We have been trying to make the argument that a definition of the term “pastor” must start with good exegesis of key texts from the Old and New Testaments, and from a solid understanding of the whole shape of Scripture. Having laid some of the foundation, now we can attempt to define the term “pastor” biblically.We have been trying to make the argument that a definition of the term “pastor” must start with good exegesis of key texts from the Old and New Testaments, and from a solid understanding of the whole shape of Scripture. Having laid some of the foundation, now we can attempt to define the term “pastor” biblically.
- is a recognized under-shepherd of God’s church
- is a man of proven, godly character
- teaches sound doctrine and refutes false teaching
- leads and protects God’s people
A pastor is a recognized under-shepherd of God’s church
We have elsewhere made the claim that the terms pastor, overseer, elder, and leader all refer to the same New Testament office. Several passages make clear that this office is a recognized office in the life of the church. In other words, these are not simply some older men in the church, but they are the recognized leaders of the church who serve under the authority of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus.
In Titus 1:5, Titus was to appoint elders in the church at Crete. Over and over again, Paul referred to specific leaders of specific churches, such as when he called the leaders of the church in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus (Acts 20:17) or when he addressed the book of Philippians to the overseers and deacons of the church there (Philippians 1:1). In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter told the church leaders there to “shepherd the flock among you,” implying a connection between pastor and flock. Likewise in Hebrews, when the church was told to submit to their leaders (13:7), the obvious inference is that they knew who these leaders were. The implication of all these passages is that churches had recognized leaders, and that members of those churches should have known the recognized leaders of their church. As much as our culture might want to push against any structures of authority or might want to argue for leaderless organizations, the New Testament clearly implies that the office of pastor was a recognized position in the early church.
A pastor is a man of proven, godly character
Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 make clear that godly character is a non-negotiable for pastors. Paul told Timothy that a church leader could not be a new convert (1 Timothy 3:6), and the whole thrust of both lists is that the pastor must have proven their character in all areas of their life, including their family life, in order to be qualified for the office. In 1 Timothy 5:21-25, Paul warned Timothy about being hasty in appointing leaders because the sins of some people are not immediately obvious. So Timothy was to be patient in appointing leaders in the church in order to ensure that unqualified leaders were not appointed to such an important office.
The author of Hebrews called on the church to imitate their leaders (13:7), something which Paul often encouraged his readers to do with his life (1 Corinthians 11:1). A pastor should be someone that the church can look to as a pattern of godly living. Certainly they will not be perfect, but the idea is that they will be “above reproach,” that their manner of living will be such that there is no substantial accusation of ungodliness that would disqualify them from holding the office.
A pastor teaches sound doctrine and refutes false teaching
The lists of qualifications in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 tend to focus on character and godly living, but the main task that these lists require of a pastor is that he be able to teach the Bible. Paul told Titus that the church leader must “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9, ESV). Paul emphasized that church leaders needed to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24). In essence, a pastor must be able to use the Scriptures for their intended purposes, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV). A pastor must both know the Scriptures, and he must be able to use the Scriptures for their intended purpose, both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute false teaching, both to encourage godly living and to call out immorality.
A pastor leads and protects God’s people
The claim that a pastor leads and protects God’s people is actually closely tied to the fact that he teaches God’s Word. In fact, the teaching of God’s Word is the primary way for the pastor to lead the church and to protect her from false teachers. The author of Hebrews told the church to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (13:17), and while much ink has been spilled on what exactly this means, the office of pastor is an office of leadership. It’s true that a pastor is not a dictator, and it is also true that a pastor should lead by example (1 Peter 5:3), but still, he must lead, and the church is called to follow. Just as Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that his sheep know his voice and follow him (John 10:4), and he protects his sheep by laying down his life for them (10:11-13). In the same way, a pastor as an under-shepherd must be willing to both lead and protect that sheep that God has entrusted to his care.
We will have more to say on all of these topics when we address some of the practices of pastoral ministry, but here we begin with what we believe to be a biblical definition of a pastor that can now help model and shape how we go about doing pastoral ministry.