The Pastor as a Leader
Christlikeness: The Purpose of Pastoral Ministry

by Mark J. Crocco
What do you believe is your primary purpose as a pastor? Most of the pastors who are reading this article would respond that their ultimate purpose in ministry is to bring glory to God. I would completely agree with that response. Any discussion of the purpose of pastoral ministry should conclude that as pastors, we minister to bring glory to God, and to enhance His reputation in this world through our ministries (Isa. 42:8; Matt. 5:16; 1Cor. 10:31). The work of pastoral ministry is primarily the work of partnering with God in His supernatural work of saving sinful human beings and transforming their lives into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. God receives maximum glory in His church when His shepherds, and their people, are experiencing Christ-like transformation together. The purpose of this article is to challenge pastors to reclaim the biblical doctrine of Christlikeness. This theme has become conspicuously absent in our discussions of pastoral ministry, and in what we are seeking to accomplish in our churches. The relentless passion of the apostle Paul was to see “Christ formed” in the lives of those he ministered to (Gal. 4:19). In this hour, the church desperately needs pastors who will share Paul’s passion for seeing Christ formed in the lives of their people.
The doctrine of Christlikeness must be central in our approach to pastoral ministry because it is central to God’s eternal purpose for His children. In eternity past, according to Romans 8:29, God purposed that His children might “become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). It is clear from this passage that God’s purpose of transforming His children into the image and likeness of His Son originated in eternity past before He created this physical world. In the present, it is equally clear that God’s purpose for His people is Christ-like transformation. The glory and superiority of new covenant ministry are vividly portrayed in the words, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2Cor. 3:18). Our major purpose in ministry as pastors is to lead ourselves and others into the experience of “being transformed into the same image” of our Lord Jesus Christ. The expression “we are being transformed” indicates that we are not capable of transforming ourselves. Christ-like transformation occurs as a direct result of the sovereign work of God in our lives through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The prepositional phrase “from glory to glory” could be translated from “one stage, level, or degree of Christlikeness to another stage, level or degree of Christlikeness.” This indicates that this transformation is a process that is never completed in this life. The theme of Christ-like transformation simplifies theological concepts like progressive sanctification, spiritual growth, personal holiness, and the fruit of the Spirit. In the present, the apostle Peter commands us “to follow in the steps of Christ” (1Pet. 2:21), while the apostle John commands us “to walk in the same manner that Christ walked” (1Jn. 2:6). Christ-like transformation is clearly God’s will for our lives in the present, and on a practical level, the purpose that should govern our pastoral priorities and activities.In eternity future, Christ-like transformation is also God’s prevailing purpose for our lives. In Philippians 3:20-21, the apostle Paul challenges us to live in light of the imminent return of Christ, and describes our future eternal state in the words, “Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.” The apostle John reinforces this description of our future eternal existence with the words, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, if He should appear, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1Jn. 3:2). The need to prioritize the passionate pursuit of Christ-like transformation as pastors for both ourselves and our people is irrefutable in light of the fact that Christlikeness is God’s eternal purpose that began in eternity past, continues in the present, and extends into eternity future.

If Christ-like transformation is God’s eternal plan for our lives, and the primary purpose of pastoral ministry, what does a Christ-like life look like? The life of Christ is clearly portrayed in the gospel accounts. The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide us with a framework to understand the meaning of Christlikeness. A Christ-like life is a life that is lived in absolute and prayerful dependence upon our heavenly Father, with a passion to submit to His will out of our loving obedience to Him (Matt. 14:23; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16; 6:12; 11:1; Jn. 4:34; 6:38). Christ, in His humanity, lived as the “model man” for those of us who seek to live Christ-like lives. His thrice-repeated prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but your will be done” (Matt. 26:36-44), illustrates that a Christ-like life is a life that passionately seeks to do the will of God with a desire to please God in all things (Jn. 8:29). A Christ-like life is a life that is committed to doing God’s will at all times.

A Christ-like life is a life that is lived with a spirit of servanthood that leads to a self-sacrificial lifestyle that is driven with the loving desire to place the needs, concerns, and well-being of others before our own. Christ clearly stated His purpose and mission in Mark 10:45 in the words, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” In John 13, the night before His crucifixion, the holy, sinless Son of God humbled Himself and washed the dirty and filthy feet of His proud disciples. He calls us to a Christ-like lifestyle of servanthood with the challenge, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (Jn. 13:14-15). The apostle Paul uses the attitudinal and relational humility of Christ as the pattern for our relationships in the words, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). A Christ-like life is a life of servanthood that is marked with self-sacrificial love for others.

A Christ-like life is a life that is lived with relational compassion and empathy for others. This particularly includes those who are often considered the outcasts of society. Throughout the gospel accounts, Christ is continually “moved with compassion” (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13) in response to the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of others. In a number of confrontations with the religious leaders of His day, Christ is criticized for reaching out to those who were considered the “undesirable” people of His day (Matt. 8:1-3; 9:10-11; Mark 2:16-17; 5:30-32). A Christ-like life is a life that is lived with indiscriminate love and compassion for others.

A Christ-like life is a life that is lived in relentless pursuit of moral holiness and righteousness while acknowledging that this pursuit is never complete until we enter our future glorified state. Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ “knew no sin” (2Cor. 5:21), “was without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and “committed no sin” (1Pet. 2:21). As God’s children who pursue a Christ-like lifestyle, we are to “walk in the light as He Himself is in the light” (1Jn. 1:7), and we are “to purify ourselves just as He is pure” (1Jn. 3:3). As we run the race of the Christian life, we run with our focus upon Christ continually laying aside any weight or sin that impedes Christ-like transformation in our lives (Heb. 12:1-2). This necessitates practicing spiritual discipline in our lives (1Cor. 9:24-27).

The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. The main thing in pastoral ministry is Christ-like transformation. The purpose of our Christian lives as individuals is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. The purpose of biblical discipleship is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. The purpose of Christian marriage and parenting is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. The purpose of biblical preaching and biblical counseling is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. The purpose of personal evangelism and world missions is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. The purpose of every ministry to every age group within a local church is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. The purpose of investing our time, talents, and treasures within our communities, and the local church is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. The purpose of every trial and heartache in our lives is Christ-like transformation to the glory of God. May this article remind every pastor that our highest purpose in ministry is the glorious work of leading others to experience the transformation of their lives, together with us, into the image and likeness of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.