “shepherd the flock of God” in a similar context. These elders/shepherds are “among” the body of Christ (1Pet 5:1–3). Scripture clearly reveals that unity with the body and being among those we lead are the very nature of the office of pastor. This has to inform the way we approach the pulpit. I want to make three statements to help us think about the pastor’s role as a church member.
We are one of them. Yes, God has called us to the high office of pastor. However, He saved us and set us among the saints before He established us to preach and oversee them. Our hearts should be filled with humility and fear of the Lord when we stand before the saints to declare the things of God. We have to view the pulpit as a privilege granted to us by those we lead. Fellow believers consider us worthy to speak to them on behalf of the King. They allow us, under the grace of God, to stand before them each week to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2Tim 4:2). The reprove, rebuke, and exhortation of the King must apply to us before we deliver it to them. Remember, prior to ascending to the pulpit, we stood among them because we are one of them, sinners saved by the blood and under the authority of Jesus Christ.
We are one with them. For us to be one with them requires some vulnerability. We have to responsibly share our lives, our shortcomings, and our struggles with the members of our church. We build relationships that help us oversee the flock. We listen, feel their frustrations, hurts, sufferings, joys, and experience their failures and successes with them. If we do this well, they will receive our preaching as a passionate plea for “us” and “we” to respond in obedience to the King together as one, and not an executive order given from “me” to “you.” It communicates that we are striving for holiness together and pursuing righteousness as one. We are in the same battle and will not leave them on the field prematurely. We will stand with them through good and bad. We commit to rescue them and mend wounds when they need it, and we expect them to do all the same for us.
We are one for them. All believers are to love one another and put the interests of others above our own. We as pastors must excel at this because the office comes with accountability for the souls of those we lead (Heb 13:17). Only the Lord Jesus should be more invested in their spiritual wellbeing, salvation, and sanctification than we are. When we see ourselves as one of them and live among them as one who is with them, they will trust us and we can be for them without their groaning. In this we all find joy and advantage in Jesus. We can rise from among them to declare the Word of the Savior, stand united with them, and, whatever the text demands of us all, we can plead for their submission to Christ with confidence because they will know we’ve submitted first and we want God’s best for them.
The Chief Shepherd may elevate us in an office to oversee his flock, but He intends for us to be among them in the mission. After all, He set the example when He left the glory of heaven to take on flesh and be among us that He might save us. May we honor the King and His people as we lead among them.
Tim Wheeless is the Senior Pastor of Cross Family Church in Parker, Colorado.