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Can a Church Operate Without a Pastor or Shepherd?

Updated: Feb 8, 2023


Why Do Churches Need Pastors

Churches need Pastors because that is what the Holy Bible teaches in 1st Timothy 3, as well as earlier texts. Further, churches need Pastors for a variety of reasons, both spiritual and practical. Pastors serve as spiritual leaders and guides. This assists God’s people in understanding, and applying, the Word of God to their lives. We also provide comfort, encouragement, and support during difficult times. Two examples could be the loss of a loved one or a personal crisis.

Other practical reasons include providing direction, overseeing worship services, and most of all, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This, dear reader, is what we are born to do. At least, those God really sent (as opposed to careerists with no call from God). Pastors also play a key role in leading new Believers to Christ as the Holy Spirit allows. We also serve as the face of the church and are called upon to represent God’s Kingdom in various public settings.


Here are six (6) other biblical consideration about Shepherds (Pastors):

  • Biblical shepherds are often used as a metaphor for Pastors in the Bible, as they were/are responsible for guiding and caring for their flocks of sheep.

  • In biblical times, sheep were a valuable possession, and shepherds were trusted with their protection and well-being. This responsibility is seen as parallel to the role of Pastors trusted with the spiritual welfare of God’s people.

  • In the Bible, God is often referred to as a shepherd, and this metaphor emphasizes His love, care, and protection.

  • Shepherds were/are expected to lead sheep to safe and abundant pasture just as Pastors are expected to lead their congregations.

  • Shepherding also included watching over the sheep and keeping them safe from danger. Spiritually, Pastors are called to guard God’s people from false teachings.

  • The relationship between a shepherd, and sheep, is one of trust and intimacy. This relationship is seen as a model for the relationship between a Pastor and congregants as well.

  • Pastors are called to love and care for their congregations, just as a shepherd loves and cares for their sheep.

In summary, churches need Pastors because the Bible says so. There is no other method for attending to the needs of those who follow Jesus Christ in a local church setting. Further, Shepherds are charged with the care and protection of God’s Sheep from danger(s).

What if a Church Doesn’t Have a Pastor

There is no more dangerous place than a pastorless church! While it is possible for a church to operate without a Pastor, it can have negative impact on spiritual well-being. There are two (2) sorts of pastorless churches. First is the church where no Pastor has been elected after another leaves. Next is the church where there is an elected leader, but he is compromised in some manner. Pastoring is about spiritual authority. If this does not exist, or in "title" only, that congregation may have a preacher, but not a Shepherd.

We also play a key role in providing comfort, encouragement, and support during difficult times. In the absence of a Pastor, a church will struggle to provide clear direction to its members. This can lead to confusion, division, and a lack of focus. Additionally, without a designated leader, it is difficult to attract new members, build relationships, and experience church mission in its fullness. All these factors contribute to a decline in the health and vitality of a church without a Shepherd leading God’s Sheep.

Here are six (6) scriptures describing absence of a Shepherd/Pastor:

  • Ezekiel 34:4-5: This verse teaches that it is wrong for a Shepherd to not meet the needs of the weak, sick, and not care for God's sheep in general.

  • Zechariah 10:2: Zechariah describes how easily deceived God’s people are without a Shepherd and eventually, they will scatter. Worse, I have found it is most often the church Shepherd who is the one (1) performing deception!

  • Jeremiah 50:6: Jeremiah describes the effects on God’s people of a wayward shepherd leading them.

  • 1st Peter 5:2-3: Peter encourages God’s local leaders to avoid using the sheep for money and to lead in wisdom.

  • John 10:11-13: The Disciple John reminds the reader that the ultimate Good Shepherd is no man, rather Jesus Christ.

  • Hebrews 13:17: This text reminds the sheep to obey spiritual leaders because we must give an account to God for them.

In summary, if a church is without a Pastor or credible leader, it is best to worship somewhere else. As smart and wise as Deacons and other church ministries are, they are not as equipped to lead as they believe.

What Does a Pastor’s Heart Mean

A Pastor’s and Shepherd’s heart is characterized by love, compassion, and a deep sense of responsibility for the congregation. They see themselves as spiritual leaders, guides, and caretakers for those under their charge. Those truly sent by God, approach this with humility, grace, and selflessness.

They are willing to spend time with the people offering counsel, comfort, and encouragement when needed. They are also diligent in their study and application of the Bible, seeking to understand and teach it as the Holy Ghost leads. Above all, he is someone who loves God deeply and is committed to serving Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we fall short of this, and we often do, we run back to God in repentance.

Here are six (6) biblical explanations of a Shepherd’s heart:

  • Shepherds will do whatever is Holy Spirit led to feed God’s sheep and thereby assist in growing faith.

  • We approach this with humility, recognizing that we are merely servants of God and not God Himself.

