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1.In the Bible, “shepherd” is a royal metaphor, not a priestly one (Ps. 80:1). Moses, Joshua, David, and Cyrus are shepherds, but not Aaron. Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s polemics against the “shepherds of Yahweh’s pasture” are directed against abusive civil rulers. Ezekiel’s oracle ends with the promise of “one shepherd, My servant David” (Ezek. 34:23). The Good Shepherd guides the nations with an iron rod (Rev. 2:27; cf. Ps. 2:7–9).

2. In the New Testament, “pastor” is a translation of poimen, “shepherd” (Eph. 4:11), and the verb form, poimaino, means “to shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:2). Church leaders are shepherds of the flock of God.

3. Based on #1 and #2, we conclude: Pastors are priests because every Christian is a priest, but what distinguishes a pastor from others isn’t a heightening of priestly office. The pastorate is a royal office.

4. This has liturgical import. As the body of the heavenly priest, the church is a priesthood. The pastor fills the role of David and Solomon, kings who facilitated the sacrificial worship of priests. Shepherds feed and water their flocks, and they lead their people to fertile land and distribute its fruit. Pastors preside at the Lord’s Table as shepherd-kings.

5. As the word of the king directs a kingdom, so the word of the pastor directs the church. Pastors shouldn’t plead with their congregations; they shouldn’t cajole or tailor their message. Rather, like Jesus and in his name, they teach with authority.

Perhaps, like kings, pastors should speak from thrones—as ancient bishops did. Perhaps they should wear crowns, as a sign of their royal glory. Certainly, they should be robed, like judges in court or kings among their courtiers. Leading worship in a T-shirt and jeans insults the grandeur of the pastoral office.

6. Every Christian is a king because every Christian is united to King Jesus and shares in his reign. Every pastor rules a company of kings, and so does not have a monopoly of royal authority. Wise kings consult members of their court.

This indicates the telos of pastoral care. Pastors teach, lead the liturgy, and exercise authority to train every Christian to carry out his royal vocation in his own realm. Pastor-kings make kings.

7. Kings build temples. Church planters are temple-founders, and pastors assemble and prepare living stones to take their place in the house of God. Like the good kings of Judah, pastors keep God’s house in good repair.

8. Kings establish cities. Church planters are city-founders, and pastors chair the city council. Pastoral ministry isn’t merely private nurture, but directly and literally political, a matter of governing the polis of God. Pastoral discourse should rouse a congregation to undertake the slow work of urban renewal and construction.

9. Shepherd-kings “go in and out” (Num. 27:15–23), that is, they organize and lead military expeditions and return to celebrate victories. Pastors command regiments of the church militant. They train and deploy troops to carry on the mission of the High King, Jesus.

10. Like all good kings, pastors protect the weak and seek those who go AWOL (Jer. 23:1–8). Their aim isn’t simply recovery and healing, but restoring stragglers to full participation in the work of the church. Care for the faltering isn’t therapeutic, but royal. If the church is a hospital, it’s a field hospital.

11. We misrepresent church-state relations when we characterize them as priest-king relations. Rather, a meeting of pastor and president is a meeting of two kings, one of whom is ordained to represent the King of heaven.

12. The church’s health depends on faithful royal oversight. Like godly kings, pastors who rule in justice are as the light of the morning when the sun rises (2 Sam. 23:1–7), like rain on mown grass (Ps. 72:6). 

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.

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Image by Own work Yelkrokoyade licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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