Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Pastor

I believe God calls us all to love and care for other members of His body, His church. Some people's gifting will bring them into unique opportunities to carry out this calling in different ways.

But what should we call these people?

In my circles, we've called some of them pastor, or lead pastor. What does the Bible say about the term 'pastor'?

In the Old Testament, it shows up a few times, depending on which translation you use. The words shepherd and pastor seem to be interchangeable. Different Hebrew words were used in these two examples, but they both seem to be connected to this meaning: to tend to a flock, to pasture it.

Jer 17:16
New American Standard Bible (©1995)
"But as for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd after You, Nor have I longed for the woeful day; You Yourself know that the utterance of my lips Was in Your presence"

American King James Version
"As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow you: ..."

Young's Literal Translation
"And I hastened not from feeding after Thee,..."

New International Version (©1984)
"I have not run away from being your shepherd;..."
Jer 3:15
American King James Version
"And I will give you pastors according to my heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding."

New International Version (©1984)
"Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart,..."

In the OT there were people that God called to feed and care for His people. But I wouldn't conclude from these verses the spiritual leaders of God's people called themselves pastors.

What about the New Testament? That is what we base our current church practices on right?
Well... the word 'pastor' only shows up once in most translations.

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So again, in the NT faith community, there were people that God called to feed and care for His people. But I wouldn't conclude from these verses that the spiritual leaders of God's people called themselves pastors, or lead pastors.

Let's compare the frequency of some words in the Bible:
  • 500 occurrences of the word Priest
  • 315 occurrences of the word Prophet
  • 150 occurrences of the word Minister
  • 34 occurrences of the word Elder
  • 27 occurrences of the word Preacher
  • 1 or 9 occurrences of the word Pastor (depending on the translation)
Or if we limit the search to the NT:
  • 150 occurrences of the word Prophet
  • 121 occurrences of the word Teacher (around 13 would apply to Christ followers)
  • 65 occurrences of the word Elder (around 32 would apply to Christ followers)
  • 9 occurrences of the word Minister
  • 2 occurrences of the word Preacher
  • 1 occurrences of the word Pastor


There are 17 occurrences of the word shepherd, which has a shared meaning with the word pastor. Should we call these people shepherds? Or 'Lead shepherds'?

A few use the word shepherd like this:

Acts 20:28 (NIV)
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
1 Peter 5:2 (NIV)
Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;
But, no... we can't use this term ...We believe Jesus is our shepherd.

John 10:11 (NIV)
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10:12 (NIV)
The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
John 10:14 (NIV)
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—
John 10:16 (NIV)
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
1 Peter 5:4 (NIV)
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Let's pay careful attention to the heart of what Jesus says here:

Matthew 23:8-12 (New International Version)

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
IMHO... I suspect if anyone was going around calling themselves 'Pastor' in those days, Jesus would have added that to this list here too.

Shepherding, preaching, teaching, overseeing, caring for God's people is something we are called to do... and some will be more gifted at parts of this than others.... but I'm not sure if it should be a job title.

Related Posts:


Al said...

Perhaps part of our problem is that we want to have a title, with its power and authority. We all like to be known for being special.

But Jesus encourages us to be servants. If we are to be known for anything, it is for being faithful. And in all of this, when people see us, they shouldn't be seeing a great leader, they should be seeing Jesus.


Jonathan said...

BTW... just because I am questioning the use of the title 'Pastor', I do not want anyone to think I am against those who use the title. I pray I can show grace and love towards my brothers who use the title. My dad is a retired 'pastor'... and of course I still love him dearly, even though he used the title. And I have other good friends who use the title. I recognize that they are passionately seeking to love and follow the same Jesus I am seeking.

I'll add that in my opinion, it may not be so much about what we call ourselves that matters... but what we do. And I know most people who have used the title 'pastor' have been doing shepherding, caring, feeding, etc. And we should all strive to follow that example.

OK... enough of my opinions... anyone else?

Jonathan said...

... and thanks Al for the comment.

Lysa said...

Hi Jon,
I have been using the Complete Jewish Bible for my "Bible studying" for about a year now. It seems that the most used word in that translation is Disciple. (I haven't looked up the verses you have referenced).
Just thought I'd "thrown that translation out there". It has been a great source for me - it is so much clearer and sticks much closer to the original language (literal translation).
After reading it for about a year now, I am finding that it seems that so many translations out there use language which make us "feel good" rather than sticking to the original (God's) intent.
Anyway, that's my input for now!

Lysa said...

Oh, and Al, I agree!

Jonathan said...

Thanks Lysa,

Yes, I'm often not sure which versions can be trusted best when looking for the original meanings.

Two websites I use are:
(lets a lay person like me take a peek at the Greek/Hebrew meanings... often a bit overwhelming)

Lets me quickly look at a verse in a bunch of translations. Biblos.com lets me do this too... but it always takes me a while to figure it out. :)

And yes, 'disciple' as well as 'servant', 'brother' and 'sister' do show up a lot. I don't think Jesus would have had a problem with his followers being called any of these... but some may like a title with a bit more prestige (or likely they don't even think about it... it's just the way they learned how to do church).

Thanks! God bless!