Article | What Is a Pastor?

By: Zach Collins

When most religious people use the term “pastor”, they have in mind the primary leader of a congregation or a man-made system which exists in the denominational world, known as the pastoral system. Imagine posing this question to a random person on the street: What is a pastor? What answers would you receive? Perhaps, the “senior pastor” would come to mind, or the one who does the preaching, teaching, and visiting in the local congregation. Or, perhaps, the “pastor system” would come to mind, a man-made and unscriptural system of church organization where one man is given the authority over a group of people. With the misunderstanding of biblical terminology comes the misuse of biblical terminology. However, as the students of the word, it is prudent for us to ensure that our usage and view of the word “pastor” coincides with the biblical definition of the word “pastor.” Is the Bible’s definition of the term pastor the same as my understanding of the term pastor?

Let’s explore these thoughts.

            The term pastor is derived from the Greek word poimen, meaning to shepherd. In fact, while the Greek word poimen is employed 18 times in the New Testament, it is only rendered as the term pastor once. In defining the miraculously endowed roles of the first-century church, Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11 (NKJV), “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” It’s important to note that the role of an evangelist and pastor are separate roles according to the Holy Spirit. The term pastor literally denotes one that is a shepherd of God’s flock. In the Bible, these pastors are also known as elders, overseers, or bishops in other interchangeable terminologies. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, we find qualifications set forth by God that a man must meet, without compromise, to wear these scriptural designations in his life. Therefore, we can conclude that, if a man does not possess each of these God-given qualifications, he simply is not a pastor. You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Who cares what we call leaders in the church?” The answer is, God. The Apostle Peter relayed the importance of a Christian speaking in a biblical manner, when he wrote, in 1 Peter 4:11 (NKJV), “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” I don’t know about you, but I believe the point of the passage is implied. When we speak about the Bible, let us speak in biblical ways.

Now, let’s make some application.

Is my preacher a pastor? Only if that preacher also meets the qualifications of a pastor and serves as an elder or shepherd in the congregation. Are my elders my pastors? Yes, in that, they “shepherd the flock of God“, (e.g., 1 Peter 5:2), and “watch for your soul”, (e.g., Hebrews 13:17). So, biblically speaking, how should we refer to those who preach the gospel in the church of Christ? Simply, we are to refer to them by biblical names. In the Bible, we find three scriptural names for a man who only preaches the gospel. This man is to be referred to, biblically, as preacher, (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:7), minister, (e.g., 2 Corinthians 3:6), or evangelist, (e.g., 2 Timothy 4:5).

Let us study to show ourselves approved, (e.g., 2 Timothy 2:15), in order to sift through the presence of religious error by striving to hold true to the teachings of the New Testament.