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Preachers and Pastors

By Kyle Pope

In the religious world it is common to hear people refer to a person who preaches for a congregation as the “pastor.”  This use of the name “pastor” reflects a misapplication of a name that is used in Scripture for a different role which is (usually) performed by a different group of people.

            The name “pastor” is a translation of the Greek word poimÆn poimen meaning “herdsman, shepherd” (LSJ, p. 1430).  It is used of Jesus’ leadership and relationship to mankind when Jesus identifies himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14).   On judgment day Jesus is pictured as separating the wicked and the righteous “as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32).  Peter describes Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls” (I Peter 2:25).  

            In the church, it is also used of a particular function in the church.  Ephesians 4:11 tells us – “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (NKJV).  This role is defined for us in the use of the verb form of this word in reference to the appointed leaders called alternatively in Scripture elders (or presbyters); bishops (or overseers) and pastors (or shepherds).  In meeting with the elders from Ephesus, Paul teaches them to “take heed to yourselves and to 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).  Peter, echoes this instruction in I Peter 5:2 urging the elders to – “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (I Peter 5:2).  These leaders are appointed based upon qualifications outlined in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.

            In the New Testament we never see the work of a preacher (or evangelist) pictured as a role possessing authority.  On the other hand elders (i.e. pastors) are to lead a congregation, with the members in submission (Hebrews 13:17).  Unlike the denominational concept of one man (called inaccurately a “pastor”) ruling a congregation, the Bible never describes one man over a congregation.  While it may be that a man who is one of the bishops (i.e. pastors or elders) can preach for a congregation, this does not make him “the pastor.”  

Pope, Kyle. "Pastors and Preachers" Biblical Insights 1.9 (September 2001): 21.  

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