- The expression “Pastor” as an official position in the church is intentionally capitalized to distinguish it from “pastor(s)” as being simply spiritual gifts imparted to believers.
- This article is relevant both to smaller churches with a “Pastor,” and to larger churches with multiple “Pastors” e.g., “Senior Pastor” etc.
- The student should first satisfy himself beyond all doubt using his concordance that the normal order for local church leadership provides for a plurality of men called elders or overseers in each local church.
- Beside the references to literal shepherds keeping animals, and references to the Lord Jesus as the good shepherd, the smitten shepherd etc. in the gospels, the Greek noun for pastor or shepherd “poimen” is found only 4 times in the New Testament epistles, 3 of which again refer to the Lord Jesus as the “great shepherd” (Heb 13:20), the “chief shepherd” (I Pet. 5:4) and the “shepherd….of souls” (I Pet. 2:25). This leaves but one usage of the word in a context pertaining in any way to church order: Eph. 4:11. That passage, being a list of spiritual gifts (or gifted individuals) cannot be used to determine the mode of church government practiced and taught by the apostles and the earliest Christian churches, much less what they commanded.
- It is therefore evident that the usual arrangement of having a “Pastor” found in most denominations, is not based upon any passage that either illustrates or commands this practice using the Greek word “poimen.” The practice is based either on other passages which seem to support the idea, or on tradition which admittedly, is very old. It is this list of other passages that can now be considered.
Acts 15: James as the leader of the church
Note the following:
- The intent of the mission to Jerusalem (v.2), the reception of the emissaries (v.4), the convocation (v.6), the intent of the letter to the churches (v.22), and the signers of the letter (v.23) specifically mention the apostles and elders and do not single out James. It would be a glaring omission not to mention the recognized Pastor of the church in an official letter if indeed James occupied such a position.
- The pronouns in the letter are plural; “we” and “us,” never singular “I.” James summarizes and suggests a conclusion but does not take to himself the position of final authority which is attributed to him by some. Besides, even if he had done so, this would be a very poor basis on which to build the present day scheme of church leadership, passing over many clear statements for the actions of a respected man.
- Without question James was a respected man which is seen in Paul’s later reference to his presence among the brethren, elders etc. in Acts 12:17; 21:18; Gal. 2:12. But these references are certainly to be understood as Paul’s respect for the Lord’s brother and not his recognition of James as the Pastor any more than the mention of Mary along with the other women in Acts 1:14 can be construed as a subtle designation of Mary as the head of the women’s guild in Jerusalem! It is again, a matter of honor and respect.
John 21:15-17: Jesus’ instruction to Peter: “Feed my sheep.”
The commission given to Peter is one of shepherding or pastoring people. But the manner in which Peter worked this out in his life must be gathered from the later Biblical record, not read back into the text from modern day usage to support the idea that Peter must have become a church “Pastor,” much less the first Bishop of the Church at Rome.
What is written of Peter’s subsequent ministry? In Acts 9:32 we read of Peter passing “throughout all quarters,” hardly settled into one church as its head. Toward the end of his life, he writes to address “the elders” and refers to himself as “also an elder” (I Pet. 5:1).
Much better to understand the Lord’s commission to Peter as instruction concerning the use of his own spiritual gift for the blessing of the people of God than the conveying to him of an official position in the future church.
Rev 2 & 3: The “angels” of the churches
The fact that this Greek word which means “angel” or “messenger” is often pressed into service as a reference to the “Pastor”of the church shows just how little clear support is to be found for this idea in the Bible! Church leaders are never called messengers, and it is unthinkable that the Lord would communicate his plan for leading His people by an expression nowhere else so used in the Scriptures some 30 years after the doctrinal portions were penned. Better to take the word in its normal meaning of “messenger,” i.e., delegated servant who brought news to John and words from the Lord back to the churches.