Pray for the Shepherd, Pray for the Sheep

Did you know your pastor will have to “give an account” for you someday? If that day were today, would he do so with joy or with grief? 

Near the end of his brief exhortation (Heb. 13:17–22), the writer of Hebrews addresses the sheep/shepherd relationship, telling the flock how they ought to relate to their shepherd and why. Though other passages could add to this list, Hebrews 13:17 gives an excellent prayer guide on how to intercede not only for pastors, but for the rest of us sheep as well. 

Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Pray for the Shepherd: Pray for Vigilance 

The first thing this verse tells us about pastors is the terrifying responsibility entrusted to them. They act as watchmen over the souls of the sheep in their fold. While certainly under the watchful, sovereign eye of the Great Shepherd, your pastor has been delegated the task of stewarding your spiritual well-being. 

For most pastors, I would venture to guess that this stewardship is never far from mind. But for the rest of us, I think it often slips to the back of our consciousness. I tend to have lots of opinions on how my pastor should do his job. I have thoughts and notes on this sermon or that decision. I applaud some and scratch my head at others. Yet, in the middle of all this, I’m quick to forget the heavy burden of responsibility the shepherds at my church bear. 

Friends, as we pray for our pastors, let us beseech the Heavenly Father on their behalf, asking that He grant them the vigilance they need to care for the souls of their sheep well. May they have the time to invest where investment is needed. May God keep them free from unnecessary distractions. May He peel off burdensome sins and weights that may deter them from completing this God-given ministry of watchfulness. May their hearts be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and their ears deaf to the lies and deceit of the enemy. May they have shepherds in their own lives, speaking truth and keeping watch over their souls. May the magnitude of the task never drive them to despair; instead, may it impel them to the throne of the Great High Priest where they may receive mercy and find grace to help in their time of need (Heb. 4:16). 

Pray for the Shepherd: Pray for Sobriety 

How pastors guard our souls matters too. They will, Hebrews tells us, give an account for their time as watchmen over the souls of their sheep. This alone would leave me shaking in my boots. Though I don’t think God intends would-be pastors to be crippled with fear, I do believe He intends this accountability to be a deterrent. Being a pastor is serious business. And anyone not willing to take it seriously probably shouldn’t walk down that path. 

I don’t know about you, but I want a pastor (and thankfully I have one) who takes his role seriously. While I don’t want him to be paralyzed with fear in His ministry, I want him to keep the stakes in mind. The manner in which he shepherds will not go unnoticed or unaccounted for by the Great Shepherd. He will one day give an account for his time on guard duty over souls precious in the sight of God. 

We must uphold our pastors in prayer, keeping the seriousness of their calling in mind. Let us intercede on their behalf, imploring the Father to give our pastors soft and humble hearts that steward their responsibility seriously. May the future accounting of their time as shepherd not be fearsome to them, but may it keep them on their knees as they dig into the Word, disciple growing Christians, and counsel hearts in trouble. 

Pray for the Shepherd: Pray for Joy 

It probably seems contradictory to pray for sobriety in one breath and in the next ask for joy. Yet, that’s exactly what I think we ought to do. The task of pastoral ministry surely has moments of great joy: baptismal services, seeing a wayward soul repent, performing a wedding ceremony for a young couple on fire for Jesus, or sitting at the bedside of a saint ready to see her Savior. 

However, for each of those high moments, there are undoubtedly dozens of low moments and long seasons of discouragement. One soul repents, while three others persist in their sins. One couple gets married, ready to serve in the church together, while another couple gives up on counseling and files for divorce. One saint slips peacefully into the loving arms of her beloved Savior, while an unsaved friend takes his own life and a teen ends up in the hospital with an eating disorder. The list of discouragement triggers could go on indefinitely. All of these would seem to give a pastor unending reasons to despair and to groan, rather than to serve with joy. 

Let’s be prayer warriors who storm heaven asking for our pastors to serve with joy. Despite all the reasons to give up and all the discouraging seasons, may they not lose heart. May they never measure success with earthly metrics. May they make these verses in 2 Corinthians 4 an anchor for their ministry: 

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Pray for the Sheep: Obedient Hands and Submissive Hearts

Having pastors on the regular prayer rotation is hardly a novel concept. But how often do you pray for yourself as a church member? If you’re anything like me, the answer is almost never. Yet, all over the New Testament, we find ways that church bodies should interact with one another: forgive and bear with one another (1 Thess. 3:12); encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11); bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1); and speak truth to one another (Col. 3:16). In Hebrews 13, though, we’re told how to interact with the shepherd: in obedience and submission.

Some caveats may be in order for carrying out this command. We certainly shouldn’t blindly obey a tyrant or follow a false teacher into sin. We should always be discerning and hold everything we’re taught up to the plumb line of Scripture (Acts 17:11; Psalm 119:24). While all of that is true, we also cannot neglect the imperative: Good sheep follow their shepherd. 

Modern individualistic culture teaches us to push against authority at every opportunity. Believers are called to something higher—and we must pray for hearts and hands willing to carry out the work given to us by our shepherds. We know our flesh well enough by now to know that without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, we will fail. 

Let’s beseech the Great Shepherd to give us stubborn sheep hearts that love to follow our shepherd as he follows Christ. May we submit readily and easily to his leadership, asking questions but not questioning his authority. May we teach our children and their children to respect the office of pastor and fight the urge to speak critically of him. May God grant us wisdom and discernment as we follow, but may we have hearts that are willing to yield and quick to obey. 

Let us be praying sheep—those who pray both for their shepherd and for their own stubborn hearts. While these few brief requests are hardly exhaustive of all that we could ask for, they’re a good place to start. 

Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus —the great Shepherd of the sheep—through the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with everything good to do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21, emphasis added)

If you’ve been challenged by this article from Cindy, you won’t want to miss Let’s Go to Church: A Guide to Getting the Most Out of Lord’s Day Services and Encouraging Your Spiritual Leaders, a booklet by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. We want to send you a copy when you give a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts this week. It’s our way of saying “thank you” for your partnership in helping women thrive in Christ. 

About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at

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