Recently a discussion in regard to the title of the office of Pastor took place on the Yahoo Group, Theology List. In response to that discussion, I decided to write a brief article on the New Testament Pastor. Please note that all Scripture quotations are from the NASB.What is a Pastor?
To understand the role and function of a pastor, one may begin by looking at the words used to label this ministry. The words used are Elder, presbuteros
; Bishop or Overseer, episkope
; and Pastor, poimen
. By far the most used term in the New Testament is the word Elder. However, it is clear that all three words refer to the same office. Acts 20: 28
Acts 20:28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (NASB)
They are called Elders, (presbuteros
) they have been made, by Holy Spirit, overseers, (episkope
) and they are to shepherd (poimen
) the church. . . .
The same observation can be made in I Peter 1: 1-2.
1 Peter 5:1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; (NASB)
Peter calls them elders (presbuteros)
and commands them to shepherd (poimen
) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (episkope
). All three elements, all three words are used in both passages and leaves little doubt that the three words refer to the same office.
What do the three words tell us? Elder (presbuteros
) has a Hebrew background. The council of wise men who were to govern or go give advice were called Elders. Members of the local council of a city or community and the members of the Sanhedrin were both referred to as Elders. Both the Hebrew word zaqen
and the Greek presbuteros
, carry the idea of an older man, who is mature and wise. I think that we can gather from the meaning and usage of the word, that an elder is one who is to give wise council and leadership to those placed under his charge.
Overseer or Bishop comes from the Greek word episkope
. According to the BDAG, the word means: 1. the act of watching over with special ref. to being present, visitation, of divine activity, 2. position of responsibility, position, assignment; 3. engagement in oversight, supervision.
According to the TDNT, the root of the episkope
, means to watch or to look out. It was used of gods who watched humans and was used in the sense of a divine visitation. The word came to be used in the form of episkopos for offices and positions of oversight. Civil officials were referred to as episkopos. It became a common word for various positions in the Greek world that had oversight over things and people. Episkopos
comes to the New Testament as the Greek word that corresponds to the Hebrew idea of pesbuteros. It is one who has oversight, in this case, over a congregation.
The word poimen
(shepherd) has a rich Old Testament history. It is used of those who care for sheep. They feed them, tend to them, protect them from harm. David was a shepherd and described God as Shepherd. And God is described as Shepherd in various ways in various Old Testament passages.
Based on the words used to describe the office, one can conclude that the one who holds this office is to be a man who is wise and mature, who is called by the Holy Spirit to oversee, to administrate, to, in some sense of the word, rule over a congregation as one who is a shepherd who feeds, takes care of and protects his charge.
While the words Bishop, Elder and Pastor refers to the same office, I tend to use the word Pastor simply because that is my Baptist tradition. For the remainder of this paper, I will use the word Pastor but any and all of the three are clearly meant.The Character of a Pastor
The meaning of the terms, particularly the word Elder, reflects the character of the holder of the office. Wisdom and maturity are paramount characteristics of a Pastor. First Timothy 3: 1-7 describes the character of the pastor. While these traits should be found among all mature Christians, it is imperative that the holder of the pastoral office be marked by them.
1 Timothy 3:1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (NASB)
While much can be said about the character of the pastor, suffice it to say that he must be above reproach, mature, not a new convert, and one who manages his own household.The Work of the Pastor.
The work of the pastor is varied and requires the mastery of a wide variety of fields. Some of the important texts in regard to the work of the pastor are as follows:
2 And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
3 "But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
4 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
NAS Acts 20:28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
I Timothy 4: 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed upon you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.
15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all.
16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
I Timothy 5: 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
18 For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
2 Timothy 2:1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
5 And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.
6 The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.
7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel,
9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.
10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him;
12 If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.
14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.