  • Pastors constantly seek to deepen our understanding of the Bible and to apply its teachings to our own lives.

  • We are gifted with a strong sense of compassion and empathy.

  • Some (not all) are selfless, putting the needs of their congregation before their own. Unfortunately, this often leads to conflict in our own families.

  • They view their role as a calling from God, and they approach their ministry with a sense of urgency and dedication.

In summary, a Pastor’s heart is one (1) which is given by God, for the specific purpose of serving His people. Those who do not have a heart for God’s people, and though they serve a Pastor, could not be sent by Him. Just like in corporate America, there are “bosses” and then there are “leaders”. Let Those Who Have an Ear Hear.

God Holds Pastors to a Higher Standard

Yes, God holds us to a higher standard because of the biblical illumination He has given us. We see God’s Word in a way no one else can or does. As it is written: “to whom much is given, much will also be required”. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul instructs church leaders to be "above reproach" and to lead in a manner that is "above reproach" (1st Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9).

Our actions have a profound impact on the spiritual health and well-being of those we serve. As a result, God holds us to a higher standard of accountability. The Apostle James wrote that most should avoid the office of teacher/Pastor because we will be judged (by God) with greater strictness (James 3:1). Those He calls must strive to live lives that are worthy of the calling they have received. The result is serving God, and thereby His people, with excellence and integrity.

Here are six (6) biblical ideas on our Pastoral accountability:

  • Church leaders are described as "overseers" and "shepherds," indicating their role as spiritual leaders, guides, and caretakers. As a result, we are expected to model virtuous qualities and lead by example.

  • In several passages, Pastors are instructed to be "above reproach" in their personal and professional lives. People know when we are hypocrites and they become discouraged in their walks. God will not hold us harmless for becoming a “stumbling block”.

  • We should be wise and prudent, demonstrating a deep understanding of scripture. The main result of this is teaching God’s people on His expectations of them.

  • The Apostle Paul instructs church leaders to be servants, putting the needs of their congregations before their own. This is sadly lacking as can be gleaned from the condition of the church.

  • Our actions have a profound impact on the spiritual health and well-being of those we serve so it is in genuine faith that we should walk.

  • Whether excellence in lifestyle, or commitment to ongoing repentance, we must “walk worthy of our calling”.

In summary, God biblically holds us, church leader, to a higher standard due to the level of responsibility entrusted to our care. This does not mean He loves us more than anyone else either! It only means according to the “measure of grace” He has provided, we will have to answer in ways most will not on judgment day.

Qualities of a Healthy Pastor

Qualities of a healthy Pastor are strong character, wisdom, discernment, and a deep love for God's people. They are committed to their own spiritual growth and can inspire others as well.

We Pastors balance the demands of leadership with self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Well, we strive too anyway. I have fallen short in this area. As was Jesus, we must be approachable and available to God’s people. Above all, healthy Pastors are humble servants of God who are dedicated to serving Him, and His people, with excellence and integrity.

Here are scriptural explanations of a healthy church leader:

  • Godly character: A healthy church leader is someone who has a Godly character through repentance. We strive to reflect the virtues of Jesus Christ in our personal and professional lives.

  • Wisdom: Church leaders must demonstrate good judgment and are able to make sound decisions that are in line with God's Will.

  • Discernment: An ability to distinguish between good and evil, and to make decisions with such discernment.

  • Love for God: A deep and abiding love for Jesus, zeal for His Word, and seeking a life that is pleasing to Him.

  • Love for people: They demonstrate compassion and empathy for those under their care, always striving to serve in the best way possible.

  • Passion for the gospel: God has given those of us He truly called (not those who chose ministry as a career) a SAVAGE zeal for preaching His Word.

  • Spiritual growth: We seek to deepen both our, and those we lead, with respect to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

  • Inspiring leadership: Pastors strive to inspire ourselves and those we lead to, as the old song said: “just a closer walk with thee (Jesus)”.

  • Balance: Let me be truthful – although we “desire” this, we fall short more often than most admit. God help us, please. The congregation I lead loved me enough to send me home for a few weeks to take care of my family. Now that is love!

  • Approachable: They are approachable and available to their congregants, offering guidance, comfort, and support when needed. If you can approach Jesus, but not your Pastor because he is too busy, he has “erred” from the faith.

  • Humble: They approach their role with humility, recognizing that they are merely servants of God. Our primary responsibility is to reflect His love and truth to those under their care.

  • Dedication: Most view this role as a calling from God and dedication is, as they say, “baked into the cake”.

In summary, there are certain qualities a healthy Pastor will exhibit. There are also qualities and unhealthy church leader will exhibit as well. Pray for discernment in this area because, as our congregation just proved, we need you more than you know.

Header Image Courtesy of Vicki Nunn @ Pixabay

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