In our increasingly tribal and polarized world, we tend to sort all pastors into two contrasting categories: the heroic and the heretical, but the Bible seems to take a broader and more comprehensive view. There are at least three distinct types of pastor mentioned in the pages of the New Testament.
1. The Wicked
There are multiple passages in the New Testament that speak to the existence of false shepherds or wicked servants in the household of God. Jesus told a parable about a household manager who had been charged with the feeding and management of the other servants while the Master was delayed. Jesus put the matter plainly:
if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:48–51 ESV)
There can be little doubt that the servant in question here stands for someone in pastoral leadership. His job, according to verse 45 was to feed his fellow servants – wording reminiscent of the mandate given to Peter in John 21:15-19. It would also be difficult to argue with the conclusion that the person in question was ultimately unsaved – the text indicates that he was assigned a place with the hypocrites:
In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:51 ESV)
At the very least that parable seems to be communicating that there are some people serving in formal leadership positions within the flock of God who will be judged and condemned as unbelievers and consigned to eternal punishment in hell.
Let that sink in.
The wicked servant described by Jesus in the parable sounds a lot like the false shepherds (pastors) spoken of by Jude in his short but urgent epistle.
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 1:12–13 ESV)
The false shepherds described by Jude were feeding themselves instead of the sheep, they under-delivered on their promises (waterless clouds), they were subject to external influences (swept along by winds), they failed to produce legitimate fruit over an extended period of time (fruitless trees in late autumn), were not truly regenerate (twice dead), were not truly connected to Christ (uprooted), were forces of chaos and anarchy (wild waves of the sea), teachers of lawlessness and licentiousness (casting up the foam of their own shame) and were ultimately doomed and demonic (wandering stars for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever).
Jude has more to say about these wicked leaders:
These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (Jude 1:16 ESV)
Such men were obviously not true believers though they disguised themselves as such in order to profit off the people of God. Any honest reader of the Bible – any true follower of Jesus Christ – must admit the existence of such people in the church, not just in the 1st century, but also in every century since. There have always been wicked servants who look at pastoral ministry as an opportunity to take advantage of the kindness and generosity of God’s people. They are easily spotted in that they neglect the good food of the Word of God, they promote themselves and their own ideas, their ministry does not produce the good fruit of the Spirit among the sheep, they are eager to maintain control and they tend to pay themselves extraordinarily well. You can also identify them by the appearance of their sheep. They are bruised, battered, confused, frightened and underfed.
Jude has a final word to say about these men:
It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:19 ESV)
Wicked pastors are always dividing from their denomination or from other leaders within their own churches or from coalitions and networks because they do not wish to be known, corrected, or held accountable to any standard but their own.
Such pastors are headed for an eternity apart from God.
2. The Wayward
The New Testament also speaks about wayward pastors – pastors who are off track and who may be heading into error but who are legitimately saved and who may be profitably corrected and restored to useful ministry. The Apostle Paul spoke about these sorts of leaders on multiple occasions. Speaking of the various pastors and teachers who would inevitably build on the Apostolic foundation he had laid he said:
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12–15 ESV)
Paul clearly envisioned a type of pastor who might himself be legitimately saved but who nevertheless departs from the Word of God to the point where nothing that he actually does in ministry is determined to have had any eternal value or merit. His work will not survive the judgment “though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15 ESV).
This is obviously not as horrific as the fate reserved for the wicked servant in Matthew 24 or Jude 1 but it is still an outcome that every truly saved pastor would like to avoid.
Given the other things that Paul says in 1 Corinthians about the sort of ministry that “builds up” it seems likely that the pastor in chapter 3 has departed from the sound and useful teaching of the Word in order to emphasize the more “spectacular” aspects of pastoral ministry.
The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:4 ESV)
While scholars continue to debate precisely how Paul intended us to understand the word “prophesy” it seems very clear at the least that he means roughly “speaking the Word of God to the people of God with the help of the Spirit of God”. An examination of this particular section of the letter suggests that the Apostle is attempting to de-emphasize (but not delegitimize) speaking in tongues and to encourage intelligible prophetic speech within the gathered congregation. Such a ministry will build up the church whereas sensation seekers will only build up themselves.
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV)
Truly saved pastors can wander from the Word according to 1 Corinthians, and according to 1 Timothy, they can also wander from the Way. In 1 Timothy 5 the Apostle Paul said:
Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1 Timothy 5:19–20 ESV)
Calvin comments usefully on this passage saying, “none are more liable to slanders and calumnies than godly teachers” .
A pastor as a public teacher and leader is subject to constant scrutiny and must therefore be protected from frivolous or malicious accusation. Nevertheless, if the charge is legitimate and evidence produced to support it then serious steps need to be taken. If a pastor persists in sinful behavior he should be rebuked publicly. Calvin wrote, “they who live a dissolute life shall be openly reproved” .
Pastors sin. If they persist in sin and refuse to repent, they, like every other sheep, should benefit from the full range of potential church discipline.
Clearly then the New Testament envisions that there will be truly saved pastors who wander from the Word and those who wander into sin. No serious Bible reader could argue with that contention.
3. The Wise
Thankfully there is another type of pastoral servant mentioned in the Bible: the one who is faithful, fruitful and wise. Jesus spoke about him in the parable referenced above:
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” (Matthew 24:45–47 ESV)
Unlike the wicked servant, this pastor feeds the sheep rather than himself and he earns the trust of the Master. Unlike the wayward servant in 1 Corinthians 3, this pastor will be generously rewarded because he is doing things that will stand the test of time.
This is the servant that every pastor aspires to be.
Other passages could be recruited to help fill out the profile of this person. John 21:15-19 indicates that a faithful pastor feeds the little ones (new believers) and the big ones (mature believers) while also providing leadership to the flock as a whole. Furthermore, he is also a careful follower of Christ himself (John 21:19) and tries very hard not to compare himself to other shepherds (John 21:22). By recruiting Acts 20:17-35 we might add that he faithfully teaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20-21, 27) and sets a good example for others to follow (Acts 20:18). He is humble (Acts 20:19) but also strong and courageous (Acts 20:22-23). He is alert (Acts 20:29) and prayerful (Acts 20:32) and content with the support that God provides (Acts 20:33).
Such a pastor will be loved by his people, respected by his peers and commended by the Lord.
God grant us an army of such pastors to fill the pulpits of our churches and to teach and lead our congregations!
Pastor Paul Carter
In part 2 of this 2 article series I will ask the obvious follow up question: how can a sheep protect him or herself from a wicked or wayward shepherd? Watch for “Wicked And Wayward Shepherds: A Travellers Guide For Sheep” next week on this same site.
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 92588.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 92592.