Thursday, February 24, 2011


If you've been reading my blog for any length of time you know that I've spent a fair amount of time discussing the modern concept of the Pastor and how it corresponds (or not) to the New Testament use of that same word.

Before you read any further I have to say that I am not against pastors. Many of my dear friends are senior pastors. I do not hate pastors and I'm not writing this article to put pastors down. I love pastors (and some of them even love me).

My beef with the word "pastor" is that we've given it (and the concept of a clergy-lead church) a level of importance that the New Testament doesn't support.

As I've said elsewhere, it's not that I'm against the idea of someone surrendering their life to serve the Body of Christ. Far from it. What I'm in favor of, instead, is the idea that every single believer in Christ is already a member of the priesthood. I'm in favor of the ordination of all Christians into the ministry of the Gospel, not just a select few professionals.

Does that mean that all are pastors? Of course not. But every believer is a member of the priesthood and that means that they have an ability to hear Jesus's voice, to minister to (serve) others using their gifts, and to participate in the life of the Church.

So, for me, the title of "pastor" is something I've worked hard lately to get out from under. Although I have been licensed and ordained as a minister in the Southern Baptist Church, my aim is to empower everyone who follows Jesus to operate fully in their gifting and serve in the Church as the Holy Spirit directs them to do. (My ordination papers are framed and resting happily on the floor under my bed covered in a layer of dust).

I'm in favor of the 58 "one anothers" being practiced and celebrated rather than recognizing a handful of professionals who attempt to do the work of the entire Body all by themselves.

Still, there are plenty of people who still call me "Pastor" and get away with it. For example, my family has been involved in planting an organic church at a local motel lately, in partnership with Saddleback Church. Because of this, it's more and more common for people involved to call me "Pastor Keith". I don't mind it and I don't try to correct them. Why? Because I'm actively encouraging them to "be the Church" and to follow Jesus in their daily lives. It matters less to me what they call me and more to me whether or not they are becoming disciples of Jesus.

When I used to visit my friend Robert Higgins at the Senior Home near my house, everyone called me "Pastor" and even Robert would introduce me to others as "His Pastor". Quite honestly, I was very happy to be known as "Robert's Pastor" because this is what I was for him. I was "shepherding" him into the presence of Jesus and he and I both recognized this.

To me, a pastor is someone who cares for others in the Church. He, or she, has been filled with the Holy Spirit and gifted to come alongside people in trouble or distress. As far as I can see, the New Testament (which only mentions the word once) gives us no restrictions as to how many people can operate in the pastoral gifting. And the scriptures always speak of a plurality of elders who shepherd, never one single pastor.

What's more, the gift of pastoring is a service gift. It's not a gift that carries any authority with it. Pastors care for their brothers and sisters in Christ, but there is only one Father and that is God. There is only one Head of the Church and that is Jesus.

A few years ago, when I first started this blog my bio at the left identified me as a "Writer, pastor, teacher, and house church leader in Orange County". You'll notice now that the word "pastor" has since been removed. That's because I've tried to distance myself from both the title and the popular perception of what most believe a pastor is or does.

In our house church family I have also done my best to back myself out of the senior pastor role, allowing others to share scripture, lead us in communion, teach the Word, and operate in their gifting more. Most are shocked to learn that I do not teach or preach at our house church. In fact, no one does! Instead, everyone one of us - children included - are encouraged to bring a scripture, a teaching, an encouragment, a song, or whatever else the Lord compels them to share with the church family.

One member recently remarked that he was shocked the first time he visited our house church because I wasn't the one leading the meeting. At one point I even left the room while everyone else continued to share from scripture! This is by design. It's taken me a long time to learn how to shut my mouth and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in the meetings. And I've love the freedom we've enjoyed over the last 5 years together, operating in this way. It's been the best thing I've ever done with the word "Church" on it.

So, when we look at the New Testament we see that the Apostles used the terms Elder, Shepherd and Overseer interchangeably.

The terms "elder" (or, presbyter), "overseer" (or, bishop) and "pastor" all refer to the same thing. So, we should not separate elders, pastors, and overseers into three different groups with differing functions.

An elder (presbyter) is literally "an old person". The same word is used in the Greek to refer to someone who is old and also someone who is recognized in the Church as such. In Titus 1:5-7, Paul talks about appointing elders in the church but then he switches to the term "Overseer" which suggests that the two were one and the same in his mind.

In 1 Peter 5:1-2, the Apostle Peter exhorts the "elders among you" to "shepherd (pastor) the flock of God that is among you." So, who are the one's "pastoring" the church in the New Testament? It's the Elders (plural) who are recognized as being mature, humble and trustworthy in the Body.

In Acts 20, all three of these words (Overseer, Pastor and Elder) are used to refer to a single group. Paul calls "the elders of the church" and instructs them to care for "the flock" (suggesting that they are therefore "shepherds") and reminds them that the Holy Spirit has made them "overseers" (v.28). So, elders, pastors and overseers are referring to one group of people in the Church who perform all three works of service.

I always have to point out that the New Testament also commands all of us in the Body of Christ to submit to one another. Submission isn't something you demand in the Church, it's something you grant to others out of love.

So, all of us are called to submit to one another and that means that the elders/pastors/overseers submit themselves to serve the entire church and the entire church submits to them and to everyone else. The only supreme person to whom all Christians should submit is Christ, and Christ alone.

The pastors (plural) in the Body are called to be the servants (or slaves) of all and to serve out of humility and love. If we follow the New Testament, it's not about one person leading us in everything. Instead, everyone gets a chance to serve and to lead and to encourage. Eventually, the immature among us will become the "elders" of the group and they will have their turn to serve others in the way they have been served.

The Church is a family and in God's family there is only one Father (God) and one Head (Christ). The rest of us are just brothers and sisters in Him.



norma j hill said...

Thanks so much for this post! In the street church that I am part of, many people refer to Peter, the brother who first went out into the streets to share Jesus, as "Pastor Peter." But some of the local church groups had objection to this as Peter had only known the Lord for a few short years and had no formal Bible School or Seminary training, and certainly no "credentials." Still, like you, he had no trouble with people calling him pastor, because for them he was their pastor, the one who had pointed them to Jesus and has continued to shepherd them. I am going to pass your post on to him; I know it will be an encouragement!

Jeremy Myers said...

All good points.

I do think that one of the gifts given to some, but not all, elders is the gift of teaching, and they are then a "teaching elder" or, elder-teacher (aka, pastor-teacher).

I know that all elders should be able to teach, but I'm not sure this means that all elders should have the spiritual gift of teaching.

What do you think?

Keith Giles said...

It does appear that Paul wanted elders to be capable of teaching, but it may also be that it was only important in certain cases.

Whether the elders teach or someone else teaches, this gift (like all the others) is necessary for the strengthening of the Church.

Juanjo Gómez said...

Shepherd = Reverend ?

Juanjo Gómez said...

Shepherd = Reverend ?

juanjo (Madrid SPAIN)