Pastor Who?

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Lately, I have been disturbed by the number of preachers and youth directors who have started to refer to themselves as “Pastor so-in-so.”  The latest one was a young man who had just graduated from a university associated with churches of Christ. He introduced himself to me as “Pastor Bull”* from XYZ* Church of Christ. (*Names changed.)

I said, “It’s nice to meet you. You look a little young to be an elder.”

He was confused and remarked, “I’m not an elder. I’m a pastor.”

He was even more confused when I pointed out that the terms refer to the same office in the Bible. Apparently, he had never studied that in the Christian University he had attended.

It might surprise you that the Bible does not use the word, “pastor,” as a synonym for preacher or evangelist.

The word, “pastor” is not really a translation … it is an Anglicization – (making a foreign word sound like an English term). The actual translation is “shepherd.” This can be used in either the noun or verb form. (See Vine’s Dictionary of NT words, “pastor” and “shepherd” articles.)

Three passages in the New Testament use the word “pastor” (in various forms). These are Ephesians 4:11, Acts 20:28, and 1 Peter 5:2.

In Ephesians 4:11, Paul discusses the many different “jobs” that Christ placed in the church. One of those positions is identified in the plural as “pastors and teachers.” The expression “pastors and teachers” identifies a single group. This doesn’t mean that all teachers are “pastors.” But it does mean that all “pastors” are teachers.

In the second passage, Acts 20:28, Paul again refers to pastors. Here, however, he uses the verb form of the word, which is translated “to feed” (ASV) or “to care for” (ESV). The NIRV simply translates “be shepherds.” Pastors feed, tend, and protect the church which is God’s “flock.”

Likewise, in the third passage, 1 Peter 5:2, Peter encourages these servants by saying, “Tend the flock of God …”. The NASB says: “… shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight …”

In Acts 20:28, Paul identifies those who are to “take heed . . . to all the flock” as “bishops” (overseers). Likewise, Peter instructs these shepherds to “oversee” (to “bishop”) (1 Peter 5:2). This exhortation is addressed to “the elders” (1 Peter 5:1). Note that the words “bishop” and “elder” are interchangeable in Titus 1:5-6.

The 3 terms – elder, bishop, and pastor – are used of the same office in the church. To hold this office, men must meet the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9. The office of minister (evangelist, preacher) is a separate role in the church. Their primary work is to study and teach of the Word (1 Timothy 4:15-16; 2  Timothy 4:2-5).

A preacher may also function as a pastor/elder, if he is qualified. The reason that I am not a “pastor” is because I am not an “elder.”

Larry Fitzgerald
Woodlawn church of Christ
Abilene, TX

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