In the Bible, there are two kinds of shepherds: good and bad. The good shepherd is Jesus Christ, who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11-18). The bad shepherds are those who do not care for their flocks and flee when danger approaches (Zechariah 11:4-5).
The word “pastor” comes from the Latin word “pastor”, which means “shepherd.” In Hebrew, the word for pastor is “po’ēl” (Strong’s Concordance #H3880). It means “herdsman,” and it refers to someone who cares for a flock of sheep or goats.
In 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter tells us that we should be like Christ in our roles as pastors. We should be humble and selfless; we should not seek our own glory; we should be ready to endure hardships; and we should have a servant’s heart toward others.
What is a Pastor in the Bible?
For many of us, ‘pastor’ is a synonym for ‘church leader’. But scripture doesn’t use it this way; as I wrote elsewhere, those responsible for leading churches are called ‘elders’. ‘Pastor’ and ‘elder’ are not synonyms, and although there could well be some role overlap they are definitely two different roles. So what is a pastor in the Bible?
What is a Pastor?
The word ‘pastor’ (Greek poimēn) means ‘shepherd’. We can define the pastoral ministry as ‘cultivating Kingdom character and community through coaching, counselling, and care’. For a shepherd, pastoring involves watching, herding and tending to the sheep. It means being mindful of their needs and fears, whilst doing what is best for them even if they do not understand it. It is much more than just reacting to expressions of desire. Biblical pastoring ultimately seeks to empower people to grow in maturity as a disciple of Christ.
The word “pastor” derives from the Latin noun pastor which means “shepherd” and is derived from the verb pascere – “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat”. The term “pastor” also relates to the role of elder within the New Testament, and is synonymous with the biblical understanding of minister.
Who Is The First Pastor In The Bible
The pastor will serve a church broadly in a number of ways:
- Resourcing the church inwards towards one another
- Cultivating a shepherding heart
- Developing compassionate guides
- Promoting spiritual maturing
- Championing family connection
- Guarding the people
- Facilitating wholeness
- Developing communal inclusion
Developing compassionate guides
The first role of the pastor, in line with the mandate of the Ephesians 4 fivefold ministries, is in identifying, developing, and deploying pastoral gifts in others. They will disciple others and help them grow in their ability to love, care for, guide and shepherd others within the church.
Promoting spiritual maturing
As we’ve seen, pastors are shepherds. Their goal is to see increased Christlikeness and sanctification as a result of this pastoral culture. A healthy church values pastoral care and has a shepherding heart. This leads to the people in the church becoming more mature spiritually, breaking off sin and strongholds, growing in their security and identity, and being able to feed themselves and others. Pastors guide others in their journey of spiritual formation.
Championing family connection
As the family of God, believers are meant to live interdependently with one another. The pastor helps connect and maintain loving, godly relationships between people and makes sure that in the busyness of church life and ministry focus, people are not forgotten or overlooked. Reconciling and bringing people together is built around the concept of family, with us all being brothers and sisters, sharing Christ as our elder brother.
Guarding the people
This has two forms – guarding the people from destructive outsiders (‘wolves) and guarding the people from one another (‘goats’ or misbehaving sheep!) God’s community is made up of imperfect people who make mistakes, so there are times where the pastor needs to intervene, correct, admonish, rebuke, challenge or even discipline behaviour and attitudes that are detrimental to the community as a whole.
This covers a wide range of things, from the individual – such as prayer for healing, practical care for the sick, counselling, inner healing, and deliverance, to the corporate, such as mediating disputes. The pastor seeks health and wholeness for all, in the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of being. Biblical wholeness – shalom – is a holistic concept, meaning we have peace in our inner world as well as towards our outer world. This creates the perfect platform for people to discover who they are in God, and what He is calling them to.
Developing communal inclusion
The pastor in the Bible helps champion connections between people, so all are known. Facilitating friendships is key, as is ensuring all are welcome and united. The church should be diverse and include people of all kinds – classes, genders, ethnicities, statuses. There should be openness to all, and favouritism for none.
Purpose of A Pastor
We’ve seen how pastors work within a local church, but how do they impact other fivefold cultures?
- A pastor partners with an apostle by reminding them that not only are their people in the mission, but prioritising people because they ARE the mission.
- A pastor partners with prophets by helping keep them attuned to the flock and peoples sensitivities, helping the church grasp and lean into the prophetic promises and revelation so they can practically access them.
- A pastor partners with evangelists by championing discipleship, reminding them that discipleship is the goal of evangelism and not just conversion.
- A pastor partners with teachers by communicating the needs of the sheep, connecting them to the needs of the people and helping them apply scripture to their lives.
Without a healthy pastoral influence that brings compassion and love to move people forward in spiritual maturity, the church becomes inward-looking, needs-focused and takes its eyes off mission. People will not mature and grow the way they are intended to.
The Office of the Pastor: Summary
Jesus is the good shepherd who not only lays down his life for his sheep but bought them into the family of God. He showed concern for people and was moved by compassion. Mercy and kindness were hallmarks of His life. These traits are embodied by the ministry of the pastor in the Bible.