Recent generations of pastors have suffered from a ministerial identity crisis. Some pastors see themselves as the organizers and promoters or programs to attract more people into the church’s walls while others see themselves as showmen who seek to bring in large crowds with an ever-increasing array of stunts.

What many pastors seem to have lost is a biblical understanding of the role of the pastor. The marketer, the organizer, and the showmen have come in vogue because we have lost our connection with the biblical vision for pastoral ministry.

To regain a biblical view of the ministry, we need to reengage with a variety of biblical texts that show the multi-faceted work of the pastor. While we immediately of the Pastoral Epistles as the first stop on this exercise, we also need to give attention to various Old Testament texts. In particular, the book of Ezekiel gives us three images of the work of the pastor—the watchman, the shepherd, and the debater. This article will focus on the image of the pastor as a watchman.

The prophet as watchman in Ezekiel

In Ezekiel 3:16-21, the Lord introduces Ezekiel to the gravity of his task as a prophet. He tells Ezekiel he is to act as a watchman on the wall, conveying whatever words of warning the Lord delivers to Israel. He will not be held responsible for the reaction of the people. Whether they repent and return to the Lord or continue in their rebellion, Ezekiel’s only task is the delivery of the message. If they do not repent because they ignored the warning, their blood is on their own heads.

However, if they do not repent because Ezekiel did not declare God’s word to them, they will still die. In addition, Ezekiel will hear the fateful words, “his blood I will require at your hands.” He cannot repent for the people or ensure their repentance, he his only responsible to proclaim the Lord’s word to them.

The apostle as watchman in the New Testament

When Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders at Miletus in Acts 20, his words show that he carries this same sense of responsibility before the Lord to convey God’s word to perishing souls. He tells them that he is “innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” In watchman-like fashion, Paul recognized that all men everywhere need to repent, so all need to hear the whole counsel of God. Therefore, he preached this message whenever and wherever he could. Because of this, he was not responsible for what people did with the Gospel once they heard it, but he was responsible to get it to them.

The pastor as watchman in the New Testament

The writer of Hebrews echoes this language in chapter 13 when he tells the believers to whom he is writing that they should obey their leaders and submit to them. Then he says pastors keep watch over the souls of these believers and will give an account. He stresses that church leaders will stand before the Lord and answer to him for how they watched over the souls of the people who were committed to their care.

The Pastor as watchman today

Pastors today also bear this responsibility to act as watchmen on the wall who deliver God’s word to his people and keep watch over their souls. This first manifests itself in three particular areas.

1. Public proclamation

In our entertainment-driven and therapeutic culture, we face the temptation to minimize the preaching of the word for more “exciting” elements and to reduce our sermons to mini counseling sessions that give people practical tips for how to get along in life.

Instead, we must labor to lay God’s word before God’s people in all of its fullness. We stand under the divine obligation to open up God’s word, proclaim its meaning and message, and apply it to the hearts of his people.

2. Personal discipleship

If we exercise our calling as watchman in the pulpit only, we fulfill it only in part. Therefore, we must also carry out this mandate in personal pastoral ministry. Richard Baxter reminds us of this when he says, “You may study long, but preach to little purpose, unless you also have a pastoral ministry.” Baxter does not diminish the role of the pulpit, but points us to the importance of one on one discipleship, encouragement, and discipline.

The faithful pastor meets with people to teach them the Scriptures and help them learn how to follow Jesus with greater faithfulness. He warns brothers and sisters who stray into sin and shows them the beauty of repentance. He also comes alongside the tired and the broken to encourage them.

3. Pastoral watchfulness

The people the Lord has entrusted to our care will often walk through discouragement, pain, and sin without our having any idea what is happening to them. We assume they will come talk to us when things get tough, but experience proves this assumption to be false. Therefore, pastors must go to their people to find out how they can pray for them and how they can help them.

Warn them of dangers ahead

In his book The Shepherd-Leader, Timothy Witmer suggests two questions the pastor can consistently ask that will create opportunities for good discussions. “How are you doing?” and “How can I pray for you?” Often, the answer will be “We are doing great” and “I can’t of think of anything you should pray for us about.” Other times, these questions will be an open door inviting them to tell us about the difficulties through which they are walking. This gives us an opportunity to come in with the encouragement and help that they need. Faithful watchmen must be proactive shepherds.

The greatest dangers that people face are the ones that they don’t know anything about. When the pastor acts as a watchman, faithfully preaching, discipling, and shepherding; he warns people of the danger they face and helps them walk through the darkest valleys.

People often ignore the watchman or disregard his words, but this does not deter the faithful pastor. We pray, we preach, we teach, we disciple, and we ask pointed questions. Then we lie down and go to sleep, trusting the Lord to accomplish his purpose through his Word.