The word "pastor" is not frequently used in the Bible but rather originates from the Latin word for "shepherd." This term has become associated with the spiritual leader, or shepherd, of local churches, often used interchangeably with the words "bishop," "elder," and "overseer" used in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
In this sense, the office of pastor really refers to the role of elder that is taught in the New Testament. This role is one of two local church leadership roles noted in Scripture, with deacons as the other role. Though both roles require strong integrity and spiritual maturity, elders are specifically defined as men (all male pronouns are used to describe their role) with the ability to teach the truth of God to others under their leadership.
Ephesians 4:11 mentions "pastors" (KJV/NIV) or "shepherds" (ESV) as a role for those who serve as leaders in the church. Here, the focus is on the goal of these leaders: to help church members toward maturity and acts of service. The term itself also highlights the role of an overseer, as it alludes to the idea of a shepherd who cares for his sheep. Further, many see a grammatical connection between the pastor and teacher as one role, or pastor-teacher, offering another key insight into the important place of teaching God's Word by those who serve as pastors.
In 1 Peter 5:1-3, we find the three terms bishop, elder, and overseer used interchangeably to describe the work of the spiritual shepherds of a church: "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."
In this passage we find the emphasis for the pastor as one who watches over the flock ("shepherd the flock"), as one offering spiritual leadership ("exercising oversight"), with the desire to serve ("not under compulsion, but willingly"), and serving as an example ("being examples to the flock").
How were these elders or pastors selected? In addition to the criteria expressed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, we find that elders were first appointed by the apostles, then later developed by current church leaders. For example, in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote, "what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." Still today, one role of the pastor is to develop others who can later serve as spiritual leaders.
The Bible clearly speaks of the important calling and requirements of elders in Scripture. Elders are synonymous with pastors in the New Testament, with the word "pastor" emphasizing the shepherding role of the calling. It is a role to equip God's people for maturity and works of service and demands the highest integrity and an attitude of service to others.
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