The Christ-Shaped Pastor

There is no shortage of handbooks on what it means to be an effective pastor; but none can begin to compare with actually meeting someone who is just that. To have such a man as your pastor, or to cultivate a friendship with someone who embodies the qualities needed for the task, is guaranteed to leave an imprint on your life in the best possible way. The reason being that what shapes a man for this kind of service is nothing less than the imprint of Christ – the true Pastor – upon his life.

Apart from Christ himself, there is perhaps no one in Scripture who better illustrates this point than the Apostle Paul. That in itself is telling because, in his former life as Saul of Tarsus, he was anything but ‘pastoral’ in the way he carried himself, or in how he related to those around him.

There are many places where we catch glimpses of the pastor’s heart that shaped the way Paul served the needs of the church. But perhaps the most telling is in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica (1Th 2.1-20). His time with this fledgling congregation had been relatively short (2.17), but even in the brief time they were together, these people had been deeply struck by the kind of gospel minister this man was. Paul’s description of his ministry in this passage was as much counter-cultural for his own day as it all-too-often is in our own. But it deserves serious reflection if we want to understand what constitutes an authentic pastor.


By definition ‘motivation’ belongs to the unseen realm of a person’s life; but the truth of where it lies will bubble into view sooner or later. In Paul’s case, the fact that his mission to Thessalonica (as well as his mission to Philippi which had preceded it) involved severe personal hardship immediately revealed something of what kept on task through it all. So as he explains to his readers what lay behind his ministry among them, he can say quite candidly it ‘does not spring from error or impure motives’ or some attempt to ‘trick’ them (2.3). The only reason he felt the need to make this disclaimer was because there were plenty of ‘ministries’ that did.

He goes on to spell out what those false motives looked like: ‘trying to please men’ using ‘flattery’, ‘greed’ and ‘seeking praise from men’ (2.4-6). It is not hard for those of us who are pastors to simply look in the mirror and see how true to life these motivations for ministry can be. But if these are the only things that incentivise our service, then it will very quickly run into the ground.

Instead of these self-oriented motives to serve, Paul points to ones that were God-focused which made a far deep impact on how far he was prepared to go with the gospel in his care for those he met along the way.

At the deepest level was his sense of accountability and responsibility before God. He identifies himself alongside ‘men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel’ (2.6) – language that captures the high privilege of conveying this unique message; but also the heavy responsibility of answering to God for it (cf 2Ti 2.15). More than that, he implies that the ‘reward’ for such service lay, not in the immediate material benefits it may or may not generate, but the prospect of God’s approval in the coming age. (This tallies with the apostle’s testimony as he prepares for his impending death [2Ti 4.6-8].)

The roots of effective ministry are found, not through looking inwards and downwards in self-serving motivation; but outwards and upwards to God.


Paul has already alluded to the cost involved in faithful ministry, but he goes on to spell it out in detail in terms of the sacrifice it entails.

He reminded his Thessalonian readers, ‘ As apostles of Jesus Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her children’ (2.6-7). He had entitlements, but he waived them all! In the same way as the high calling of motherhood carries a higher price-tag than any man will ever know, so too with the high calling of the Christian ministry. Once more Paul unpacks what this means: ‘We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well…’ (2.8). For pastors to truly ‘love’ their people, there will be significant personal cost.

Indeed for Paul, this would involve him having a ‘night job’ of making tents in order that he might finance his primary calling of proclaiming the gospel (2.9).


Paul has already mentioned men who use the ministry as a ‘mask to cover up greed’ (2.5). So for him to go on to say, ‘You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed’ (2.10) is a bold statement. He can put hand on heart and say his ministry was never ‘do what I say’ in pious detachment; but always coupled with the example of his own life.

He was not for a moment claiming perfection in his conduct; but he could dare to claim integrity in his efforts to emulate his Saviour. He exhorts Christians elsewhere to make the teaching about God [their] Saviour attractive’ (Tit 2.10) as they live out their faith. More pointedly, he reminds those who are ministers that the orthodoxy of their doctrine can never be divorced from the orthopraxy of their lives (1Ti 4.16).

The fact he switches from the example of motherhood to that of fatherhood to illustrate what he is saying is significant (2.11). One thing every father knows is that he cannot fool his kids! If he is not ‘for real’ in his personal involvement in their lives, they will be quick to see through him. So too for the ‘spiritual children’ entrusted to our care in the church!


The upshot of all Paul was saying to these people was that the word of God did its work through his life and labours (2.13). Even though there was very real human agency involved, it was ultimately God who was working by his word and Spirit.

The evidence of the depth of this work was demonstrated by the Thessalonians’ willingness to suffer for their faith, even as their first pastor, Paul, had done (2.14-15). There could be no greater proof of effective ministry.

Although Paul’s testimony in these verses is striking, it is by no means unique. We find it replicated repeatedly in God’s faithful servants in the Old and New Testaments. But the key to such ministry is not found in the kind of men they were in themselves. The common factor they shared was the way in which their lives and experience mirrored that of Christ. What they were in union with him, and what they became as he shaped them through his word, meant that all that they were and did as pastors became a reflection of his glory.

Mark Johnston