Contend Earnestly: How Do You Define the Term Pastor?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How Do You Define the Term Pastor?


So, yesterday Melissa asked a question about a church in my area that has a woman as a pastor. Melissa’s question was simply,

How would you define “pastor”? and…Would you then not attend this church because of this female pastor?

As I went to the church’s site, what I found was a conglomerate of positions that needed to be defined. They had elders, pastors and then directors. It seems as though they have the terms confused and very poorly defined within the confines of the local church.

What I will try to do in this series is to simply give the definitions as seen in the Bible and then give the correct definitions of what the roles should be for their church and then answer the question of “Would I attend this church?” This is not meant to be exhaustive, so if you have comments or further discussions please ask away.

You will see right off the bat that I define the terms pastor, elder, shepherd, overseer and bishop in the same breath. They are equivalents and defined in the Bible as such. Let me just give you the quick Greek definitions of each of these:

Elder: This is either an elderly person in regards to age, or one who is a leader in the church. Because Paul tells Titus (Titus 1:5) to “appoint elders” one would seem to think that the latter is the better usage as a whole. The Jewish elder was one who had authority and was usually old. Because Timothy and Titus were elders or shepherds we can see that to be older doesn't necessarily mean in age, but probably more in that of wisdom and knowledge. If we translate that into NT usage, an elder would then be an appointed man to be in authority of the local church, both physically and spiritually.

Pastor: this means to be a herdsman or a shepherd and is only translated as pastor in Ephesians 4:11 .

Shepherd: One who has authority, watches over and entrusted with a flock

Overseer/Bishop: One who has authority over something and is in charge

Now that we have laid out some very quick definitions let’s take a look at how this plays out. In the Scriptures the OT would define those who led God’s people as the elders or shepherds of God’s people. The imagery in the OT refers to God’s people as his sheep and the leaders over them as his shepherds:

For the shepherds have become stupid
And have not sought the Lord;
Therefore they have not prospered,
And all their flock is scattered.
Jeremiah 10:21


You can also take a look at (Nm 27:17; 1 Kgs 22:17; Jer 12:10; 22:22; 23:1, 2)

What we soon find out is that the transition from the rulers of Israel being called the Shepherd to the coming Messiah being called shepherd:

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
And declare in the coastlands afar off,
And say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him
And keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.”
Jeremiah 31:10

Not only will God give us the Messiah as our Chief Shepherd, but he will also give us mere men as shepherds who will watch over our souls:

Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.
Jeremiah 3:15


As Jesus then comes as the Messiah he takes on this name of the great Shepherd as was promised:

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord,
Hebrews 13:20


So, we can definitely see this picture from the Old Testament to the New Testament, in that, the rulers were a picture of Christ and Israel was a picture of the true flock of God, those in Christ.

A couple of verses will help us with this understanding of how overseers and elders are also referred to as shepherds or pastors. One must also know that the only time that the term “pastor” is used is found in Ephesians 4:11 and all other times the term is found to be synonymous with the term “shepherd”. Because a shepherd and elder have the exact same function, which is to be the one that is in authority over the church and oversee it we can see that all elders are pastors, and all pastors are elders. There is no difference. They both are to teach, they both are to lead the congregation, they are both to shepherd the flock of God. To separate the two would seem to confuse the terms and how it was used in the OT imagery for the NT. Further, they are used synonymously in the NT:

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.
Acts 20:28


The term “overseer” in this verse is given the same definition of an elder or bishop of a church. They are to watch over the church, they are to shepherd the flock of God that has been entrusted to them. You can also see the same usage of terms when you read the qualifications and interchangeability of each in Titus 1:5-9. The point being though is that they have been entrusted with the flock of God and should point to the greatest Shepherd and his leadership as found in 1 Peter 2:25

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
1 Peter 2:25


This puts shepherd/pastor, guardian/overseer and elder in the same breath, making them synonymous. So, there is really no difference between an overseer, elder, shepherd or pastor.

We do the same thing to show that Christ is God.

…by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
2 Peter 1:1


We use this verse to show that the person who is both God and Saviour is Jesus Christ. So, when we see that shepherd and overseer are used in the same fashion, we can see that
they are just different words to complete the picture of the one that is leading the church of Christ.

Another example. If one were to describe myself, they could say that I am a father, son, husband, brother and friend. These all give more insight to who I am as a person on this earth, but I remain the same person. With the Scriptures, it gives different names to describe the same person so one can know more clearly what this person of the church is called to do.

I don’t see any reason to separate the office of overseer, elder, pastor or shepherd. This is a very short argument, so it is really to open up the study of the positions, not convince those in opposition.

If you want to see why I do not believe a woman should be in any of these positions, you can read the following post on that topic. Tomorrow we’ll continue with this and we will define what a deacon is and also try and answer what a church means by “director” when they use it for the term “Youth Director” or “Mission’s Director” and such. Then, in the end I will answer the question, “Would I attend a church who had a woman pastor on staff?”

2 comments:

Jooky Junk said...

Seth, I agree with your post here, but I would be interested to know where someone could find "senior pastor" in scripture. In my opinion, so many churches set themselves up for failure when they invest everything into one man.

Seth McBee said...

Jooky Junk...errr..JJ...or whatever :)

I think what people do with the term "pastor" is define it more clearly so that people know the role of that pastor. Which I don't see as harmful. So, you might have someone called the Administration Pastor, Youth Pastor, Teaching Pastor, etc.

Senior can be misleading and it all hinges on what the church means by "Senior" Pastor. I am betting what they really mean is "teaching pastor."

Just depends on the church and their way of defining terms and roles in the church.

Good question.

So...what is Jooky Junk?

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