What is a Pastor?

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11, “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers”. These are those who have the responsibility for teaching and leading the Church. Some have titled these ministerial gifts as the “Fivefold Ministry” while others see “pastors and teachers” being a single ministry.

The word ‘pastor’ comes from the Greek word ‘poimen’ which is used in the New Testament for someone who shepherds sheep. The Shepherds responsibility was to feed, lead, tend, and watch over the sheep under his charge. The word is an excellent description of the New Testament pastor whom the Lord has placed in the position of leadership in the local Church. He becomes directly responsible for looking after the people the Lord has placed under his care. Ephesians 4:12 reads, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”. Therefore the pastor’s anointing is no less important than that of apostles. prophets, and evangelists.

Paul admonished the Ephesian Church leaders to “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). If we read this in line with verse 17, “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church”, we come to a closer understanding of what ‘pastor’ means. The word ‘elder’ in the Greek is the same as the word ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’. Religion has twisted the meanings of the words throughout the centuries, but in New Testament language a ‘pastor’ is a ‘bishop’ or ‘elder’ of a local church. Though different Greek words are used for pastor and bishop it is clear that they must be referring to one and the same person rather than some high ranking church leader. A bishop was not in charge over a group of church but over a single local church, “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (Acts 14:23). In Philippians we find Paul writing to “bishops” rather than a single person responsible for the entire city (1:1).

The apostle Peter writes, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3). The obvious meaning here is that the pastor is someone who feeds the flock. Peter intends for us to see the analogy of the shepherd and his sheep. If we read further we find that he links this directly to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His ministry, “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away”. Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd” (John 10). As the Chief Shepherd He alone is responsible for the entire Church. Such responsibility has never been given to any man with unbiblical titles such as pope, cardinal or archbishop. He alone is the “Shepherd and Bishop” of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). Paul describes Him as the “Great Shepherd of the sheep” through whose blood we have eternal life (Hebrews 13:20). The Greek word for “Chief Shepherd” is ‘archipoimen’ from where we receive the title ‘archbishop’. Therefore it is easy to see that the Lord Jesus Christ alone deserves such a title.

The New Testament idea of ‘pastor’ is one of a man who tends those whom the Lord has given him, but with the understanding that Christ alone has supreme authority over the churches. The local pastor is the ‘bishop’ (shepherd) of the local church and has no authority over the flock of another pastor. Each pastor is in turn under the Great Shepherd or Pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ.