Vol. 8, No. 2
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This writer once heard a prominent "religious" radio personality quote from Ephesians 4:11 in this fashion, "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastor-teachers." His quotation did not accurately reflect what is written. The final three words of this text are "pastors and teachers" (poimenas kai didaskalous), not "pastor-teachers." What he was attempting to do was to read into the passage something which he already believed and practiced. Having already accepted for himself the title of "pastor," and being likewise a "teacher," he combined the two--not to make sense of the passage, but to reflect the modern blend of the pastor/preacher concept. Therefore, the true meaning of "pastor" (along with its distinction from the other terms in the passage) was lost due to a common misconception (a.k.a., a false tradition, Matthew 15:3; Colossians 2:8), of affixing the title "pastor" to anyone who stands behind a lectern or pulpit with a Bible in hand.
In the most widely accepted translations of Scripture, the English noun "pastor" is only used once, in the above mentioned passage (Ephesians 4:11). However, it is also translated--when used as a verb--by the word "feed" (poimainein, Acts 20:28; poimanate, 1 Peter 5:2). In this instance, it is often connected--by men like Jesus, Luke, Paul and Peter--to plural noun forms (poimnion, poimne), translated "flock" (cf. Matthew 26:31; Luke 2:8; 1 Corinthians 9:7). So the primary New Testament use of this Greek term reflects the familiar word picture of a Palestinian shepherd who is caring for and protecting his flock of sheep.
In the life and inspired writings of Peter, we find a parallel between Jesus' use of the word while on earth, and the later office of the presbytery (eldership, overseership) in the local church. You may recall the conversation recorded between Peter and Jesus, during the post-resurrection appearance in which Jesus repetitively asked Peter, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). Though the Greek words vary slightly during the exchange, the second time Jesus encourages Peter to accept his role in the kingdom, Jesus clearly said, "Feed my sheep" (poimaine ta probata, v. 16, KJV). Barnes commented on this nuance below, but notice his inclusion of the trend that was apparent even in his day to refer to any minister with the term "pastor" (poimen):
The word here rendered "feed" means the care afforded by furnishing nutriment for the flock. In the next verse there is a change in the Greek, and the word rendered feed denotes rather the care, guidance, and protection which a shepherd extends to his flock. By the use of both these words, it is supposed that our Saviour intended that a shepherd was both to offer the proper food for his flock and to govern it; or, as we express it, to exercise the office of a pastor. The expression is taken from the office of a shepherd, with which the office of a minister of the gospel is frequently compared.
Later, when Peter wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he inscribed, "The elders who are among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder...Feed (verb, poimanate) the flock (noun, poimnion) which is among you...being examples to the flock (poimniou)" (1 Peter 5:1-3). His final climactic use of the term is applied to Christ himself, calling him the archepoimen, the "chief Shepherd" (v.4). It is obvious that from the term "pastor" (Ephesians 4:11), and its continual use in connection with the office of the eldership, that neither the minister (diakonos, leiturgon, cf. Romans 15:16; Ephesians 4:11), the preacher (noun, kerussontos, Romans 10:14; verb, kerux, 1 Timothy 2:7; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Peter 2:5), nor the evangelist (noun, euongelistou, Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5) is the primary focus of the word "pastor" in the New Testament, and seems it would be an inaccurate reflection of the sacred Scriptures to speak otherwise.
It appears to be the case that while a preacher, minister or evangelist possibly could be a pastor, not every preacher is a pastor. And while it is true that a preacher plays a significant role in "feeding the flock.," i.e., with the Word of God (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-2), he is not necessarily involved in the governing of that flock, as the true "pastor" is. Hence, when a single "preacher" ignorantly assumes the title of "pastor," he likely assumes more than he understands.
The Scriptures teach that a man must attain a significant level of spiritual and physical maturity to become recognized as a "pastor," "elder," "bishop" or "overseer" (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9, et. al). How is it then that we hear of men who call themselves "pastors," who are beginners in the faith (1 Timothy 3:6)? That does not reflect the Bible's requirement that the pastor be "aged" (elder). Furthermore, a true pastor must demonstrate (or have demonstrated) the ability to exercise the spiritual training and leadership that leads his children to become "faithful" to the Lord (1 Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:6). Think reasonably; can there be such a thing as a "youth pastor" (or a young, old person?)?
You might think it all sounds trivial; perhaps the Holy Spirit was anticipating that when he offered a reason for this particular requirement, when he said, "...if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1 Timothy 3:5). We may feel this practice does not really hurt the church unless it begins spilling into it--well, it has. Therefore, with that in view, and in connection with its widespread improper use, what result is inevitable? When truly unscriptural men are called "pastors," that tremendously cheapens the true scriptural office of the "pastor" to a common thing. God refers to that as profanity (cf. 2 Timothy 2:16). It is unfortunate the illegitimate use of the word has spread to the degree we observe today. It seems impossible to find a "preacher" in the religious world not referred to in this manner. Being a "preacher," I am often referred to as "pastor," and asked the natural, accompanying question, "Where do you 'pastor?'" It is difficult to reply to the question because just the act of giving an answer seems--at least to me--to first imply that I approve of the title. I often excuse myself from full explanation "in the moment," as it takes more time to explain the Scripture than is usually permitted by the situation. However, given the opportunity, I usually try to offer, "I am not qualified to be a 'pastor,'" or, "I am the 'preacher' for..." etc., to see what kind of conversation will ensue. I have yet to come across very many who seemed the least bit interested in hearing further explanation, but then again, not everyone stuck around to hear explanations to Jesus' parables, either (cf. Mark 7:14-18; Luke 8:9-10; John 6:48-66; 10:6).
As we consider who are really our "pastors" in the local congregation, let us seek to use the term as the Holy Spirit primarily intended. Let it stand in noble distinction to describe those honorable and godly men who exercise the oversight of the flock, governing the affairs of the local church within the confines of divine counsel (Acts 20:27, 32), and on whom alone God has conferred the blessing and responsibility of truly "pastoring" his precious heritage, the flock, the sheep, the church of the Christ (1 Peter 5:4).