NAS 2 Timothy 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires;
4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
From these texts, one can see that the pastor is to give his attention to the issues of prayer and ministry of the Word. He is to preach and teach the Word and be ready to do so in season and out of season. Furthermore, we are to reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. And we are to minister in this manner because a time will come when men will not endure sound instruction. It is the pastor’s job to not be persuaded by fads and trends and the worldly wants of some. But he is to be prepared to teach and preach sound doctrine, even to the point of reproof and rebuke when those who are under his charge drift from the Scriptural norm. The pastor must be on guard that he is not carried away by the same trends but rather, guard his own heart as he consistently calls the people of God to repentance when they go astray. The pastor is the one who oversees the spiritual life of the congregation. He is to see to it that they are growing in holiness. He calls them to proper order when they go astray. The pastor protects the congregation from false doctrine, even those false teachers who arise from within the church. No other leader in the New Testament church has this burden laid on him.
Ephesians grammatically links the role of Pastor-teacher, though some dispute this. This does not mean that only pastors are teachers. However, it is the role and responsibility of the Pastor to teach. Fist Timothy 3 says that one of the qualifications of the Overseer is to be able to teach.
The pastor is to lead the church. The means and method of this leadership is found in First Peter:
1 Peter 5:2-3
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
The pastor is to lead by persuasion and by example. The model for such leadership is Jesus himself. Pastors are to be true servant-leaders. Following the example and command of Jesus, the pastor does not exist to be served but to serve. He becomes the servant of all, according to the words of Jesus, those who would be great, become the servant of all.
The only model for pastoral leadership is that of a servant who leads his congregation by persuasion and example. He cannot ask people to do what he will not do or to become what he will not become. And while he is to lead in such gentle fashion, he is also, when necessary, to speak boldly the Word of God to reprove, rebuke, and exhort when necessary. A pastor cannot make people follow him. And he can no more make people act and behave a certain way than he can cause to moon to rise. Therefore, his leadership comes from his calling, his gifts, his character and from his commitment to the very Word that he is to teach and preach. The result of his ministry should be church whose members grow up into a mature man with Christ as our head. Fist and Second Timothy and Titus are instructions to young pastors on pastoral ministry. One should seek to understand these books if they are to have a biblical understanding of the role and work of those who hold the pastoral office.The Church’s Responsibility to the Pastor
Hebrews 13: 17 calls for the church to follow its leaders. This followship is not absolute, in other words, if the pastor is misleading the congregation it should not follow him. But neither should he be pastor.
Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (NASB)
The word for obey is a peitho
. It is an imperative verb. It means to persuade, appeal to, be won over, and thus, to obey. It is not a word that tells us to be a robot but that we are to be persuaded and to trust the one who has persuaded us. In other words, obedience is not blind trust but trust in one who, by word, deed, and call, persuades us. The word for submit is hupeiko
and it means to yield to someone’s authority. It must be remembered that such yielding is to one who is a servant leader to the congregation. The immediate purpose is so that they pastor may have joy in his labor. The work of the pastor can be like herding cats or leading an army. It all depends on the will of the church to follow the leadership of the pastor. And for the pastor, the work is hard and emotionally draining. This mutual labor of servant leadership and yielding to authority produces the harmony and peace that make it possible for both church and pastor to enjoy.
The congregation also has the responsibility to pay its pastor as one who makes his living from the Gospel. He, like a soldier, is not to be involved in the things of the world, but reserve himself for his pastoral work ( 2 Tim. 2: 1-7) Furthermore, the church is commanded to pay and to pay double to those who teach well (1 Tim. 5: 17-18 ). In other words, the pastor should give his life to the work of the church and the church should take care of his needs so that he may not be encumbered in his work. This does not mean that somehow the work of the bivocational pastor is wrong. There are times when a church cannot pay its pastor. Paul himself worked to support his ministry. But it should be recognized that it is not the ideal and a pastor in such circumstances cannot give himself to the church as one who labors full time.
The office of Elder, Bishop, Pastor is a God appointed office. It cannot be set aside because we think we can find a better way. The church is to give the pastor their attention as he instructs them. The Pastor must give himself to the study of the word so that he is not ashamed but rather approved before God. And no matter what modern forms may tempt us, the biblical pastor will always be the servant leader of the biblical church.