What is the Role of a Pastor?

The Question

If you were to open an NIV (New International Version) or NKJV (New King James Version) bible to Ephesians 4:11, you would note a not-too-unfamiliar-or-very-shocking verse,

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”

This verse highlights the unique gift Christ gives to the church, men called to minister through the teaching and proclamation of the Word of God (v. 12).

Analyzing the various church offices, one may find most familiarity with the term pastor. However, as Grudem states, “It may be surprising to us to find that this word, which has become so common in English, only occurs once in the New Testament when speaking about a church officer” (Systematic Theology 913).

This singular appearance of the word “pastor” raises profound questions concerning the role of this church office.

If the office of pastor is a gift given to the church by Christ, and the term pastor appears only once in the New Testament, then what is a pastor?

The Evidence

Origins of the word “pastor” correlate to the Latin word pastores, a derivation of the Greek word poimen.  This greek noun poimen refers to a shepherd, and its verb form poimain0 describes the act of shepherding or tending a flock.

Multiple times poimen refers to a “shepherd” of sheep such as Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a (poimen) shepherd.”

This Greek word is also used specifically by Jesus in relationship to himself, “I am the good (poimen) shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). 

New Testament authors also attribute this word to Christ, “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). As Peter aptly stated in his letter, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Acts 20:28 utilizes the verb form of a shepherd (poimain0) when Paul calls the Ephesian elders to “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds (poimain0) of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (NIV).

The apostle Peter concludes his exhortation to the churches in the five Roman Provinces saying, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4). 

The Conclusion

A pastor is a shepherd of the church entrusted with the task to keep watch over the flock (Acts 20:28).

A pastor serves alongside fellow pastors, elders, shepherds, and overseers “exercising oversight”  and “being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-4).

A pastor serves as an example of “the chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:1-4) to his own flock gifted to him by “the Holy Spirit” (Acts 20:28).




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