We have been making the argument that a pastor is to lead God’s people, and if God establishes pastors as leaders, God cares not just that pastors lead, but He also cares how they lead. In an attempt to clarify how pastors are to lead, the term servant leader has become a popular term to use for pastors today. The term is a helpful term insomuch as it demonstrates the manner in which pastors are to lead. But there is a constant temptation to elevate one of these terms over the other. The authoritarian pastor might elevate the term leader over the term servant in such a way that he effectively makes himself a dictator. Or a church member might elevate the term servant over the term leader to the point where the pastor’s leadership is nothing more than pleasing the whims of church members. If pastors are servant leaders, both these words need to matter. So how does as pastor function as a servant leader?

A pastor should contend for the faith without being contentious. A pastor must be willing to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, ESV). Jude was dealing with a group of false teachers that was sneaking into the church and attempting to turn the grace of God into license for sensuality (Jude 4). Commands to church leaders in the New Testament are replete with calls to stand against these types of false teachers infiltrating the church (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Timothy 1:3-4, 6:3-5). Pastors contend for the faith, in part at least, by teaching sound doctrine and by guarding the teaching of the church. The pastor who fails to contend for the faith is failing in his God-given responsibility.

But while pastors must contend for the faith, they must not be contentious. Pastors must not be quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3, 2 Timothy 2:24), and Paul warned both Timothy and Titus about engaging in worthless quarrels and controversies (2 Timothy 2:14, 23; Titus 3:9-11). Paul warned Timothy about false teachers who had “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction” (1 Timothy 6:4-5, ESV). Pastors must vigorously contend for the faith, but they must avoid having a contentious nature or squabbling over issues that are secondary.

A pastor should be a humble, yet authoritative. Jesus is our ultimate example of humility. His incarnation and his death are examples of the kind of humility that should characterize any Christian (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus performed the humble task of washing his disciples feet, and then he called on his disciples to imitate this pattern of humility (John 13:1-17). Arrogance and pride have no place in the pastor’s life, but pastors must be those who imitate Jesus’ example of humble service. As one who is to serve as an example to the church, the pastor must lead by considering others as more important than himself (Philippians 2:3-4).

But a humble attitude does not mean that a pastor does not speak with authority. Paul did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), and neither should a pastor. Paul told Titus, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15, ESV). To Timothy, Paul said, “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:11-12, ESV). Pastors must at the same time be both humble servants and authoritative voices proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. 

A pastor should lead without lording it over those he leads. Jesus said that the “rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44, ESV). Peter warned church leaders that as they exercised oversight they should not be domineering over those they lead (1 Peter 5:3). A pastor has an authority given by God, but a pastor is not to be authoritarian.

At the same time, a pastor is actually called to lead. He should lead by his example (1 Peter 5:3), but the church is also called to follow and submit to her leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Pastors are to be leaders of the church, but they are not to be lords over the church. Pastors are to lead, but they are to lead as under-shepherds of Christ who is the head of the church.

Most pastors will struggle to keep the balance between serving and leading. Some pastors will be more prone to exercise harsh authority, while others will be prone to passively abdicate any genuine leadership in the church. Some will be prone to argue over anything and everything, and others will be prone to keep the peace even when the very gospel is at stake. Faithful pastors must be prepared to be true servant leaders. They must be willing to humbly serve the church, but they must also recognize that they have been called by God to lead the church for the sake of the health and well being of the church. To neglect either service or leadership is to fail to fulfill the calling of a faithful pastor.