The Pastor

Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the church.  Paul declares Jesus, “…the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. ”  (1 Timothy 6:15-16)  Ultimate authority within the church lies in the hands of Jesus, and Jesus alone.  Yet the Lord saw fit to delegate certain responsibilities within the church to qualified men.  The leadership structure illustrated and commanded by the New Testament is simple and unpretentious.  When compared with the vast ecclesiastical bureaucracies that dominate the modern religious landscape, the New Testament offices appear common, ineffectual, and primitive.  Yet, if the word of God is our measure and standard, then these offices should surely fulfill the Lord’s desire for the church.  While the New Testament identifies several offices within the Lord’s body, let’s focus our attention on the most misunderstood:  the office of the pastor.

What is a pastor?

The English word pastor is only found once in the New Testament:  among the four “gifts” Christ gave the church for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry and the edifying of the body of Christ, we find the role of “pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11-12).  According to both Vincent’s Word Studies and Robertson’s Word Pictures, “pastors and teachers” refer to the same office.  The Greek word for pastors, “poimenas”, can also be translated “shepherds”.  So from Ephesians 4:11, we conclude that Christ has appointed “shepherds” for His flock who are also considered “teachers”.

The office of the shepherd — or pastor — is used interchangeably with two other words in the New Testament:  bishop (or “overseer”) and elder.  Two passages help us see this interchangeable use quite plainly.  In I Peter 5:1-2, Peter exhorts his fellow elders to, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers…”  Paul in Acts 20:17 called for the elders of the Ephesian church and warns them in verse 28, “Therefore 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.”  Under the system instituted by the Lord’s apostles, the terms pastor, elder, and bishop were used for the same office.  This three-fold designation unveils a full description of its role within the body of Christ:

  1. Elder — Greek word “presbuteroi” — describes the maturity of spiritual experience

  2. Overseer (bishop) — Greek word “episkopos” — describes their authority

  3. Shepherd — Greek word “poimenas” — describes the nature of their work (protecting and feeding the flock — see Acts 20:28-35)

Put simply, “The ‘elders’ were to watch over as ‘bishops’ and ‘tend and feed as shepherds’ the flock.”

What are the qualifications one must meet in order to be a pastor/elder/bishop?

There are two passages in the New Testament which list the qualifications for this office:  I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  There are several qualifications, a few of which will be mentioned here.  First of all, a pastor/elder/bishop must be the “husband of one wife”, which means this office can only be occupied by a married man (see  Furthermore, that married man must have children (I Timothy 3:4-5, Titus 1:6) whose upbringing will demonstrate his ability to care for the church of God.  He must not be a young man, but one who is experienced, mature in the faith (thus the designation “elder”).  Both passages describe a man of integrity and unimpeachable moral character.  Finally, he is to be well versed in the word of God, one who possesses the ability to teach and in doing so can correct and convict those who oppose the doctrine of Christ.

How are men selected to be a pastor/elder/bishop?

It is helpful to consider this question from an historical context.  When Moses was overwhelmed by the number of disputes he heard each day, it was suggested by his father-in-law and endorsed by God that he appoint judges to handle the lesser matters among the people.  In Deuteronomy 1:13 Moses tells the Israelites, ” ‘Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.’ ”  Notice the elements involved:  each tribe was to choose their own representatives from among themselves (not from another tribe), according to certain qualifications (wise, understanding, and knowledgeable), whom Moses would appoint.  In Acts 6:1-6, the church neglected the needs of the Hellenist widows in their daily distribution of assistance.  To correct the error, the apostles tell the church, “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business…”   Notice the elements involved:  the church chose its own representatives from among themselves, according to certain qualifications (men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom), whom the apostles would, “appoint over this business”.

Using these two passages as our pattern (“…by the mouth of two or three witnesses”), how would a congregation select men for this office?  First of all, elders/pastors/bishops were always selected from among the local congregation:  1 Peter 5:1, “The elders who are among you I exhort…”; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you…”; Acts 20:28, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…”  A congregation which follows the New Testament pattern would take the qualifications listed in both I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, compare these qualifications with the men of the congregation, and determine if any man met those qualifications.  Once they had done so, they would recommend the qualified men for appointment to the one with the authority to ordain.

Unfortunately, there is much more that could be said on this topic, but time and space will not permit.  Hopefully, you can see that the New Testament pastor differs greatly from the role developed by many modern religious organizations.  If you have further questions or observations, I invite you to comment below.  May God grant us the discernment to perceive the truth and the courage to follow the truth.

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Wade Stanley Written by:


  1. August 20, 2009

    Wade I was reading in Jeremiah and I found an interesting prophecy concerning this subject. Let me know what you think.Jeremiah 23:1-4 ” “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the Lord. “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the Lord.”

  2. January 4, 2012

    @Richard Wow, it took me a while to get to this! Yes, I do believe the passage cited has some bearing on the Biblical eldership. In OT prophecy, the leaders of Judah (prophets, priests, princes) were represented as shepherds. The corrupt leaders are the recipients of God’s condemnation in Jeremiah 23. In Jesus’ terminology they were thieves and robbers (see John 10). In the Messianic age God established a pastoral system that would benefit His people when implemented and executed in a scriptural way. In one sense that is what Jeremiah forecasts.

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